Last update: march '95
This is a rather long file; about 60 pages in print. I recommend therefore that you download it, after which you can read it with Netscape or your WWW-browser, from your own harddisk, off-line. Please do not mirror this document, since I hope to update it regularly. I will appreciate if you include a link to this document in your own WWW-Pages, should you like its contents.
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This document is the result of a period of nearly 9 months that I was involved in the creation of Suncokret, a Croatian organization of Young Adults working in the field of primary mental health care for Children of Refugees and displaced people, and of 18 months of the preparation of a similar project in Cambodia for the World Health Organization. It is also the result of more than 25 years of working for children in groups of students and actors in The Netherlands.
Since its first appearance in '93, many people have read it and expressed their positive feelings about it. Some have helped with comments, others have expressed the wish that work would be done on the base of these ideas under their circumstances. My special thanks go to Dr. Lidija Arambasic of the Department of Psychology of the University of Zagreb for her remarks.
Everybody (including me) agrees that the current experience that forms the base of this document (mainly in Europe) is too limited and that the scope should be widened. In the coming years I hope to do so.
This book tries to be a base for a handbook, but not a handbook as a steady, definite work. The handbook that I have in mind would rather be an ever-developing document that forms a platform between all those places on earth were people are fighting the consequences of Armed Conflict.
It tries to show possibilities to analyze the work and to break through some barriers in our mind that stop us from being effective.
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Report: by the inhabitants of Lovas
Source: Amnesty International Index: EUR 48/13/92
The inhabitants of Lovas, a village with a large Croatian majority, were summoned for negotiations with the JNA (Jugoslavian National Forces) in the town of id, on 27 September 1991. The negotiations were unsuccessful, the villagers did not surrender all their weapons. The first JNA attacks on the village took place on 31 September and two days later when artillery fire damaged farm silo's and the Roman Catholic Church.
On 10 October there was a further artillery attack by the JNA from the South. At the same time Serbian paramilitary forces, led by several (named) local Serbs from Lovas and Tovarnik, entered the village from the North. The first victims of these forces were: Antun Sabljak, who was killed in his car on the outskirts of the village; Danijel Badanjak and his wife Cecilija; Vida Krizmanovi, a pensioner, Antun Jovanovi and his wife Anka. Ivan Ostrun, a pensioner, was taken to a local cafe and killed.
Others were dragged out of their basements, where they had taken refuge and shot - among them Mate Keser. On that 10th of October, 23 were killed in Lovas.
Seven days later, paramilitaries attacked the village again and occupied it. Among those killed were Josefina Pavoevi, her 18-year old daughter
Marijana, and her mother-in-law, Slavica. Josip Renduli, aged 75, was also killed after being brutally beaten. All male inhabitants aged between 18 and 55 years were then summoned to a meeting where they were to be assigned to forced labor tasks. About 70 of them gathered; they were ordered into the courtyard of a workshop where they were forced to spend the night seated on chairs and were beaten if they moved. In the morning a group of some 15 were selected for a so-called 'technical platoon' .
A number of those remaining were separated and brutally beaten and slashed with knifes. Afterwards, they and others (about 50) were made to line up two by two and told they were to harvest grapes.
During their walk through the village two of them were killed: Stjepan Luketi and Boko Bodjanak.
As they reached the outskirts of the village, they were ordered to enter a field of clover. They were made to advance through the field, holding each other by the hand. At this point they realized that they were driven into a minefield. When they caught sight of a taut wire they stopped; they were than ordered to pull it with their hands. At that moment, one of them - Ivan Kraljevi - stumbled on a trip-wire mine; a series of explosions followed interspersed with machine-gun shots from behind. As the men fell, screaming, a military vehicle drove up and a JNA officer got out and swore at the Serbian paramilitaries. Some of the victims were so badly wounded that they begged to be killed; a paramilitary opened fire on Zlatko Boi, who lay groaning with pain.
Seventeen men were killed by mines or shot in the back: Ivan Kraljevi, the brothers Marko and Ivan Sabljak, the brothers Antun and Zlatko Panjik, Marko Vidi, Slavko Strangarevi, Mija Salaj, Ivan Palijan, Marinko Markovi, Darko Solakovi, Petar Badanjak, Josip Turkal Junior (who died in id of his wounds), Slavko Kuzmi, Tomo Sabljak Junior, Mato Hodak and Ivan Vidi.
Their bodies were not collected until the following day; they were buried in shallow graves three days later. Eleven others were wounded; on the orders of the JNA officer they were taken to id, where medical staff received them with hostility and offered them only basic care - after which they were sent home.
Between 10 and 18 October more people were killed.
Among them: Francika Panda, Petar Luketi and his sons Ante and Djuka, Djuka Krizmani, Zoran Krizmani, Luka Bali, Josip Jovanovi, Marin Bali, Katica Bali, Marija Luketi, Rudolf Jonak, the brothers Darko and Eljko Pavi, Pero Renduli, Stipo Dolaki, Zvonko Martinovi, Marko Damljanovi, Anica Lemunovi, Ivan Conjar, Boo Vidi, ivan Antolovi, Kata Pavlievi, Drago Peic, Mijo Boi, Alojzije Poli, Josip Poljak, Stipo Madjarevi, Pavo Djakovi, Stipo Pei, Juraj Poljak and Josip Kraljavi.
Mato Adamovi from Tovarnik who had taken refuge in Lovas was also killed.
On the 20th of October the paramilitary forces were replaced by JNA forces and life became more bearable. However, just before Christmas, the paramilitaries returned and beat and tortured people, among them Djuko Radoaj and his mother; Mate Madjarevi, Emanuel Fili, Djuka Fili, Vjekoslav Bali, Ivan Jovanovi and Ivko Franciskovi.
On Christmas' Eve, many of the remaining Croatian villagers fled the village and became part of the hundred thousands displaced persons and refugees who now are sheltered in Croatia and all over the world.
Hotel International, Martinovka, Zagreb
The game: Olympics.
My team: Dark Red.
Number of kids: 8.
Position over all: First
Current Game: running, ducking through hoop, running.
We are doing bad. The last game (catching potatoes with mouth out of bucket with water) was a disaster. I think this game is going to cost us our first position, but I do not tell. Yet, my team understood, finally, now, what is going on: the system with the big score-board, the frantically stressed leaders (us), the relation between all the games that are going on all over the outdoor sports area that we are using for our activities with refugee-children. We are losing our first position. The kids are looking at me, terrified. I have a lot of experience with children, but I have never seen this kind of bewilderment, caused by a game. 'It is no problem' I try to explain, 'we are still second, there will be more games'. No use. My Croatian is non-existent, their English not good enough? Their panic grows. Iwana, co-leader, comes and explains in Croatian. Still no change. They are completely lost in the middle of all this fuzz, their eyes locked in mine for help, for explanation. I have to take them out of the game-area.
Camp Veli Josi, Savudrija.
The Game: Basketball.
The teams: Italian Scouts vs. Bosnian Refugees and us.
Number of audience: +600
Evening over the Adriatic. The game will start in 30 minutes. The kids are sitting with the non-playing Italian scouts, half-way the field on the tribune. Our Non-Players arrive. They have taken the plastic jerry-cans that we use for the drumming work-shop and do drumming and chanting. They sit next to the Italians. The Italians and we start chanting, alternating at first, soon against each other. The kids change position- they shift to us. We change position too: to the head of the playing field, and the kids come with us. We have set the first battle- over the kids, and won. The small group of Italians scouts is left isolated on the tribune, they are maybe 20, ages between 18-24. Not more than 10 minutes left before the game, and the kids start yelling Bosnian nationalistic yells. We still do not understand, but soon it dawns upon us: this is going to be war. The emotions suddenly rise sharply. The Italians on the tribune start clearly to feel discomfort.
The teams are presented: the Italians applaud for the refugee team, but ours join the Bosnian audience in a harsh whistling when the Italian team is presented. I leave. The Italians have the good sense to loose, as is clearly audible when the more and more hysteric cheering rolls through the night over the silent camp, where in the tents the small children cry their way into sleep.
The next morning I am assured that the disco after the game was the nicest dance there has been for a long time in the camp.
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Would you invite a blind man for a game of darts?
No. Not only is it useless, it is cruel.
Yet, maybe- when you come to think of it, later, when you have adapted the game, with some kind of audio- system, why not? Would there be a greater victory than to be able to pinpoint these little arrows again in a bull's eye? Wouldn't that be the most beautiful symbol of the triumph of the ear?
When organizing games for children in the refugee camps it is important to realize that all games are social devices, developed through the ages, in which we explore in a metaphorical way the social reality.
In a metaphorical way: what does that mean?
It means that we create a temporary reality in which elements from reality (for instance the threatening real life & the ideal partner) are replaced by a symbolical element (a wood & a friend) and these are connected by some simple rules: (the friend hides & I look for him). We call the game: hide & seek. In the game all elements are symbols, the rules are simplified, but one element remains the same: our emotions, our emotional logic.
In the game we feel exactly the same emotions as we would feel in the real situation, but we feel them much more clear, in a shorter period together and sometimes also more intense: this is the essence of a game.
There is a difference between 'a game' and playing.
Playing is a metaphoric form in which we research reality, a game is playing according to certain rules.
These rules can be developed on the spot, but they can also be hundreds of years old; in these cases they have grown in strong social structures, that serve special goals, and in this sense they can be seen as social devices.
What do we do with these devices? We prepare ourselves or our children for special situations in which then a specific behavior is expected. The games always reward this behavior, thus completing the chain of emotions we get in the game with 'satisfaction' or 'grief'.
Much more than is usually realized, games are the way in which we learn our social behavior. They belong to a generally unquestioned part of our social life, the part in which our traditions, our history, 'the way we live' are cherished and seen as important positive parts of our culture.
This is a consequence of the fact that games offer security and warmth that is not provided in the real life. Within the borders of the game 'nothing is real'. We can, just by touching somebody, transmit the effects of some terrible disease: everybody flees away from the one who has been touched, and this remains until he has touched somebody else.
But even we can be excused if we break somebody's leg in a football game: 'it's all in the game', and our misconduct gets a symbolical punishment: the yellow card, maybe a red one. The punishment only exists within the borders of the game.
When we criticize our society, the wars we make, the social catastrophes we create, we tend to blame the politicians, the capitalists, the communists, the stars, the gods, God, Eve, or maybe Adam, but rarely ourselves. (How could we? We're sure that we ourselves did nothing wrong!) What we do not perceive is where our own traditions have trained us to perform in the wrong way: we define our enemies, we define our interests, we define our needs according to the rules in which we trained ourselves during the games we played when we were small.
More than we want to realize we are now, as grown-ups, still collecting the marbles- and preferably more marbles than anyone else, at the expense of the others- and we see no harm in that.
It is impossible for us to 'feel' these games as 'negative', because we were conditioned to have a positive, safe feeling when we played them.
I do not mean to suggest that all games are wrong, but I do mean to say that we cannot trust our 'intuitions', our 'feelings', when we consider a game. The only way we can go about is, to analyze, to research the effect of a game. How can we do that?
In the way that we analyze each device: by taking it apart, by altering it and study the effects, by constructing new ones, and by endless discussions about them with many glasses of good wine, strong coffee or refreshing mineral water (preferably sparkled).
It may already be clear that I advocate in general a very critical view on games for children, but in this case we will be working with children in refugee- situations, and in these circumstances I think it is even more important to make a special (Suncokret) framework for designing and evaluating games and activities.
Most people who come to work in the refugee-camps do not feel like analyzing.
They feel it as exaggerated, as unnecessary.
They are usually already so much impressed by themselves, because they are so courageous to go ínto the war-zone, that they consider anything they do as good enough.
This may sound negative or over-critical, but it is only a factual remark, and it will be very difficult for anybody to escape these feelings. We will discuss this element (the helper-syndrome) later. Here it should be noted that the effort of developing new games and the analyzing of them is, once one has decided to do it, not more difficult than any other work you have to do in the camps. It will turn out to be just a part of the job, and even not an unpleasant part, like reading a map while traveling in a new country.
If we use this metaphor for a moment, than it will be clear that traveling in a strange country is different for a tourist, just for fun or self-development, then for someone who is to perform some job in a limited amount of time. Getting lost may be very adventurous for a tourist (with a valid credit-card), but it can be very problematic if somebody is waiting for you in need of whatever you are bringing.
