Helpline soothes fears of traumatized Gazans

The phones at this trauma call center in the occupied West Bank often ring all day.

At the other end of the line -- people in distress, from mental health issues, child protection, domestic abuse - and often people scarred by Gaza's years of conflict.

This is Sawa 121. It's a Palestinian helpline in Ramallah.

Noor Nazzal is with the service, and told Reuters of a caller who ran away from bombing, accidentally leaving her son behind.

"She realized after she left that her son wasn't with her. She went back during the bombing and got him. Here, it was our turn to tell her that she was a supermom. In this difficult situation, you were able to get your son from inside, and it had a happy ending. The mother and all her kids went to another home safely."

Sawa means "Together" in Arabic. During the 11 days of hostility between Israel and Hamas in May, its counselors fielded around 37,000 calls.

That's twice their usual workload.

Director of Sawa's Ramallah office, Jalal Khader, says although fighting has now stopped, their support work is just beginning.

"A lot of the people who called us during the first, second and third wars, called us during the fourth war. It's as if the trauma and crises that they went through during the previous wars came back again because they're living the same crisis that they've lived through before. This makes it really difficult to continue everyday life without psychological support, without support for these people."

Sawa workers were faced with concerns over safety, missing children and unexploded bombs in May's conflict.

Others even used the service to pass on messages to their family when they ran out of phone credit.

One distressed caller was on the line from Gaza when an explosion drowned out his voice and the line suddenly went dead.

Staff are limited to answering the phones for a maximum of 20 hours a week to prevent burnout.

But Nazzal said the gratitude of callers makes the difficult job worthwhile.

"....when we leave and hear the feedback that they give us - how much you gave me relief, how much you reassured me and gave me hope for life, this gives us the motivation to offer something even better and continue with our work."

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