Israeli nonprofit organization Early Starters International, dedicated to setting up safe spaces for children in conflict zones across the world, found itself working at home over the past week.
In response to the thousands of families fleeing Hamas attacks on southern Israel, Early Starters quickly opened three spaces for children sheltering in hotels in Kibbutz Ma’ale HaHamisha (west of Jerusalem), the Dead Sea and Eilat. These are serving at least 1,000 displaced families.
Another two spaces are planned to open this week.
IsraAID is providing volunteers to Early Starters to staff the spaces, and more are sought.
Leaders of Early Starters say the terrorist attacks have caused psychological trauma, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder among children.
Many kids have witnessed violence, sometimes deadly, against family members. Many have no home to go back to and have lost their educational and social networks.
“We acknowledge that comprehending the full extent of the challenges we are all facing, especially the children, can be daunting,” the organization said in a statement.
“However, what we do know for sure is that creating a structured and secure environment with a dedicated team of professionals who interact with the children daily, engaging in play, creative activities, conversations, and providing emotional support, can significantly alleviate the profound trauma they are experiencing. These efforts can positively impact both their present and future wellbeing.”
Early Starters has a long record working with children in conflict areas. At the start of the war in Ukraine, they began opening spaces across eastern Europe and Ukraine. Today, they have multiple spaces across the region and many in Ukraine itself, including Kharkiv, Kyiv, Lviv and others.
“The expertise we acquired in creating safe spaces for children affected by the war in Ukraine has become valuable in the Israeli context as well,” the group reports.