In both cases one will grow personally by new experiences but in the second case your own development is not the priority.
Such is the situation when you decide to come and work for Suncokret. Just getting there is not enough, although many people will tell you so.
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So you will go and work with Suncokret for refugee- children.
What does it mean: Children in the refugee-camps of the former Yugoslavia? It means a couple of things, we will list some of them to give you an idea:
It is necessary to know all this, to realize the consequences.
It is a very sad list, indeed, and it can probably be extended.
On the other hand it is also important to realize that children are generally very strong organisms, who are, unlike most adults, in the middle of a process of development. This means that all their actions, their whole existence is geared to overcome problems with a world that is not exactly favorable to them. Therefore they are perfectly well equipped for recovering by themselves. As the body usually tries to recover after a physical shock, so does the mind.
Children can be trusted to actively try to recover if the right possibilities are created, and it is therefore an essential insight,
that 'we' are not healing the child, but that ultimately 'the child heals itself' although it may need our help.
We will now consider some practical consequences of the above list.
At the moment, 'Trauma' is a very popular word. It is used for everything and it is therefore considered alternately as too terrible to be addressed by non-professionals, or as some state that has relevance to all of us ("my child was terribly traumatised by the barking dog", said the American mother, "so she just had to have this new barbie-doll!").
Here I will use it in the next sense:
A trauma is a psychic wound that has been caused by a terrible, well-defined, accident in which the child (or whoever, for that matter) was involved in or witness to.
A trauma cannot always be healed by the child alone, and it can easily transform or develop into severe mental disorder.
A trauma means that the child is haunted by images (flash-backs)of the accident, that can be as well during the day or in dreams, these images can be evoked on the base of associations or symbolical representations during all kind of activities during the day. This means that these children can easily be shocked in the middle of some activity, because something has evoked an association, and suddenly withdraw or even get physically ill (e.g. sweat, develop a fever). They will try to avoid activities that can easily give these associations.
Also, their involvement with the outside world is reduced. Things that usually are very significant for kids clearly don't interest them any more. They feel detached from others, their positive feelings for others are reduced. This means that the children who are the most in need are the least interested in games and activities, and when they participate, seem to be partly absent, not interested.
These children at the same time are extremely alert on sudden, unexpected sounds or impulses, and can get very scared by them. They sleep badly, because of nightmares, and therefore they are often tired, they have trouble to memorize things. This means that they will usually perform badly in all kind of activities that stress excellence.
They develop guilt-feelings. In their imagination they have thought of ways in which they could have acted to prevent the disaster, and now they blame themselves that they did not do so. This means that they are very sensitive for any form of failure, blaming, and that they will be inclined to accepting all kind of blame or punishment, and even to look for that.
Depending on the severity of the trauma, the children regress, they will behave like much younger children. This means that they can start to wet their beds at night again, their drawings seem to indicate a younger age, their intelligence seems reduced. In short, they will no longer connect with their age-groups.
A traumatic event is traumatic because it is too bad for a person to handle. It is too bad, that means: in the perception of the traumatized person the event in question is as bad as it can possibly be- there can be no worse, it is 'over maximum' as much as any container can not be fuller than 'full'. The trauma fills the universe of the traumatized person. This means that it is stupid to expect 'relativation' from a traumatized person. It is a sign of a lack of understanding and disrespect to point at other catastrophic events to 'make the person understand' that the situation is maybe not totally without hope. In this case, the solution is not to reduce the image of the misery, but to allow and to assist the 'container' to grow.
(Maybe the image of the human mind as a container can also give us some clue to see what the traumatic experience did: not only it exploded pain inside the container, but also- the container suddenly contracted in panic and out of self-protection. Lots of things that the mind could do, it can't any more. Stress keeps the container in contraction, but contraction is stress itself.)
It will be clear that all these elements will very much influence the position of these children in all games and activities, and therefore it is important to be aware of them. Yet, there is a big problem. This very awareness will push you easily in projecting your expectations on these children. Although many children have been through terrible events, not all are traumatized or are so to the same extend. Nevertheless, you will be inclined to see trauma wherever you look, because you expect it.
For children, some events do not yet have the same meaning as for adults. Therefore it is very conceivable that they have for instance witnessed death or other forms of violence without grasping the terror as we feel it.
There is a famous German ballad, "The horseman and Boden-Lake", in which is described how a horseman has driven all night over snowy planes, fearing Boden-Lake, because it was well-known that Boden-lake was frozen with only a thin layer of Ice. In the morning he fears to be lost, because he should have reached Boden-Lake. When he asks a village-woman the way to this lake, she points in the direction that the horseman came from and starts to tell him about the terrible danger that he has escaped from: the ice being only one night old, the depth and the freezing cold of the waters below it. The village gathers around him and stares at this wonder. Understanding what has happened, the horseman scares so that he drops dead.
In this ballad we see in a symbolical way how not the actual event, but the reaction afterwards can induce the trauma.
In reality, the child may not be shocked by the actual event, but can rather be by the reactions of the adults, their fear and anxiety, as they show them to the child. A child is very sensitive to the mental state of the adults around him, and many times we can see a child frighten, just because it witnesses fright in adults.
The consequences of the concepts of projected or induced trauma are manifold, but most of them concern professional psychologists. For us, we should only take care that we do not do so. This means that we must not create situations in which we are trying to handle children 'as traumatized', but that we should concern ourselves with creating games and activities in which the traumatized child is not singled out.
The question if relatively untrained volunteers can take part in treating trauma is subject to a theoretical debate between professionals. Their visions on this matter are wide apart and sometimes totally opposed. The right to treat trauma seems to be a precious matter, because he who can, is often secured of large funding for his work. All kind of international psycho-political warfare is therefore being fought over the heads of the workers in Suncokret, and many professionals wish for the moment to exclude Suncokret-workers from the field of, as they call it, 'individual therapy of trauma'. On the other hand they cannot deny that they alone are not enough in number to 'treat' all the traumatized children in Croatia on an individual base, and they have no techniques for collective therapy, because these have not been developed by the profession. Therefore they have now invented the word 'therapeutic activities', to describe what we are doing, and by this word they mean to tone down the active capacities and responsibilities of 'non-professionals', as they prefer to describe everybody that they feel threatening their realm.
Whatever the professionals like to call or not to call our work, it cannot take away the fact that we have the responsibilities of all people that are involved in therapy. We can not put the responsibility for our work in their hands as they are usually not present when we work with the children. What are these responsibilities?
-We have to keep sane and healthy ourselves. The stories of traumatized children can easily disturb us or even numb us without us noticing it. Therefore we need to seek counseling for ourselves, to have regular talks between each other about our feelings and about our emotions during the work. If we do not do this, we will suffer from 'burn-out', which means that we will become cynical about the suffering of the people we are dealing with, that we will start to think that we know better how they feel that they do themselves, that we start to treat them like 'cases'. Also we are likely to develop guilt-feelings about our better position in reaction to which some of us will try to become the same as refugees by seeking the hardest possible living conditions. This will make us totally ineffective for the refugees, or even worse, we will become a burden to them.
-We have to realize that we are in an unequal power relation, and we must never take advantage of that. The people we will deal with are in the position that they are in bad need of our attention. We can give this attention, or not, and because we will never be enough to give everybody all the attention that is needed, we are in the position to deliver a scarce good. The refugees will try to gain our attention if they feel that it is necessary to do so, and they will search for ways to satisfy our needs. Our needs are manifold, and usually we are not totally aware of them, but consciously or unconsciously we will react to those refugees that offer us what we look for. Therefore we must clarify our own objectives with our presence in the camps, and we will have to be very honest in this. One of the most important examples is the fact that sexual relations will be offered, and that loneliness is one of the reasons for volunteers to do this work. Sexual relations between relief-workers and refugees are therefore to be excluded totally.
- We have the obligation to be effective. Therefore we must have a way in which to evaluate the effect of our work, either by supervision by a professional, or by regular talks between each other. It is important to visit each other's work to be able to get an outsider's view on it. Also we must be prepared to see our work as 'work in progress', which means that we have to develop it day by day. There are no set ways for this work yet, therefore it is no shame that it will not be immediately 'good'. But it will be a shame when we are satisfied too early about what we do, this means, before we can prove to the satisfaction of outsiders that -and maybe also how - it works.
- We therefore also have the obligation to share our experiences, but always without breaking the trust that refugees have put in us. Refugees will trust to us very personal information, if only because the need to share memories is one of the most important ways to fight trauma. This can put us in awkward positions, in connection to professional ethics.
Even within the camp some information cannot be shared and we will have to make very clear rules for that. If any of your colleagues refuses or hesitates to tell you what he or she got to know, do not insist. Never pry. If you feel that your colleague is upset, there are ways to help without breaking confidence.
-Finally, don't get drunk. Life in the refugee-camps can be very hard and alcohol is one of the last cheap things in Croatia. Most of the wine is also of very good quality, so if you are in a good mood because of some good experience- you will surely enjoy it when you like wine. But when you are down and depressed because of some story you heard, don't! People drink to forget- do not join them. You will probably start to tell things that you'll regret the next day, it will tear your physical shape to shreds, you will feel tired all day (and blame the work for it) and if you are unlucky you will have developed an alcohol-problem for yourself within three weeks. Also, in the eyes of the mothers you will lose trustworthiness, in the eyes of the teen-agers you will have an exemplary function; you will probably be very popular with them, but it is not the way. (If you already have an alcohol-problem, this work is not the place for you.)
In stead of drinking, a stiff evening-run will clear your mind and tire you enough for sleeping.
The loss of family, fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers can also be a big shock but it does not have to be traumatic. The process that mourning children are in is a very natural process that has to take its course. It involves some specific periods like disbelief, anger, sadness. Mourning children (or adults) can hardly stand merry people, they need to talk a lot, and talking with them is necessary, especially listening. Aggression can be a sign that somebody is in mourning.
It is important to be able to distinguish between mourning and trauma, because to work with mourning people is in its essence community-work and should not need professionals. It is therefore a specially suitable working area for Suncokret projects.
All refugee children are suffering from the loss of Identity. Much more than we realize, our identity is defined by our material and social environment: the things we have, the ideas and expectations other people have formed about us. Refugee children have lost their houses, their rooms, their beds, many little things they were connected to and that had great importance to them. They have usually lost all or many of their friends, sometimes family. On top of that, the family they still are with (mostly their mothers) have completely changed too, they are no more predictable, they hardly react to the needs of the children because they are completely consumed by their own problems.
This means that they really do not know who they are any more. They lack the familiar grounds on which they based their most simple decisions: when to go to the toilet, when to smile to a stranger, when to keep a secret, when to tell a lie. If it is difficult for us to imagine the effect of a trauma, it is even more difficult to imagine the effect of the loss of identity.
The problem can be solved in two directions: one can rebuild identity, or one can forget identity. All our life we have endless numbers of choices between our personal way of doing things and the collective way of doing things. Also in normal daily life, many people lose the battle against the forces in society that socialize, because these forces are indeed very strong, and they are increasingly so. These people eventually disappear in society, they become part of the gray masses that only consume and will only fight if they are threatened in their 'right to consume'
This is the danger that faces the children we work with. To work with them means to try and assist with their fight to regain individuality.
This means: to assist them to choose, to give them and endless series of opportunities to make individual choices. The choice is the origin of individuality, by the choice one makes in a specific situation, we 'see' the individual, and we start to recognize 'a person' when we are able to say how he typically would behave in a specific situation- that means, when we recognize a pattern in his choices.
In daily life we do not really make many choices, and certainly less than we think. Most of our 'choices' are in reality just logical consequences of earlier choices and the facts that we are confronted with in reality.
Games and creative activities therefore are the perfect place to experiment with choices, but they work both ways: they can also give negative experience, that is to say, they can be devised to socialize by forcing a person to let his choice be made by convention, by rule.
All these children need to find back security. Usually this is interpreted as: they need structure, or even stronger: they need the structure that they had before. Many people say that they have lost trust, that it is very difficult for them to regain trust.
Yet: the opposite seems to be true in reality. Children in the camps are extremely fast in connecting to us. To create a very strong relation (bond) can be a matter of hours, even less, and these relations can then immediately be terrifying, because to send the child back to their mothers at the end of the day can already turn into a drama. This only illustrates the effect of having lost individuality.
