January 12, 2009 / 16 Tevet 5769
Botzi the Turtle is afraid to stick his head out. He is afraid to leave the comfort and protection of his hard, solid shell. He is afraid of what might befall him should he stick his arms, legs head out and venture outside. For children living under the threat of Kassam missiles – running to bomb shelters for protection and staying indoors all day- this story is more than a parable, it is their reality.
Botzi the turtle helps new immigrant children under fire
in southern Israel deal with the stresses of war
As part of its wide-scale efforts to treat trauma and anxiety among new immigrants living at Jewish Agency Absorption Centers under fire, the Jewish Agency initiated alternative therapy programs to treat children and their families struggling to cope with the terror and fear of living under fire. Ranging from drama therapy to bibliotherapy, these creative approaches offer non-confrontational and non-traditional ways for new immigrants, struggling with a new language, to communicate their feelings. Acting out scenes from their lives, talking about coping mechanisms and imagining different situations enables children and their families to learn new modes of expression and acquire new ways to respond.
"Since the beginning of the war," explains Ravit Koren, Coordinator of Social and Cultural Programs at Kalisher Absorption Center in Beer Sheva, "we have been trying to help our children and youth cope with their fears from the war. With every Red Alert there is an initial shock of fear and stress, but through creative means - drawing, singing, dancing, and more – each tailored to the specific age group, we have come to see a real change in how the youngsters are reacting to the war."
For children ages 5-9, drama therapy sessions encouraged participants to act out ways of understanding Botzi the Turtle's feelings and offer solutions to his problems. "The therapy sessions help children understand how everyone responds differently to the stress," says Ravit. "For some it may be crying, for others is may be laughing. But they come to learn that however they choose to express their feelings is really ok." A discussion about "What helps me cope with fear?" led children to practice deep breathing techniques and physical exercises. Song was also presented – and practiced - as a way for families to come together during times of crisis.
"The impact of the programs on participating children and youth is definitely noticeable among their parents," notes Ravit. Overall, the children seem happier and eager to participate and help each other find ways to cope. "They are definitely acquiring the tools to deal with the crisis as it continues."
Marag, age 11, lives at Kalisher Absorption Center. When the war first broke out, the sirens scared him tremendously. "I used to cry a lot when they'd first go off," Marag recalls. "I thought something was wrong with me because I couldn't stop crying, I was so scared." Thanks to the therapy programs, however, Marag has come to understand that everyone responds to crisis situations differently. "I know now that I'm not alone in being scared. Adi [the drama therapist] has helped me see that everyone reacts differently. And I have learned other things I can do to help myself too."
Toward the end of one drama therapy session, at Haruv Absorption Center, a Red Siren alert was signaled as a Grad missile landed nearby. The drama therapist immediately gathered some children and started practicing what they learned in that day's session: singing and dancing and physical exercise. Within minutes, a sense of calm and security was restored among the new immigrant children and their families - and even Botzi the Turtle came out of his shell to dance.