HELP FOR WAR - TRAUMATIZED CHILDREN

Centre for Peace, Non-violence and Human Rights, Osyek, Kroatia Ljerka Toncovic,

Marijana Mitrovic, Ladislav Bognar

 


This project was started in autumn of 1992 in three primary schools in Osijek. The aim was to teach school psychologists, pedagogues and art teachers the basic principles and specific techniques in the field of modern trauma psychology, so that they could recognize children with serious post-traumatic damages and offer them and their parents psychological and educational help.

Our intention was to build help and versatile psychological protection into the "natural" environment of children, through intensive work with their parents.

According to the official data of 1992 (based on the research carried out by UNICEF and the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb, Psychological Research Department) many of the 496.000 school children in Croatia had to leave their homes. There are ca. 20 % of kindergarten children and 35 % of primary and secondary school children among the displaced persons registered in Croatia.

Many of those were exposed to traumatic experiences during the war. 92% were personally exposed to armed conflicts, 42% of them were present when another person was wounded, 28% saw that someone was killed, 58% were so close to the war conflict that they feared death, 97% experienced shelling, 41% saw attacks on their own houses.

The first clinical results of serious psychological war destruction show the following: 58% of children suffer from fears, 43% show regressive dependence on parents, about 28% feel tension and restlessness, about 22% are inclined to regressive crying.

The stresses which effect children and young people in war and post-war situations are very destructive and usually with long-term effects. The final consequences manifest themselves in cumulative effects on children´s bodies, emotions, intellect, and general moral development.

Specific goals of the programme include the following activities:

a) therapeutic interventions through art b) stimulation of artistic and creative activities c) improvement of the entire mental health via communication with others and with peers

The artistic topics used in the programme involve:

1. Memories: "The paths of my life"
2. Space: "Where am I now and how do I feel?"
3 Time: "What has happened to me since...?"
4. War: "What is the smell, colour and touch of this war?"
5. Fear: "What am I afraid of and how?"
6. Message to the world: "My pidgeon of peace..."
7. Wish: " If I had a magic stick. . . "

The following psychological goals were realized through the programme:

1 . Stimulation of reconstructive creativity, memory and imagination
2. Preservation and improvement of children´s feelings of security and protection in the given physical and psychological environment
3. Helping children in facing personal traumatic memories from the war
4. Helping pupils to express their perceptions and basic feelings concerning war
5. Psychological help in controlling and expressing fear
6. Improvement of the feeling of cooperation and communication among children at an international level
7. Finding sense and hope for the future.

All artistic works were evaluated on the basis of trauma psychology and our focus was on:

a) more outstanding features in the verbalization of drawings

b) nonverbal behaviour of pupils during their work

c) interaction with other persons

d) concentration on work

e) use of materials and technique

f) use of artistic elements and symbols in the drawings

g) attitude towards the product.

The usefulness of art as a medium in treating post-traumatic psychological damages and other problems of students´ development was shown in a later evaluation. It has also promoted the awareness of the community regarding the problems of war-affected children, and has enabled a permanent learning about children´s traumatic reactions and the ways of healing them. We continue our program with an aim to help children as much as possible, primarily displaced and refugee children. We now function on two levels: education and intervention.

The programme is very well accepted by children, teachers and parents. The activities of the trained teachers increase daily in all aspects concerning the curriculum, the educational work, teaching organisation, choice and change of methods, choice of appropriate teaching materials suitable for children's expression and experience, and better communication between children and adults.

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