The reason of this contradiction is that we are dealing with children who are, as we said before, in essence healthy organisms. They are in some sort of emotional desert, they have a total shortage of possibilities to be recognized. But as soon as somebody reacts to them, they will grasp this opportunity, because they did not lose their power to connect.
We can easily see how positive this force is when Suncokret moves into a new location and connects with the children very fast.
There are, on the other hand, some dangers too.
The first one is the fact that we work with volunteers that usually are only for a short time in the camps. This is a problem that is widely acknowledged by organizations all over the world, as one of the main disadvantages of working with volunteers. Also nearly all of our volunteers see this problem, as the evaluation forms they fill in after the camps testify.
The other danger is, that the children have no way to be critical in what they connect to. Their loneliness and their helplessness cause for instance that they are extremely receptive for all authorities, for all persons that seem to give them attention in trade for obedience. This problem is worsened by the fact that their numbers are usually so large that it is very difficult to handle them when they start to become more active.
Coping in the refugee situation is an issue that has to be understood thoroughly because it presents us with many riddles if we don't.
Coping is what one does to survive in a situation of stress. The mind and the body have surprisingly strong possibilities to suppress pain, anxiety, hunger and other functions for a period of time when one has to act, to defend oneself, to flee, etc. Alertness is raised, the speed of reaction is shorter, the mind works fast, emotions are hidden.
In the refugee situation, there is still a permanent situation of stress, although one does not usually feel it as an outsider. The insecurity about the future, about the situation in the camp, about the missing relatives, all these factors are, for the refugees, a permanent reality. As long as there is no clear possibility of escaping this situation there are only two possibilities: coping, or giving in to a feeling of helplessness, losing hope, and becoming depressive. Depression is a very serious and dangerous state of mind- a real depression has nothing to do with the blue mood that everybody experiences now and then, and that we sometimes refer to as being a little bit depressive.
Coping, therefore is of the essence in a refugee-camp. Keeping clean, keeping regularity and rhythm in life, creating some security, if needed by performing some aggression towards intruders, they are all sound and realistic ways to be.
Some elements of coping on the other hand can be dangerous. They are elements that are very useful in a sudden crises, but are contra-productive in a prolonged crisis as is the situation in a refugee-camp. To retain the state of super-alertness (stress) causes the body to be tense permanently, and the permanent suppressing of emotions presents one of the bigger dangers.
Refugees, or victims of bad accidents in general, have good reasons not to show their real emotions. Therefore the children in the camps seem to be, for the onlooker, usually fairly normal.
These good reasons fall apart in two groups: Internal reasons have to do with the past experiences- they are too horrible to remember, the images are too painful.
External reasons are the social surrounding in the present: the other refugees cannot handle the child when it is sad, when it cries, and also many , even professional, helpers find it difficult to accept a sad child. They tend to cheer the children up, to express the opinion that 'children should be happy', ignoring the fact that the child has completely valid reasons for being unhappy.
These two groups of reasons co-operate to force the refugee to try to act normal, to forget. Recent experiences of people that have survived the concentration-camps in the second world war now indicate that this 'forgetting' is not possible at all. These people were all under the impression that they had survived these camps pretty unharmed, but now they all suffer from bad consequences, and when they now seek treatment they find out that they in reality have ruined their whole lives because they have never dared anymore to live.
Another experience that has got a lot of attention lately is the experience of people, mainly women, that have been abused in their youth. In most of these cases the pressure on the children not to show what was happening was great, and in order to hide their feelings they all developed a way to dissociate, to cut away, a part of themselves that experienced the abuse. The rest of the personality then could 'forget' what happened, and this forgetting is often very drastic: the two parts of the personality have no conscious knowledge of each other any more.
But in reality all these women were badly hurt, and they are usually no longer able to go into any normal relationship with other people any more when they reach adulthood. Only very complicated therapy can help here, but for that to happen, one must first realize that there is some problem, and many of these women are blocked exactly for this discovery.
'Forgetting' means in reality: to push the memory away to an unconscious level, where it remains present (and causes dreams) but where it stays in the childish form: it does not grow with the child to adulthood, it cannot longer be reached to be understood.
'Being happy' means in reality that the personality has to split, to dissociate. The 'normal', happy person has 'forgotten' what has happened, and everybody is satisfied- for the moment.
This means that we should, in our games and activities, never actively search for 'the happy child', to push it into smiling. This does not mean that we should not be thankful when the child smiles, when it dances again, but it does mean that we have to be able to stay with the child when it remembers, and when sadness appears. The person who cannot sit quietly, supporting a crying child, has no business in a Suncokret project, in a refugee camp. All professionals agree on the task for the child: to face the memory, and to eventually be able to live with it. This memory will always stay a terrible memory, it will always cause sadness, but the personality can only survive if it is allowed to be conscious, to grow with the child- and there lays our goal.
In publications of the World Health Organization there is a strong accent on the fact that physical and mental health are strongly interlinked. This means that problems in the field of mental health affect the body and weaken it, and vice versa. For medical doctors the WHO stresses the effects of trauma's, but to us it means that we have to be aware of the effects of physical health if we want to address mental problems. The care for food and medicaments is not primarily a responsibility of Suncokret. They are UNHCR's and Red Cross's responsibility. Yet we cannot be inconsiderate about these factors and we must realize that the children usually lack vitamins and proteins.
This means that sometimes their weaknesses are not related to trauma's or other mental problems, but straight to the lack of good food. Again, performance in many activities is negatively influenced by this- a fact that on itself may have a consequence for the forming of the self-image.
When you will be confronted with the stories of the refugees, you will find out that the personal story will, in many cases, be linked to a recurrent group of stories that are not directly telling individual experiences. Yet, they will be told to you again and again, and they are at least as terrible as the individual stories.
I personally do not understand Croatian, but I believe that I can hear a change in the voice of the narrator when these stories begin. Usually my translators soon afterwards stop translating, because the stories upset them too much.
I think, that what we encounter here is the thing that makes the difference between the consequences of a personal accident and a war.
In war, not only individuals have been attacked, but a group- a community. Even stronger: the individuals were not attacked as persons- but because they where members of this group. Therefore all injuries that where caused to some, had the explicit intention of injuring all other members of the group- and so this was felt. That is war. The community feels the blows, has a collective mind, memory , and consequently- is traumatized as such.
If it is already hard to conceptualize what is trauma inside a person, it is even harder to do so with a community: where do we localize the collective memory, the collective subconscience? Yet, we have already talked about this: it is in the stories, the melodies, the art, the games- it is in the culture.
This means, that when we develop activities and games, we are working on trauma; not only on the level of individual trauma, but also, and maybe even more, on the level of the collective trauma.
The process of stigmatization is a very sneaky one- and to some degree it is impossible for us to escape it, since we are part of the 'special treatment' that exists for refugees. There are many ways in which stigmatization can take place:
Adding negative elements to a general prejudice that is slowly building up. This happens for instance when stories about stealing in the camps start to go around. This stealing does not have anything to do with the refugees themselves, it can be stories about camp personnel- and these stories are always popular with journalists for instance. The word 'stealing' is connected with the camp, and then to its residents.
Next, the character of the humanitarian aid is often adding to the stigmatization: the clothes that are being given away are old and used, the way in which they are handed out (chaotic, stressing) prevents the refugees from choosing the right seize- so most of them are easily recognizable in the streets outside the camps.
Also there are the broader political developments. The overall tensions between Croatians and Bosnians turn into concrete reality when the majority of inhabitants in a camp differ from the social structure of the surrounding community.
The set-up of camps are often also the reason of stigmatization. All kinds of precautions cause the entries of camps often to be like border-lines: check-posts, guards, identity cards, etc.
Then there is the structure of support, that turns the refugees into 'helped' people- and that in itself is a diminution. Here especially is an element in which Suncokret is involved.
This means that there are barriers between the refugees and the surrounding community that grow in time, and to which we contribute, if we do not take care.
The parents of the children in the camps, mostly the mothers, may suffer more from the consequences of the war than their children. Not only are they much more aware of the disastrous situation they are in, but also they are struggling to give some meaning to their fate. One of the solutions for people in these situations is to go and live for revenge. In the camps one can hear, often very overtly, how the mothers talk about this, and also how this becomes their hope for the future. The future in this case is not much more than their children, and therefore, very logically the atmosphere in which the children live is one of an obvious and serious responsibility to grow up to take revenge.
Apart from this quite conscious transfer, there are of course also many less overt levels in which the adults attitudes are transferred as a part of the complete cultural pattern that has existed with war as long as 700 years.
Suncokret is an important element in the European peace movement, especially for this reason: that we now are present at the moment of the formation, the origin of the need for revenge in the human being. This is the reason that Suncokret focuses on the children in the refugee-situations. But here also we can see that Suncokret's work can never be confined to the work with children alone, and why very soon after its formation, Suncokret's founders re-defined their work as for children, rather than with children. This means that Suncokret's work must necessarily include the direct social surrounding of the child with projects for mothers, elderly, etc.
By now you will have understood that many problems are connected with guilt. Guilt and guilt feelings are the feelings that create the most serious problems in the support-projects offered in the former Yugoslavia. At the same time this 'guilt' concept is very difficult to grasp because it is immanent to nearly every aspect of the work.
In our European community we all are influenced by the fact that our culture is, in fact, a Judeo-Christian culture. In this culture, guilt is a general thing; "we all are guilty for all the misery in the world, because we live in sin". And because of this guilt, we have to suffer. So, suffering is a virtue. There is great respect for people who can suffer, and those who suffer are regarded as semi-saint.
It may seem strange but, with the refugees in Europe now, the situation arises that people are, in a way, jealous on these refugees, because they suffer so much, and there is sometimes actually a competition in the camps between the refugees and Suncokret volunteers, to see who can suffer more. Since they suffer so much, the refugees are conceived in a way as 'better than we', and therefore for instance, they are above criticism. Sometimes the refugees will use this more or less conscious, to pressure you into some action.
Many Europeans feel guilty for their wealth that is contrasting so much with the misery and poverty in the rest of the world. Some of them come to help the refugees as a way of penitence.
In a broader sense, Europeans live with the motto: to give is better than to receive: many givers are mostly concerned with their own giving and less with the real needs of the receiver.
In these ways, guilt-feelings create a big disturbance in the structuring of the work to support the refugees, because many helpers struggle with the idea that they are not really here to 'help' the refugees, but rather to find some kind of relief for themselves. This creates a new guilt-feeling that makes that they are particularly sensitive for criticism on the way they work, and usually it means that they are not open at all to feel or discover problems in the projects they do.
This means, that the 'helper' must first sort out what his or her motives are, to accept these motives as valid, and then to change the 'helping' into a 'job that has to be done in an efficient way'. The fact that there is some personal gain with this job is in no way a problem- if you can control it, and if it does not become the primary objective.
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The helper syndrome
Through the woods rides the white knight, forcing his matching horse to its maximum speed- in overdrive.... Not far away there is the lady in distress, bound and surrounded by the forces of evil.
There she hears the sound of the galloping white horse, the cracking of a short but fierce fight, the sigh of the slain evil. There he is...
Shortly she faints, not does she notice her bounds being slashed by his stainless steel sword, missing her lily-white skin only by micromilimeters. Now she is in his arms, opens her eyes. Their lips touch....
Hitch-hiking, by cars, trains, buses, they come from all over Europe, those who have been brought up with the legends of all kinds of white knights. They are prepared to meet the forces of evil, they are going in the war... Their mothers have been crying when they left, their friends silent in respect.....
In some way, all volunteers that come to Croatia, have been fighting against some fear. The stories that are published in Europe about this war are sensational, but only because the press doesn't publish news that is not sensational. The reality is, that over here not very much seems to be happening, and certainly not in the camps. (These are of course localized in places where safety is best guaranteed.) The traveling is normal, trains do like trains should do, buses drive as they drive all along the Mediterranean region, the hitch-hiking is easy, Zagreb is a mundane town full of pizzeria's (cheap for those, coming from the affluent west), good food and rather decadent people...
The result for most of the arriving volunteers is a kind of anti-climax: is this all there is?.
As a consequence, they have the feeling that their fight is over- and that they are already the triumphant hero. They feel hero. And they expect now the kiss....
