Results and evaluation of the programme in Chechnya


The psychosocial support project at five schools in villages surrounding the capital Grozny was a new project for local partner organisation Serlo. It took Serlo more time to complete the preparatory activities than expected. As a result, fewer children, parents and teachers could be involved in the project activities than planned.

Preparation
The Serlo team asked teachers to select children whom, in their opinion, would most benefit from these activities. The challenge was for the Serlo team to explain to the children that this psychosocial project was not intended for 'crazy children' as some of the children believed, but rather to allow 'normal' children to get together in groups to do lots of fun things, discuss different topics they could choose themselves and eventually strengthen their own coping mechanisms and those of their teachers.

Chechnyan parents at a War Child workshop

Creative games
542 children participated in creative psychosocial workshop sessions led by Serlo psychologists. Each group of approximately 12 children participated three times a week during a two-month period. As a result of this intensive approach, the psychologists got to know the children well and won their trust. This enabled them to achieve an atmosphere of fellowship and mutual support within the groups. The workshop activities were adapted to the age groups and included a combination of creative activities (painting, drama, music, storytelling, sports, etc), relaxation games, talking and listening. It turned out that after their initial hesitation most children loved the group sessions and generally gave positive feedback to the group leaders.

Parents and caregivers
Special workshops were also nised for parents and caregivers of the children. While games and relaxation exercises were also part of these sessions, the main activities were discussing topics related to problems within the family. The Serlo group leaders suggested alternative solutions, which offered the parents the possibility of improving the atmosphere in the home, providing better psychosocial support to their children and better attending to their own psychosocial needs.

The number of parents who applied to participate in these workshops was much lower than planned. Speaking about personal or psychosocial problems is not culturally accepted in Chechnya. Nevertheless, during the course of the year, interest grew as word spread about the positive experiences of previous participants. Of the 283 workshop participants, only 36 were men. Men are apparently less able to break with the Chechen cultural taboo against speaking about personal problems. [

Individual counselling sessions
Some of the children attended individual counselling sessions with the Serlo psychologists. Counselling was also offered to the parents, allowing them to discuss both their own problems and the problems they encounter with their children. Once again, participants were mostly mothers; few fathers took advantage of the opportunity.

Training seminars
The Serlo team organised two training seminars for 174 teachers. Topics were determined in consultation with the teachers. These included: conflicts within the school and ways of improving relations among the teachers, conflicts between teachers and pupils and ways of resolving them, working with 'difficult' and 'lazy' children, working with teenagers, and stress suffered by teachers.

Because many teachers themselves struggle with stress and frustrations, the training sessions always began with a combination of group discussions and relaxation exercises. This enabled the teachers to become more open to the difficult and sensitive topics that were raised and to the occasional request that they let go of their rigid opinions and pedagogical habits. The trainers encouraged teachers to look at conflict situations with children from different perspectives. They explained that many problems can only be resolved if not only the children but also the teachers change their behaviour. Teachers expressed great satisfaction with the training sessions and requested that the Serlo team continue to provide them in the future.

Special telephone line
Lastly, a special telephone line was established. This service enabled both children and adults to make a free, anonymous call to speak with a psychologist for advice and support. In this case, too, the cultural threshold prevented the target group from making use of this service. In the future, War Child must more thoroughly investigate whether such new initiatives are suitable.

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