But there is no greater mistake than this. Because there is war, only it is not directly visible. There is war in the disruption of social structure, in the chaos in regulations, in the devaluating dinar, in the memories and the hearts of the refugees, in the eyes of the children, in the hearts of the population.
The white knight has a long and tedious fight ahead, in which he will be required to use all his wits- His sword useless against an immaterial opponent. There is not going to be a kiss, not for a long time....Coming here is not enough.
Coming to help the refugees in this war is not something that is automatically 'good'. You can make mistakes, and the help can be actually bad for the ones you try to help if you are not willing to sit down a bit and consider these risks and your motivations. It is like the people that give sweets to a crying kid: they don't solve the kid's problem and they ruin its teeth and constitution. Everybody knows this, and yet, sweet industries are flourishing. "Come on, don't be so serious", one gets to hear, and "Don't look at it so black and white, sweets have their good sides too!" This kind of relativistic remarks are usually the weapons of the people that have no time to think about what they are doing, don't want to take the time, or don't consider thinking important in general.
Why Am I Here?
A heavy book could be written on the question about motives to help in this situation, and it will, certainly, eventually, or may be it has already been. You can be very open about your motives, and for instance at the beginning of the camp have a small workshop in which everybody tries to be as honest as possible to tell about them, but you can also keep them for yourself, and confine them to an entry in your diary- but the important thing is that you think about them, and that it is clear to yourself: you have your own reasons to be in a refugee-camp.
How can I be effective?
The real, and most important question is: "How can I be effective for the refugees"? This is a different question (from: "Why am I here?"), and the answers to both questions do not have to be conflicting.
So for instance, yes, of course I want to be the famous author of this magnificent handbook. On the other hand, this handbook must be effective- it must say the right things, it must be practicable, it must be convincing. Now, I can have two approaches to becoming famous. I can either write something simple, telling the people exactly what they want to hear: that their work is good enough and that they have nothing to worry about exempt their own feelings, and push this text with a lot of money and advertisement. In this case I will have to take some action against my bad conscience, and not to be too accessible for critical remarks. I can also write a good handbook, that, although critical, is inspiring and useful, and will proof its functionality in practice for a while, after which it will have to be replaced with a better one. In the second case, my own interests and the interests of Suncokret and the refugee-children may be less apart than in the first case, although the writing may be a bit more demanding, and I will have to throw away some versions because of a lot of critical reactions. In this case I will not have the problem with my conscience, but I may be in trouble with the people that do not want to hear complicated things.
To be effective- is that possible?
Many people who come here deep in their hearts do not believe that this is possible.
They believe, really, that the situation over here is too problematic, too much influenced by the ongoing war, too much determinated by centuries of aggression or whatever power, that their work over here can't mean anything more than some temporary relief. And if you do not really believe that you can be effective, of course you have guilt-feelings, wasting money and other resources. These people will not only be busy to hide the fact that they do not really believe in the necessity of their own presence, but they will without any hesitation and incessantly attack others who do believe they can make a difference. They will always start to explain that our work can only be a very insignificant part in 'the whole', or even downright pose their opinion that 'in the end everything is senseless, what we do'. On the basis of these opinions, they will reject any attempt to analyze activities. At the same time these people will be the most vigilant in defending the activity they have chosen as 'at least something for the children'.
To be effective for the refugees- is that possible?
Yes- maybe. But I, and with me many of my generation have been brought up in an over-optimistic period, in which our parents really believed that everything was possible. Many have been active in the last twenty years on the base of that belief and those of us that have not become cynical in the mean time, still have this unrealistic believe in the possibilities for change. This can be dangerous too, in the work of Suncokret. There are many elements that frustrate the work, that make seemingly simple things impossible. Here, it can be more bitter than anywhere else in Europe to see and to feel how slow things materialize. Yet- this feeling of inertness sometimes is more the consequence of our own deformation than related to reality: because in reality things happen very fast- nearly too fast. If you are planning to do some serious work, it is necessary to keep this in mind or you will become sour, and tiresome for the other people that are working to keep Suncokret on top of the waves that threaten to crunch it.
A dangerous side effect of the helper syndrome is, that the superiority of the helper tends to be extended to all aspects of his or her presence. This means that the helper starts to believe that everything he does or thinks is superior to what the helped person does or thinks.
The story of superman is, by the way quite revealing, if you want to see it: this rather dull, inconspicuous person, transforming into superman, that is the dream that is being fed to us by this modern fairy tale.
This effect can be induced as well by the helped, by the way, who have lost all or a lot of faith in their own capacities and therefore accept all initiatives from the helper as 'superior'.
To fight this effect you have to be realistic about your own capacities- because in the middle of chaos nobody else is. Consider on what base you came to this region: what do you really have to offer besides your presence, your will to work and your capacity to think clearly? You have to make an inventory of your special capacities and use these for helping- here you must accept to be responsible and be 'better' than other people. But on some, or many, other fields you are not 'better' than the people you are helping, and it is very important to realize this, because it will allow you to accept help from them. To be able to accept help will not only make the relationship more equal, but it will also be a very valuable way to let refugees regain their own self respect.
In one of the camps is a displaced mother running a kindergarten. This is the work she did in her own town, many kindergartens in Croatia are operated on a high level and are based on modern insights. She needs help and gets it from Suncokret volunteers, but she complains that these volunteers do not accept that she knows better how to run a kindergarten than them. Indeed, the volunteers are so busy with their own role as helpers, that they are totally oblivious for the fact that this could mean an excellent possibility for them to be thought how to run a kindergarten.
For the Croatian helpers the situation is different. They did not come to help, they just start to help in the middle of the war they are in. They are the core of Suncokret, without them the work would not be possible. In many ways they are the bridge between the European volunteers and the displaced and refugees: the language, the culture of course, but there is more.
In general they have been hit by the collective trauma; they are part of the society that is in war, a society that looses. Looses, not specially because some other party wins, but because all parties involved loose. All of them have lost family or have family in the war-zone, many of them have displaced members in their families, some are actually refugees themselves. This means that many aspects of trauma control them: they are always stressed, tired, they are usually completely centered on their situation and they do not really care why you are here, or what your problems are. In a sometimes quite rude way they will assume that your problems can never be bigger than theirs. Also, they (and they do it less than the rest of the Croatian society) tend to blame Europe, and therefore you, for this war- which means that they will not feel gratitude at all for your presence- at the contrary; many times you will feel their reproach, and if you are liable to feel guilty, these are the moments that you will really feel uncomfortable. Because yes: for you it is easy to go home. Yes, you live in a relatively comfortable part of Europe, No: there is no war in your country, No: there are hardly any refugees in your country, etc. etc.
In the co-operation with the Croatians in Suncokret you will also be confronted with a strange duality in the set-up of Suncokret. Because after some time it becomes unclear who you are actually helping: the refugees, or the Croatians in Suncokret. Of course you will want to feel that you are helping the refugees. But many times, because of their ability to speak the language, their longer experience (many of them have already been working in Suncokret for a long time) their high involvement, they are really the center of an activity and you will correctly have the feeling that you are assisting them in helping.
This feeling will be enhanced by the fact that most of them now have become semi- or fully professional in the sense that they are paid by Suncokret to work in the camps.
You will have to cope with this duality on your own, because they don't. The problem here is gratitude and reward. After a while, you will feel that somebody should be rewarding you for your work, you will need gratitude and recognition. The Croatians will seem to be responsible for that to you- but in reality they aren't. In fact they are much more in need of gratitude and reward than the European volunteers- and if anybody lacks recognition- they do. In Croatia, to help the refugees and displaced persons is not at all the most respected thing to do, so in fact, they are more in a fight to gain recognition than you.
Finally, you will find that the Croatian helpers have lived in a socialist society, where the organization of work, having responsibility, and taking decisions have always been done somewhere higher-up. Therefore you will easily come to think that they are quite clumsy in organizing and that you can do it better. Sometimes this may even be true. In these situations, please be very careful. Because you will find out that these Croatians will be very quick in putting you in control, and before you realize it, you will be in the position of the former socialistic bosses who, under the pretense of being 'equal' in reality were totally dictatorial: you will soon start to think that it is useless to explain a decision you took, because they don't understand it anyway, etc. etc.
When this happens you will suddenly find yourself to be part of The New Caste of International Helpers in Croatia that with an incredible sense of superiority are pushing Croatians out of many places of responsibility. You will meet them everywhere, because they stay as little kings in their kingdoms: superbosses that feel an immense freedom because nobody is checking on them, controlling them, or telling them what to do. Their arrogance is without limit, they will use their time mostly to tell stories of their own superiority and all others ignorance and stupidity. They have endless meetings everywhere with the same kind of bosses in all other organizations, and you will usually never get to see any concrete result. Watch out! The temptation can be very big!
Resisting this temptation, you can also degrade yourself to extreme humility: doing all the difficult jobs for them (as you will feel it) overwork yourself completely, and permanently over the brink of exhaustion live in permanent wonder whey they don't understand what you are doing.
The answer to this is: they are usually not interested. They have very bad feelings about organizations (because of their experience in the socialist structure), they think they just want to do their work and that organization is not important. As long as you keep your knowledge about this to yourself, they will just accept your work and even think quite negative about it!
So what is the solution? The solution is that you refuse to be put in the decision-making position, whether it be formal or informal, and that you use your experience to tell them how to do it, even to force them to do it. Give advice- but don't do the job!
Because on the long run, Suncokret is too big to be organized by some European volunteers. You may think you can save the situation somewhere, but that is only temporary. If they don't do it, Suncokret will just die, or be a useless holiday club for European war-tourists.
Finally, there is something very strange going on between helpers and helping organizations, a quite banal kind of gigantic competition. In this competition there is a fight over who is the best, who is working where, who has the most refugees. Again, here the force behind this competition are the aid-funds, status, and competence fights.
This means that there can be amazing emotions about the ownership of idea's, activities, help-goods, etc., etc.
The consequence is that helping-organizations are operating quite isolated, they tend not to help each other and to be quite secretive about their activities. This secretiveness is not only based on the (justified) fear that other organizations will start criticizing them as soon as they are published, but also out of the (unjustified) fear that other organizations will copy their activities.
Especially in Croatia, people are very sensitive to criticism. This is clearly due to the former system in which criticism must always have had the consequence of somebody falling in disgrace. The result is, that any kind of query is usually directly met by defense- instead of with an answer. The consequence of that is, that all kind of information is treated with great care- and really as some treasure that should only be shared with somebody else if there is no way out.
This means that reports, letters, info-sheets, even books with information will disappear immediately into some drawer, and that you can never trust that your information gets through to persons that you don't send it directly to. Names, addresses, telephone numbers of relations are of course even more valuable.
Suncokret unhappily enough does not always escape from this competition, and therefore sometimes you will feel strange resentments when you meet representatives of other help-organizations in the camps. Fight this! Give these people all the information they want, even if they start behaving like spies (Sometimes these people will think they are lucky to have found you and treat you like a 'deep-throat' connection). Also: don't start to exaggerate the quality of your work, be frank about the problems you have, but formulate them in a positive way- as the base for the steps we will have to make in the future.
It will happen that the information people get this way is used against Suncokret, it happens all the time, but this is of no importance at all! Suncokret tries to be open to everybody about these problems, and some (many) critisisms are justified. The fact is that even with problems, the need for an organization as Suncokret is so big that nobody can afford not to have Suncokret. Also: one of the main reasons for being of Suncokret is the availability of international volunteers- and these are people that are not part of the fight between big help-organizations.
You will experience that exactly these international volunteers are the reason for most critics: "these people are too short in the camps, they are amateurs, they are just there for holidays, they are too young, they are undisciplined, etc., etc." In all of these critics there is usually a base of truth, and sometimes in depressed moments you will tend to feel they are totally true. But there are some things to remember: the first is, that all these big organizations at some point of time have tried to contact Suncokret to get some volunteers for themselves, or to get our volunteers to do their jobs. The second is, that we are now offering you this book to prepare yourself. It contains a lot of experience that we have had in the past period and it will provide you, we hope, with a base to maximize your work with Suncokret.
The third is, that when you work in the camps, you will also feel the moments that your work is essential.. After that, you will have no problem to see some critical professional straight in the eye, and happily agree with all the problems he signalizes.
As long as you know that you do not have to defend your position as is, as long as you can explain how your work is a phase in a development, as long as you can show the direction of this development, and as long as you feel comfortable about that, Suncokret can only grow from critisism.
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Development is like walking up a stair of which you have to built the steps while walking it. You know where you are going: up. You know where you are: on the step you have just made. Just after you have made it, it becomes the place to leave- so you use it to stand on it while you make the next step. When this step is ready, you climb it and leave the last one. Does this mean that the step you have just left is stupid, or a mistake, or bad? Of course not. Is has had its moment- now you are gone.
Development is a constant process in which you look critically at your own practical results to find out what elements are not as you like them, to find ideas about the reasons for that, and then change in order to get the result that you want.
Developing is, in essence, a learning technique, a technique in which you are your own teacher.
This may sound obvious, but in practice it is often very difficult. It means that sometimes you will have to understand that a thing that took you a lot of energy will have to be rejected- and that hurts. It also gives you the feeling of having made a mistake, to have done something stupid.
To develop an activity or a game means that, in the evening, you have to look very careful at the results of the day, it means that you must develop your sense for the well-being of the children that you take care of, and to be able to be proud of your days work and reject (some of) the results at the same time.
To develop a game or an activity takes time and many tries. The difficulty with experimenting in this field, is that you are working with children, and therefore never can try out the effects of a change that may not be in the interest of the children. This is in direct opposition to the rules of normal experimentation and must therefore be understood very clearly: changes in the structure of an activity are always made in the expectation that the result will mean an improvement for the children.
In reality this will not always be the case, because one is not always right in expecting improvement, so in the final evaluation there will still be proof that some variations of the activity are not effective- but the need for this kind of proof can never be the reason for a change.
The development of an activity has a number of phases:
This is a very pleasant phase; it is done by evening, with a small group of imaginative people, a lot of giggling and a lot of terrible proposals in which kids fall from cliffs, get smashed, lost or stolen. It is the comic-strip imagination that is needed to cut the basic form out of the rock of all possibilities: you imagine what will happen if you do things that are wrong, to prevent them, or to be prepared for them. Many possible rules and materials are rejected, as is the material that is hammered away by the sculptor. What is left is a basic activity form.
This basic form contains a clear set of information that is shared by and agreed upon by all adult participants. The list given hereunder must be part of that set unless there is some explanation for the absence of it (or some elements).
Note: this list must also be answered when preparing age-old games and activities as football and going on a Zoo-trip.
The making of it can be organized in the form of a talk in which all the elements are being considered in an informal way, loosely structured by the co-leader. It can also be done very formally to enjoy the intellectual need for the analysis of seemingly simple activities, according to the mood and character of the participants.
How can creation of a game or activity come about? This can be in every way. The availability of some material can inspire, the assumption of some need by the children, the experience of some people in another country with beautiful games, a dream, a coincidental discovery during another activity or an inspiring report from another camp. It can be nice to fantasize about possible games, not only with the concrete purpose of starting one tomorrow, but simply as a mind-exercise. To make the outline of a new game is not difficult, as you will see when you try. The fact that you did invent a game therefore is not enough reason to also bring it in practice. This is another decision. Find out if there are earlier experiences in different camps that can influence your activity: sometimes problems can be prevented if only you would know you will going to have them, and not all of them can be foreseen.
This decision can be made by the co-leader only, or by the group that works in a camp. The reasons for decision can be many: a lack of activities, the wish to change existing activities, attraction of the new idea, etc. There can also be many reasons for not starting a new activity: lack of finance, lack of materials, bad experiences in other camps (Check the information system of Suncokret), etc.
The decision to start will always include a list of answers on the above mentioned questions, a financial estimate, the name of a responsible participant.
In theory, this seems simple. In practice however, one has usually to compromise. The use of materials can deeply influence an activity- consider the simple change of ball-size in any ball-game. In fact, the variety of seizes, materials, weights and consistencies of this extremely simple thing, a ball, proves my point: every ball induces its own game.
When one chooses for heavier materials, one could raise the average age of participants. Bigger materials: maybe a difference in the number of participants; safety consequences.
Many materials have psychological value: cotton or polyester, wood or metal, paper or plastic.
Especially for the work with refugees it is important to be aware that old, worn-out, used materials add to the stigmatizing character of the situation. Therefore it should be tried to use good materials, to clean them if necessary, and to present them in a neat way.
All of us may be used to, or even like to work in a surrounding that is not very tidy, but what is good enough for us, is not always good enough for people that try to survive chaos.
When you look for materials, you must realize that in the refugee-camps there is not a lot of waste material around. Most of the useful bits of scrap have already been put to some use- and this is also true for centers in the middle of Zagreb: there are so many people around that need all kinds of materials, that you don't have much chance to find interesting things.
A man on a building site in Zagreb that I asked for material that I wanted for drum-sticks, promised me some after I had explained what I needed them for. The next morning he returned with some sticks: he had cut his broom to pieces.
In the Savudrija Camp I asked for some empty plastic jerry-cans for vinaigre at the supermarket. I got them and used them as drums in a rhythm-workshop. One day, three men came to the workshop. They required the drums, to bring water to their tents. I refused and later made holes in the bottoms of the drums. It was true that there was no water in the tents and it was very hot. Here the interests of the children were momentarily straight opposite to those of the adults (probably elderly) in the tents. I am still not very sure about this.
Finally an administration must be made about the kind of and number of materials that are used.
If the materials are not directly provided by Suncokret, please inform where they can be acquired and what they cost: if your activity is successful, you may want to repeat it, or somebody else in another camp may.
Sometimes it is necessary to inform or prepare the camps co-ordinators, parents, officials outside the camp.
The information for the children or people that you want to participate in the game is very critical. Wrong information can make the activity to a failure before it even begins. Putting information in the wrong place can mean no, or too much people that want to participate, or people that the activity was not intended for. The creation of a good information-structure is an activity that is important on its own, we will discuss that later.
What and how you do is not important here- what is important is, that you do it with an observing mind. You are much more responsible in these activities than you would be in normal situations. Usually there are too many kids, they drop out, they have emotions that are difficult to understand. You are not only responsible for safety, but also for the well-being of the participants, this is a big difference with work elsewhere.
The Croatian and the non-Croatian speakers have obviously different tasks. The Croatian speaking participants will use their time as much as possible to speak with the children, while the Europeans take care of safety, of organization (enough materials where they are needed?) of structure (they can play roles, they can initiate change in activities), of supplying physical energy (running, pushing, lifting, kicking) and joy (singing, music).
More and more often, other refugees will take part, not directly as participants in the activities, but in the role of care-takers: mothers, older girls. It is essential to always remember that they can never be burdened with the same responsibilities as Suncokret workers have: they are refugees too and they have the right to have their feelings whenever these hit them. Refugees can get extremely emotional during a game, and in that moment the responsibility for the children is with us- it can never be that we reproach somebody for not minding the children at such a moment.
To analyze you must find concrete things that bug you in the experience of the day. This is, as I said, the most difficult thing, because you have worked hard, and you will want to have compliments in stead of critics. Of course you do not have to take in critics from everybody. There are professional bores around that will criticize the sea and a tree if you let them. Let them.
When you analyze the results of the day, you listen first to the people that have been observing. Let them finish their reports, before you start to think- sometimes they will contradict each other.
Then: there are stories about individual kids (participants), stories about the group as a whole and the interactions, and stories about you and the other organizers. These are different levels of looking at the activity, and it is easy to get confused if you mix them up. Some problems that arose from misunderstandings within the organizers will show as problems of kids, for instance. The children's problems can be looked at as if they were their own, but you must be aware of the fact that you are there because of their problems, and that, as a consequence, problems of children during activities are to be looked at as problems in the structure of the activity. On the individual level you are to ask questions as:
Did they drop out?
Did they understand what they were doing?
Why do you think so?
Did they at any point start to remember or have emotions, connected to their experiences? This of course may have seemed problematic during the activity- but in fact it is what you are looking for. How did the organizers cope with these feelings?
On the group level, you have questions as:
Did they co-operate? Was there aggression? When? Why?
Did they talk a lot between each other?
Did they react within the structure of the activity, or on the level of the structure: did they comment on the activity?
Did they change the rules or the structure of the activity? How? Why? Are you happy about this?
On the level of the organizers you have questions as: Did we keep to our objectives and intended structure or did we change? Why?
Were there any disagreements? Between who? What was the origin? (Can also be the cheating during a card-game last night- don't be too idealistic here) Were we a unit for the kids, ore were we diffuse?
How did we cope with emergencies? Did we have enough people or too much? How was the relation between the activity and the outsiders- the parents etc.?
After you have answered these questions, you have to address the real question: has this activity been effective?, or: has it been more effective than yesterdays version?.
It is the most difficult question, because you can only work with indirect indications. Important indications are: do the children relax during the activity. Do they start telling their stories? Do you reach the children that you didn't reach yesterday? Are they grasping the essence of your activity, or are they just present? Do they take their friends to the activity?
Somewhere we will have to assemble a list of positive signs that we have used to decide if we are effective. These signs should indicate how the children are rebuilding their identity, how they re-establish their social contacts, how they are able to cope with their memories and their guilt-feelings.
In general this would probably be conceived as self-confidence.
Such a list would, after some time, consist of really beautiful and inspiring accidents that can serve as an image of our work- not only for outsiders, but also for ourselves in desperate moments.
All games are activities, but not all activities are games. The difference is in the relation between the game and reality. In all games, there is a safe distance between reality and the activity, this distance is created by the introduction of symbols. When one hurts a symbol, this can cause pain, but it has no consequences outside the game- if the game is played right. This is a dangerous field, however, and therefore we will talk about games more in-depth, in a later chapter. Yet, it is important to realize that most, if not all of the aspects for activities are valid for games too.
Activities on the other hand, do have a relation with reality. Examples of activities are: trips to the mountains or to the wood, making a newspaper, having a knitting or a coffee-meeting, gymnastics, making music or other creativity-products. In short, everything you organize. Let's analyze some aspects of activities in an order that has no great significance.
Most activities can only be done by a certain number of participants. This means that there will be some limit. In order to make sure that the activity is not ruined because of too many or too little participants, we establish a threshold. All activities also have some way to keep the participants together. We can see two kind of principles : it can work like a magnet, or it can work like a fence.
These three elements; Threshold, Magnet and Fence form the first set with which we can analyze any activity. They tell us how voluntary the participation is, what the capacities of the organizers are, what interests the participants have.
An extreme example: prison.
The 'activity' is called: punishment. Main action of the participants: trying to get out. The fence is as fence as tegnology can offer:stone, steel, electronics, armed guards. The threshold is our juridical system: the decision about who will get in, and who will stay out(the definition of crime, the law, the judge). The emotion that the organizers try to reach is: unhappiness - Jail is supposed to feel bas, it must be a form of revenge. The magnetic force is expected to be negative (= pushing in stead of attracting), because jail is there as a deterrent. It is supposed to be a place where one does not want to go, and therefore will stop people from committing crimes (to pass the threshold).
The related opposite extreme is called: freedom. All elements are the same, but the participants are on the other side of the fence. 'Freedom' in this sense is an activity, shared by all people outside the jail, and it is one of the most common practical definitions of freedom.
Another situation: Good food and hungry people. The cook calls: Come and get it! A rush for the free chairs. Activity: enjoying food. Threshold: getting a chair. Action: eating. Fence: none, maybe only to keep an excess of participants out. Magnets: Hunger and Food.
From these examples a very easy conclusion seems to be evident: The magnet is a positive force, keeping the participant together with the activity on the base of his needs; the fence is a negative force, preventing the participant to go as he likes.
All activities therefore should be on the base of some positive magnetic attraction.
It is that simple, keep it that simple. Be attractive, be interesting, have something to offer, and know what you offer. Let it be something that corresponds to a need in the people you want to connect with. If people are not interested- they will walk away and this must be a signal to you. The moment you start to try and prevent them from walking away (by some fence) usually the aim of your activity is lost- and only the form remains.
In reality of course there are no perfect organizers, there are no perfect activities, there are always moments that are less interesting- so whatever you do, there will always, in every activity be these three elements- only they are sometimes difficult to discern, to analyze.
When working with refugees or displaced people in camps, you must realise that this camp in itself is an activity, a real activity, in which the people are participating on the base of fear: fear for the war, and on the base of loss: loss of houses, families, identity. The fences around this activity are pretty heavy, if you will take the time to notice. Your appearance, the appearance of Suncokret in general, creates a little island in the middle of this camp. This means that leaving the athmosphere of the camp to participate in a Suncokret activity is basically an escape. An escape from the daily reality of the camp. Her lies one of the big dangers that are connected with Suncokrets work. Because it is very easy to overestimate the importance of one's activity, and to believe that one is very attractive, while in reality, the participants are not attracted by your magnetic force, but pushed away by the magnet that is the reality in the camp.
In reality Suncokret's position is very easy: in the middle of gray misery, of course people will come to you. It is like handing out food in Somalia; do not boast to fast on your cooking.
We have already elaborated on the dangers of escapism and seeking to forget. We therefore must always try to imagine that we have to compete with an organization that is handing out free soft- and hard drugs. Would the refugees prefer us? Do we have a different effect? If not, what then are we doing?
Another aspect of the magnet is that it can shift easily. For instance, with activities that use the possibility of creativity as a magnet, like drawing, singing it can happen that one feels that the magnetic force is not big enough (kids do not attend). Very often it happens that people feel that they need to give some form of incentive, like a little gift. What happens is that the character of the magnet changes: the gift becomes the magnet. (If this does not happen, the gift has no effect.) Here you fool yourself when you think that the original magnet is still effective and that the children in some sneaky way are being lured in a positive, creative activity. In reality they have just been satisfying a gift-giver.
A special magnet is of course: the prize. It is a cheap form of gift-giving, because you hand out only a little number of gifts. Strange enough the gift- magnet seems to work better in this case. Why?
The answer on this question is in essence: because a gift is worth more if there are also people that do not get them. When the gift induces inequality, it has a higher value.
We can now clearly see that the essence in the competition is not the availability of a prize, not the joy of the winner- but rather the appearance of the looser. People in competition are therefore not so much trying to win as well as trying not to loose.
Most, if not all competitions have many losers, and only a few winners. Why then are competitions so popular? The answer is to be looked for in a social as well as in a biological sphere.
Competition is a part of biological strive for the improvement of the sorts: the strongest animal gets the most wanted partner.
Competition is also socially the need for power: it is the manipulation by the prize-giver. The prize-giver pretends that the winner is important. But in reality he steals the effort of the winner, to make himself important. The prize giver can pretend to have a lot of goals, in reality he is usually a stingy ego-builder, using forceful powers in the human animal to his favor.
Turning an activity into a competition therefore always shows primarily the lack of capacities of the price-giver. It shows that the price-giver cannot raise enough magnetic force in his personality to organize an interesting activity, or it shows a lack of self-confidence in the prize-giver.
In real life, we can, under certain circumstances, accept that loosing is part of life. In the refugee-camps however, this aspect gets a totally different significance.
Here we have people that have lost even more then they can conceive at the moment. Here is a reason for the phenomenon that the simplest loosing of the most simplest games can throw them totally off balance. Loosing here turns out to have an enormous impact, emotional, and on the possibility to communicate.
We also know that children will perform worse the more traumatized they are. Therefore any competition will throw them back more than the other kids and will have the reverse effect of what we are after.
Competition therefore in Suncokret's activities must be looked at with the greatest reluctance. But a simple moratorium on competition is unrealistic and naive: the healthy kids will engage in a form of competition and you will have to respond on that.
Competition will emerge in the middle of an activity, when some kid gets the feeling to be 'better' than the others. The kid will then urge you to formalize this in some way: it needs losers to give value to its own capacities. Before you react negative, realize that this is a sign of insecurity on its own, and that the child will need some confirmation in stead of a lecture against competition. Usually, you should be able to find a way of recognition without degrading some of its peers.
There is a difference in the projects you develop as a Suncokret project, and the activities that respond to the initiative of the kids. So, when you incorporate some competition, or when some competition suddenly develops during an activity, try to analyze:
What exactly is the goal or the need? Who are the people that pretend to be judges? What reasons are there to throw a group of kids or a total camp into a state of near-hysterics? What is the effect of your activity on the losers?
Another level on which you can judge your activity, is the level of order that you reach. Now, order is an often misconceived phenomenon. Many people mistakenly understand order as egality.
As long as all elements in a group show the same conduct, they understand this as order. This is the reasons why so many dictators can be totally surprised by their people: one moment all faces are turned to him, the next moment all minds behind those faces turn out to have lost contact with the principles he thought were holy.
On the other hand, people often describe the activities at for instance a building-site as 'chaotic', not impressed by the effect these activities turn out to have some weeks later.
There is visual order, and there is structural order. Visual order means that the participants look the same in their actions: a dance, a demonstration, a quiet schoolclass.
Visual order suggests control, it suggests predictability, it feels safe. Structural order is produced by some goal towards which all participants are striving- this can be the finish for a marathon, but it can also be the construction of some building, which demands the performing of many different tasks. The more different tasks a certain activity needs, the less visual order there will be. When there is no visual order, it is more difficult to understand what is going on- sometimes it is even impossible for an outsider to see it. The lack of visual order seems dangerous: the predictability seems to be less, and in any case it is more difficult to predict what any special participant will do.
The lack of visual order is more dangerous.
When you go into the mountains with a group of children, it is more safe if you let them walk quietly, in rows of three, with an even 50 cm between each row. If you let all of them explore the mountains in their own way, they will find many different ways to do so, but the danger multiplies.
For refugees, the structure in their lives has disappeared. Their whole world lacks meaning, and therefore structure. This feels extremely dangerous and threatening. To produce the feeling of structure therefore is essential. Yet, the danger is that you create a structure that is only visual, a structure that has no goal. This kind of structure for instance are all routines, all series of happenings that are only defined by some rule of behavior, some rite. You will find that these are very easy patterns to create, or to re-create; patterns of behavior that resemble what was well-known in the past, patterns of behavior that feel safe because they are predictable.
When you develop an activity, you develop structure. You create a goal, and the degree in which you are able to make that goal clear for all participants, will be the degree of order that you will have in your activity. It means that the degree of understanding by the participants about the goal of the activity is in the same time the degree of order, and that you can measure this order by the form of participation that you get. If the children only copy the behavior, it will be very visible that in reality they do not participate at all in your activity: you will be able to notice this : the children always react a little bit too late, their eyes are not focused within the activity (dreaming), they seem to have forgotten the rules, they suddenly fall and hurt themselves (this is the consequence of not knowing why you are walking and why in a certain direction) etc. etc. Children are quite used to be dragged around and also for them this induces a feeling of safety- so they will very often not protest. But if you are willing to see it- there is no difficulty at all to do so.
Many people tend to believe that control and order are the same thing. In fact they are unrelated. You can have total control and yet complete chaos, you can have absolute order and no control at all. Probably everybody will be able to remember instances from their school period in which these situations occurred.
Control has to do with responsibility.
You have control over an activity on the moment and to the extend that you can change it according to your ideas. This can be because the participants trust you, or because you have some way to manipulate your participants. You can create the possibility for trust by creating safety.
Control and trust are extremely tricky concepts.
Control is tricky because we are all to some extend trained to deny that we are controlling things. We have to pretend that there is 'freedom', and therefore we are all inclined therefore to put the responsibility for the control of the situation somewhere else. Usually there is some reality in this- (You are never the only controller) but also usually this inclination will just serve to prevent others from holding us responsible.
When we deny our responsibility, our control, we make it impossible to analyze our control and to judge to what extend we really want to have control. When we make a game or put money into some activity, then we choose. When we set the rules for an activity, we chose, even if we choose for age-old rules.
We have chosen to operate in situations where the people we work with have no choice. If they could choose, they would never choose to spend the money we are spending for the purposes that we are spending it for. We have chosen because we assume a certain responsibility in the refugee-situation.
The people we work with, and especially the children, live in a situation without any security, without normal possibilities to rebuilt their own self-confidence. Therefore they will be quite dependent from us in many ways, also in mental ways: they need our recognition to become persons again.
The rebuilding of self-confidence will also mean the decreasing of their dependence. The dependence can easily be misunderstood as trust, and the decrease of independence will then be experienced as distrust.
We will therefore have to be able to discern between trust and dependence. If refugees and specially children seem to accept us and accept our proposals, this does not usually indicate trust.
Trust is one other concept that we handle badly in our culture. We tend to say that we trust somebody, but when that other body does something we don't like, we blame that person for breaking our trust, and not ourselves for clearly having misjudged the situation. Here again we do not accept our own responsibility. We say that we trust somebody, but in reality we give him the obligation to behave as we would like it.
(For instance, there are volunteers that are careless with their money. They leave bills of 100 Marks laying around and when you say something about that they tell you that you should trust people. In reality they are asking refugees to deny their children good food in the face of the possibility of taking this money that represents a months pay to them.)
Many of our activities will have to be designed to create safety. Safety for the participants to open themselves again, to find their confidence again. This can only be done if they are safe against further injury. Safety that is not only to be protected against any kind of aggression from others, but that is also to be granted time and possibilities to calmly explore the possibilities that an activity offers.
If people tell us their stories, these stories are usually not for publication. They must therefore be able to trust us, and we cannot expect this trust just like that.
To know, to see the difference between dependence and trust is of the essence. People who are dependent from you will tend to fight for your attention. People who trust you will wait till you are available for them, they will feel much more passive to you. Yet, they can be as much in need for your attention as the other one. To trust, one needs confidence, and confidence is built up by experience.
All activities can be judged in the degree that participants and organizers are relating on the base of control and trust, or by dependence and manipulation.
(Back to table of Contents)
Existential activities are activities that make the participants experience their own existence in relation to the world around them. Existence is proven by feeling hard wind or storm, to feel the brute force of the sea, to see the magnitude of mountains. These are all experiences that tell you in a positive way that you exist, but that you are only a small creature (which can be very reassuring). And then, to feel the power of climbing a mountain and standing on top of it. To experience fear, looking into the deep, to experience wonder, looking at birds and plants, to, if you can get hold of it, look through a microscope and see your blood, a spiders thread..
Principles for existential activities
All existential activities are in essence individual if it comes to the moment that your system takes in this feeling: who you are, what you can do. All trips in nature, all confrontations with natural feelings are extremely good objects for activities with refugee- children, but you will probably have to allow more time for them to incorporate the feeling, than you would normally have to.
Existential also is the collection of data about yourself. This is not a normal activity at all, and therefore we are at liberty to develop a lot of new forms for this.
As an example I would propose to encourage kids to have their own note-book, a little as a diary, but which would be filled with all the information about themselves that they can (re)collect.
This would include drawings of their homes and cities or villages, drawings of their favorite trees at home, list with names of the friends they had, drawings of pets, drawings of the stuff that was in their favorite shop, etc., etc. These notebooks could eventually of course become very individual expressions, and many essential drawings would stay in the possession of the children instead of ending up in huge stacks in our stores. Their mothers and other relatives can be encouraged to write little entries.
(These notepads would then of course also get a high emotional value and there will be some drama if they are lost, what will occasionally happen, but a new one can then be started with some ceremony.)
We can also make notations in these notebooks of the projects that they did participate in, and we can keep a log on all kind of personal aspects as length, weight, personal best scores in all activities they like.
In all existential activities the 'role modeling' is the core. The question of course is: who does it? There are elements of the individual that are created by him or herself, there are elements that are created by the society- and the trick for Suncokret is to find the right sources.
All our activities will create the maximum opportunity for the kids to create, or re-create their own individuality, but at the same time we are there, the other adults are there- and it would be nonsense to pretend that the examples we give are unimportant or should be unimportant. In fact, the whole idea of Suncokret as an international gathering, as a mixture of cultures is meant to be a positive example.
Yet, there are all kind of examples, there are elements of role-modeling that we will like to prevent. One of the most known distinction in roles is the one between boys and girls. We know that there is still a big pressure by society to divide between male and female roles, and that most of this stereotyping is very harmful to the individualities of many people. So- we will try to prevent our activities to do the same. We will not do cooking work-shops for girls only, martial art training for boys only- this is clear.
Yet, the struggle against role modeling must not become an item. Croatia and Bosnia are in many ways still a traditional culture and that implies that there are strong images about some roles. To start an open fight against them, on the base of experience in other west European cultures, would be contra-productive and unnecessary threatening.
The fight against role modeling therefore has to be by example, rather then by raising public conscience. So, if only girls come to a cooking workshop, have some boys of us participating. Find a Suncokret-woman that can teach martial arts, etc.
This is the more actual because many mothers in the camps are facing the necessity of making an important role-switch themselves. This prospect can be extremely threatening and is in this situation connected to tragedy, which makes it even more difficult. Aggressive action against role-modeling for the children will therefore rather create resistance than something else.
Another, less well-known form of role-modeling is directly connected to the refugee situation: the modeling into a second-rate personality, the role of refugee.
To live on gifts, to be helped, to wear second-hand clothing, to have no proper housing or privacy creates an atmosphere of being second-rate. When we come from the west of Europe, many activities that we know of stem from the non-professional area, the world of leisure activities. In our modern world there is at the moment a stress on traditional crafts, on the possibilities to work with simple means. Some of these activities are inspired by modern ecological thinking, but others are rather inspired by forces that fear modern times. For these forces anything is o.k., as long as it is not a product of the modern 'technological' society. For refugees, though, these activities will have the effect of creating backwardness. Because of necessity (lack of modern materials etc.) many of our activities will not be able to escape from this, but whenever there is a chance, it should be taken to connect the refugees with state-of-the art technology. Computers, knitting-machines and other equipment are part of the world in which they will hopefully live in the future, and these camps are no leisure projects for them.
The development of the physical health can be supported by all kind of sportive activities. Some aspects of sport are also in a way social, but all of them are in essence existential: you find out what your body can do, how it grows and develops.
The development of the body is also usually connected to the sexual mating process, and therefore, sport is usually done in competition. This is however not necessary at all. All sports require technique, and good sportsmen can tell a lot about that. Sport projects can therefore easily be directed to the individual participant, finding out what their special capacities are, and where their personal limits.
Running against yourself.
For instance, it is very easy to organize running, sprinting on an individual basis, if you have a watch with a chronometer. One organizer at the start, and one at the finish after 60 meters. Have a table in which you note the names, ages, shoes, and leg-lengths of the kids that participate, to show the uselessness of competition between each other.
Let them run individually and note their times. Very soon they will only be interested in the way they can improve their personal best without feeling the records of others threatening. Let some of the organizers participate from the beginning, and let somebody who knows about technique show good techniques for start and finish.
You will see that the kids will be very interested in each others improvements too- and you will feel an atmosphere of competition- but without losers. As long as you can prevent somebody from giving prizes, because than the activity will change its atmosphere in a matter of seconds. Do not try it to see if I am right, I am, and you will be sorry. What you can do, is participate yourself. Have the kids time all of you- and again, do not make the mistake of falling in competition between each other.
Take care that the children that run barefoot do not damage their feet- they can get quite fanatic. And again- there is time. This is an activity that you can repeat every week or so, to see improvement. It is an ideal activity to register in a personal book, if you have made any.
To make a graphic representation of their development after some weeks can be extremely revealing for them, and will be replacing several math lessons.
A lot of sport activities can be structured this way: jumping, swimming, etc.
Some sports require safety measures as mats for instance: gymnastics. Here it is really important that you have a volunteer that understands his job. Catching kids that try to do a somersault is not everybody's work, it can look simple but it is not. Children will get very exited, and tired after a while- and that is when accidents happen. Take care that they do not try this without the right material and supervision- they will certainly try.
Team sports are nearly always competitive, but they are in high demand. The positive thing about team sport is, that you do not loose individually- but that is all that can be said on that level.
On the other hand, team sports also have the possibility to develop all kind of techniques for the individual participant: ball handling, aiming, and specific capacities that specific places in the team need.
Also, there is the possibility to change rules and create new sports. Usually this is not very advisable. Team sports, and certainly very popular sports as basketball is here, for instance, have really to be very officially played, and you'd better know the rules and the signals very well before you put yourself in the role of arbiter.
Because of their nature and the specific situation team sport-events can be emotional and very rough. Take care that you have simple first aid available, and use your position as arbiter very strictly.
General aspects of physical and sport-activities
Physical activity is essential for the recovery of the individual. It can take away the tensions of stress (provided you can do a good relaxation afterward) and it strengthens the body that is in danger of getting underdeveloped in the tedious camp-situation. Bear in mind, though that these activities use a lot of calories that the food in the camp may not always provide. Of course bad food will influence the performance, and so will the mental state of the children.
The effects of traumatisation will show here, and will further enlarge the distance with other children if you do not take care about stratification of the activities.
A lot of sport activities have the function of killing time. In the camps this can be a very necessary thing, but if you feel that this is the main interest of the participants, than you can suffice with taking care that they are provided with the necessary materials: balls, nets, etc. This is a kind of activity that does, in essence, need no help, so do not put yourself in this position if you are not needed.
All physical activity results sometimes in injuries. It is very functional if you have some experience in first aid, or else, get a little book about it before you leave.
If you are good in it: maybe you can organize a simple training.
From the center we try to provide every camp with a good first-aid kit. But for this it is necessary that you inform us when you use some material, so that we can replace it. Sometimes overzealous types will claim bandage materials for creative workshops or theater plays: kick them out. Simple bandages can be extremely important when somebody is wounded.
The lack of minerals and vitamins will also cause a slower recovery of little wounds and a higher risk of infections. Desinfection, good bandages and some check about the recovery in the next days is advisable.
In the case of more severe injuries, do not panic. Every once in a while this is bound to happen if you are working with a lot of people, also if you have taken the right safety precautions. You must know how to get fast help in these cases, though.
The voice is the instrument of expression, but it is also a part of the physical body: the chords of the voice are influenced by stress, and I am convinced that this is clearly audible with many children who have lost the clear voices they should have. I am very sure that good logopedists must be able to develop projects (singing?) in which they can use the voice as an instrument to manage stress, but I don't have any idea how this could be structured.
For refugees, relaxation is maybe one of the most important activities there are. The continuous state of stress has a self-amplifying effect: because of the stress one cannot relax, and because one cannot relax one becomes over-tired. Over tiredness creates all kind of problems that are in themselves a new source of stress.
Therefore, to be able to relax, is one of the most important capacities that you can help to improve.
Relaxation can be reached in several ways. There are trainings that seem a little bit like hypnosis exercises, in which the participants lay on the floor, and listen to quiet music, while a teacher slowly instructs to tense and to relax several parts of the body.
There is also the stretching after physical training. Stretching is important in itself after any physical effort, but it can also create an immensely nice feeling of decontraction. A good stretching is very easy to do: you do it probably very often yourself when you yawn. Small kids can be taken by their hands and wrists to hang for a little while. There is also a more 'professional' stretching, after sport, that concentrates on individual muscles. This kind of stretch should be thought by a good physical trainer.
There are also ways to gain relaxation by way of breath-control. There are for instance yoga-exercises, and there is simple but hi-tech bio-feedback equipment available, but at the moment this equipment is met with considerable resistance by Croatian psychologists.
Again: relaxation is not achieved by the use of alcohol or other drugs. The reduction of tension that these products seem to have is acquired by a temporary poisoning of parts of the brain or the nervous system- and the effects of these means are rather opposite to the ones that you reach with relaxation: they result in more exhaustion.
Given the situation of refugees, there is little aggression in the camps. Frustration, mourning, helplessness, hopelessness, they are all feelings that give reason for occasional aggression, and they should. The reason why there is not much more aggression is probably the fact that all residents are more or less depressed and in resignation because of trauma. When I did a rhythm-project I provided the children with thick drumming-sticks that in Holland would inevitably often have been used to hit each other. During three weeks of the project this only occurred once, and once a kid hit another kid by accident.
Yet, there is aggression, and certainly also among the children.
Aggressive refugee children can get extremely emotional, near hysterical. Their movements can then get quite uncontrolled and they will hurt each other on these occasions, physically as well as mentally.
Once, when this happened in Zagreb with two boys, one of which came from the Vukovar-region, we found an interesting opening to handle this. While two Croatian volunteers held the two boys quite tightly, I started to ask questions about the reasons in English, mainly to divert attention. The Croatians translated the questions and then the answers. The fact that their answers were translated interested the two boys extremely. Because of this they started really to tell what happened and a kind of court-situation, with advocates developed. Of course both boys did not reconcile during the argument, at the contrary, they escalated the controversy- but only in words and on a much more rational level. I, as a stranger was excused to ask stupid questions that probably never would have been accepted from Croatian mediators, and the translations delayed the reactions and took the direct emotions away from answers.
We did not immediately understand what happened, so in the beginning the translators would answer my questions directly when they already knew the answer, but later we understood that it was important nevertheless to translate the question and the answer
afterwards. Only hours later the boys were peacefully together again.
After this happened we discussed this with the Croatian volunteers and we agreed that the next time we would immediately copy this structure, but the situation did not reproduce again.
Physical activities for small children will usually be organized in some sort of kindergarten surrounding. For small children all kind of movement is necessary to develop motoric co-ordination. Have small balls, building blocks. Try to create a sand-box (Clean sand because they will try to eat it), swings, climbing materials in a way that they are safe (no nails sticking out, no splintering wood, soft floor, etc.). Also drawing and tearing up paper are for small children important
With music you can do stepping and dancing, clapping hands and singing.
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'Art' is a word that can be used in many ways. There is Great Art, there is 'artisanat', handicraft.
One can be quite elitarian about it, or extremely populistic.
Here I will be quite populistic, I will consider 'art' as an important element for most of Suncokret's activities and consider all results of creativity as some form of art.
Children are fascinating, art is fascinating, the combination of the two is in my opinion the most fascinating thing, and it is the reason I am writing these suggestions.
Creation is, as I see it, the way that humans define themselves- whether creation results in an idea, a decision, a work of art, the moment of creation is the moment that we can recognize the creator. Real moments of creation are not so obvious, because most things we do are simply caused by reasons outside us; our material surrounding, our biology, our culture, etc. Yet- there are permanently small and large decisions we make that really originate 'in' us, and they are the things that we can be considered as 'responsible' for. You can either be proud of the consequences of them, or feel guilty about them, but you will never point somewhere else when somebody asks "who is responsible for that?"- no, they are the decisions you stand for.
Art is the field in which the artist is, consciously or not, looking for the possibilities to make these decisions, and some form to give to them, thus creating for the outside world his or her identity.
The (re)creation of Identity is one of the main topics of this paper, so it is logic to see creativity projects as very important for Suncokret.
Creativity projects can have several effects: they can help a child to find back the identity, they can help to develop the identity, but unhappily enough they are also the perfect place to kill the identity.
Let us for example take one of the most common projects of Suncokret.
Drawing is an activity, that we organize in every camp. Here I will use the word for all expression on paper, so it can also mean painting.
Refugee children's drawings can be a reflection of the child's perception of what has happened, what are it's problems. On the Suncokret Seminar there was an introduction about that by Dr. Rune Stuvland, from UNICEF, and a visit to a UNICEF exhibition that clearly illustrates and proves that fact. (Video on file)
But during the work in the camps it can often happen that the child seems 'not to know what to draw', not to 'want to draw', etc.
There can be some reasons for this.
The first is common for all children: they are in fact quite critical on their own drawing. They usually feel that the result is not good enough, sometimes they do not really know how to start.
The second reason is special for traumatized children: when presented with the possibilities of an empty paper, and left alone, they tend to imagine what to draw, and then logically images that are emotional will come to them. These can of course be very disturbing, hence the not immediate possibility to start drawing.
In both cases the worst thing you, as a helper, can do, is to give the child 'a little push', by giving it some technical tricks, that would produce standardized drawings.
Copying is a natural thing for children, it is a way to master things from the adult world, it belongs to growing up- but it is the contrary of 'finding oneself'. Put in a difficult situation and offered the choice between creation and copying, it will usually chose for copying, thus destroying the creative impulse.
The child will than start to copy or color preconceived drawings (Usually designed by adults that made specifically 'child-simple' drawings that have no resemblance whatsoever to what children draw themselves). Also they 'like' very much to learn simple techniques that result in cartoon-drawings, like for instance Disney figures. The result of these drawings is safe, that means, they seem to the child to be technically much better as what it could have made itself, and it touches no emotional topic.
The introduction of this tricks usually has the effect that suddenly all the children start to use them, and soon you have twenty Goofy-drawings. From their (insecure) point of view, the tricked drawing is 'much better' than the ones they produce themselves
The reality is that these 'tricks' destroy the development of personal drawing technique, it closes the way for the child to its own emotions- it kills. This is even problematic for healthy kids, and it is really not advisable in the Suncokret work.
So- if the child seems to hesitate to start drawing, what to do? First: don't mind. Relax. You have time, the kid has time, you are not in a west-European school where one is expected to show results by the hour. Then: Comfort the child.. Bring it a glass of water, try to see that nobody disturbs it or takes pencils away. If it leaves, talk about it in the evening evaluation. If the child returns the next day: that is a good sign! Pay extra attention to the drawing if it succeeds this time. If it does not return, maybe the kid can have special support in some other activity.
When the child starts drawing, remember that children are usually quite aware of their incompetence to draw exactly what they have wanted to draw. (By the way- this remains true for every adult that has retained creative talents. The feeling that some drawing or other creation has really became what one wanted it to be is extremely rare!)
Therefore, do not, as many adults tend to do, explode in jubilation when the drawing starts. The child will immediately feel you are not sincere, or consider you to be stupid, and most of the time it will hide this judgment out of self-preservation.
Rejection, of course, is out of the question. You may not do this, but you must also prevent others (adults as well as children) from doing this. I have the impression that ridiculing each others products is not so usual in the refugee-camps as it is in Holland, but still, it happens.
In any case the drawing has to be handled with care. As easy as it is, to tell which reactions are wrong, as wrong it is to specify which ones are right. Personally, I think that you must try to open yourself as you would do for any work of art, and try to feel the emotion that is in the picture. This can be through the use of colors, through the rudeness of the lines, the way the paper has been wrinkled. Use everything great artists have learned you through their work, in museums, or wherever, about looking.
And: Look the child in the eyes while you are looking at the drawing, several times. You will find that the child is observing you. The child will read in your eyes what you feel, you will be able to read its eyes- because at that moment the child is wide-open. It waits for a reaction. Many times this exchange of glances can already be enough for the child, a smile, a nod of the head, if you can manage to short-circuit your reading of the drawing and your feelings.
Yet, in the case of explicit drawings of horrible events (it relatively happens not often, but of course it does occur) you must immediately put yourself in high awareness gear. First: this is probably a sign of trust. It is a compliment to you and the atmosphere you have created, (provided of course that you have not ordered the child to draw these kind of things- this ordering can only be done in specific cases in which you trust yourself to push the children. We will discuss this under 'therapy', which is maybe another book altogether.) Second: get hold of yourself and your shocked feelings. This is the critical moment to induce the trauma, if the child is not already traumatized. If you do not speak Croatian, get somebody in a natural way, and start the talking. Take part in it by asking questions, and see if the child keeps interested in you or will maybe forget you and concentrate on the native speaker, which is natural. Leave, but stay around if you feel the conversation is too private to stay at the spot, and prepare to talk with the native speaker, because he or she may want to 'unload' immediately.
In the case of non-explicit drawings, beware. Many times refugee children for instance draw houses, these seem simple pictures, no problem at all. Yet, to the child it represents all of their losses. See if the inhabitants are drawn, (very often the people and the animals are missing, for good reason). Note the fact that the house is not damaged as maybe terribly important for the child. The placing of windows and doors, fences and trees can be good entries for simple questions as: "who lives behind that window?" You see: simple drawings can offer al lot to talk about, if you can.
Maybe, drawing as an activity now suddenly seems to be terribly complicated to you. Don't worry. Drawing is an activity that usually takes hours and you are mostly expected to sit around and watch the materials. You will have time. Also, the action of drawing itself is seen as an healing action by itself. The fact that you are maybe not in the possibility to offer the child a discussion on its drawing therefore is not as problematic as it seems.
Third: Small children do not draw to reach huge crowds. Therefore, publication in a newsletter or so is meaningless to them. Also, drawings of other children do not interest them. 'Publication' of drawings from young children is only in the interest of adults, and if you want to make a publication for young children, drawings of young children are the wrong choice. Showing the drawing by hanging it on the wall to be seen by the parents, or just as a sign of respect on the other hand can be very important- as long as it is done 'neatly '.
Forth: all drawings are also a reflection of the stage of development of the child. If you have a psychologist in your group, he or she will surely be able to give an interesting little talk about that. With traumatized children, it is possible that some children have regressed, and show drawings that seem to indicate a younger age than they biologically have. This is not only an interesting observation, but such an observation my also give a clue to some problems the child may have in other activities, or on the other hand, prevent too easy labeling as 'traumatized' which could hide the fact that the problem is with the activity, not with the child.
There is an activity that looks like drawing, but in reality is something else: coloring. This activity is a eye-hand co-ordination activity, that is very useful- but it is rather a motoric training, part of the physical development. Yet, the choosing of colors is an individual decision, so it should be left to the child. There are coloring books that offer examples; here the coloring is totally about 'training the eye'.
From this example, what principles can be derived?
The first and most difficult principle is that all art activities should depart from a core inside the child; that is where its individuality is built up (again), that is where the origin of the personality lays.
This is a difficult principle because we, the adults, are most of the time looking for some results that are not going to be produced by the children if they are left alone. We therefore start to give examples- and the child (eager to be adult itself) will immediately, and justly, copy this example.
Again, in itself, copying is one of the two basic learning techniques (the other is developing) and in general there is nothing against it. In our situation though, it is not helping to develop the identity- at the contrary.
To work with children without giving examples is a technique that needs some training. If you pay attention to it, you will be surprised how often children finally succeed in doing exactly what you wanted them to do. They distillate your wishes out of slight smiles you give when they say the right thing, or small examples that escape when you talk to them before you know it. It goes like this: What do you want to draw? I don't know. Well, you could draw anything you want. I can't. Yes you can, here, take a pencil. What shall I draw? What you want, a cow, a house.... bingo. the child knows what (it has) to draw.
The best way to prevent yourself from being directive is, to prevent yourself from having an opinion about what the child schould do. Create a blank expectation: that is, expect the child to do something, but do not specify in your mind what form the action should take. In this way you create an open space that can be filled by the child.
To find your own open space is difficult because usually you will be wanting some kind of result, to show later to others. You and the others are in fact quite filled with ideas about 'how children's art products' should look or sound like- and the reality is that these results are usually to some extend 'faked' by adults to make them look better. My experiences are, on the other hand, that the creation of an 'open space' for the child, and the results from real input by the children, usually are very surprising ( Parents and teachers then are heard to say: 'I didn't know that these children could do that...')
2. Confounding objectives.
Many 'art' activities are in reality something else. Dance projects can in fact be more physical exercise or even part of the sexual mating activities. Singing projects can be rather social events. Painting can be motoric exercise. These objectives are important and must have their own place, but you must be clear about your objectives, because you will be very disappointed if you thought that you had some art activity and suddenly all your participants run away or refuse to perform in the evening's show.
3. Organizing the stage, the audience.
All art activities need to be 'consumed'. All expression needs recognition. Therefore, the organizing of the right audience and the right stage is essential. Many times you yourself will be all there is needed. Your reaction is the reaction that the children are looking for, therefore you should be able to perform the recognizing part of the art activity. For older children you will not be enough. They need to be seen by a larger group. This can be the group of volunteers, for instance, and the group should therefore be aware that sometimes it is needed as a whole to be present at some spot, and to react seriously to the results of the children. Other important audiences of course are the camp authorities, the parents, all the adults, some of the people who live outside the camp. For boys it can be the girls, for girls the boys (and all other possible combinations)
You must be aware that peers in general are not the audience that children look for. They have a very clear image of the groups that are important for them in the sense that the recognition of these groups, that their work is worthwhile, forms the base for their newly to find self-confidence.
Never fake audiences, never get some adults on benches that applaud everything 'because the children are doing it', because in reality this is a form of underestimating children and they feel this very well. On the other hand sometimes parents are over critical on their own children. If you create the right stage they will 'see' their own child with new eyes, just because you are handling it with respect.
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Music; melody, rhythm and harmony are directly connected to our emotions. Sometimes we can even wonder if emotions are something else than music. When you have some philosophic discussions about this some evening, and you find some nice answers, be sure to write them to me! Music can be very important in the camps, because it is its own language, we do not need translation, there is immediate communication. Music can tell about pain, about sadness, about stress, about aggression, about oblivion. Music can give emotions their way, it can turn frustration in its origine:aggression, and then it can turn this aggression both in violence or in beauty (compare for instance the singing of football-hooligans and the musical West-Side Story)
In the evening, after dinner we are invited to another part of the camp, where we are expected to sing with the children. The heat dies away, the sun is under, the night falls as we reach them. Because of some misunderstanding or disorganization on our side they have been waiting for half an hour seated in neat rows along the dusty path. Some mothers are with them. They must be more than a hundred, and they start applauding us when we arrive. We feel a bit awkward, and do not know what to do. This is much more formal than we expected. But Jasmina, Bosnian herself, and a very good singer, does not hesitate. She starts to sing a simple sing-along and immediately the children join in. It is a song that we sing a thousand times each day, it is a start. Then Jasmina invites the children to sing. It takes a while, but then one of the boys, he must be about nine, comes forward and sings. His song is beautiful, he sings beautiful, but his voice is somewhat hoarse, like all the voices of all the children over here. It is clear that he has been singing quite a lot, that he has stage experience. Nine years or so... There is a loud applause, and another kid comes forward. Their songs have slightly oriental melodies. Then Jasmina sings another song. Now a man wants to sing. He has some mental disturbance, it is clear why he is not fighting somewhere. He sings, and it is clear that he has some experience with German 'lieder', and opera. But his voice too is gone. His songs are not really appreciated, and suddenly one of the mothers, dressed in black, jumps in front of him. There is some commotion among the other women She is full of aggression, she sings. She must have been professional. Her song is about Sarajewo, it is nationalistic, and it is clearly intended to kill the atmosphere- but the effect is contrary. The women in the crowd start crying. One mother leaves because she cannot manage her emotions, she is back ten minutes later. There is a fierce applause, and some of the other women thank her. The children are silent. Jasmina is pure gold: her next song invites the children to sing again, slowly this time. A mother continues. Many people have now left their tents, also the elderly. They bring boxes to sit, some chairs. There are some men too, drunk, aggressive, mocking in the dark. As usual we don't know them, they are only visitors, for some days not all of them legal, probably, and they start singing soldiers songs. We break the circle so they become visible for the children and the women in the center. Although we are afraid of them, we invite them to come in the center, but they refuse. We close the circle again, the singing continues, and the women and the children seem to forget us. The men start again. We open the circle again, this time we are more challenging: do they dare to sing in the center. They do. They come in the middle of the children and their singing changes instantly.
Their voices are still rude, but their songs gain melody, full of nostalgia, obstinacy, pride and finally sadness and longing. When the Jasmina and the children take over, they do not leave the center of the circle but they join in. Now everybody is singing and crying, we are pushed outside the circle by the elderly. It takes two hours before the people go back to their tents.
This beautiful activity was repeated nearly the same way some 4 days later in a different part of the camp. Maybe it can be developed, but for the moment they seemed the only real, good moments during the whole period. Here it became clear how much the children are the real center of the life in the camps, and how they can function as the reason for being of all the other lost people who do not know any more what the future means. The sadness, the desperation came out, but it chose the form of beauty and therefore it became hope itself: the children felt the beauty, they felt the sincerity, and the older people knew that they felt this and that it was all-right to let their feelings go. This singing is not just a form of expression, it is much more: it is reparation itself, it is healing, it is creation. You will need a Jasmina, though: a good musician that can sing or play the songs of the refugees, and who has a feeling for the right song at the right moment.
The drumming workshop was the one that I see as the most exemplary experience during my stay in the summer of '92. After three weeks of working every day I felt like I was only at the beginning. The beginning was, that I was looking for some inspiration for a project in Zagreb, at a playground near Martinovka and Hotel International, where we had our first week of work. I did not want to work with theater, because of the language problem.
The field and the greens around it were terribly clean- there was no scrap materials. I was thinking of a construction workshop, but the only thing was a big trunk of a tree.
When I hit it, I heard that it did give some sound, some different sounds even for each of the four ends, so I decided to try and do a drumming workshop.
I have done some percussion in our own theater company, and recently I had seen and heard the results of a percussion workshop for children by a Japanese musician, Tomoko Igarishi.
Especially the Japanese way of drumming I feel very much related to emotion. This direct relation is not only caused by the sound, but surely also by the physical work of the drummer. The drummer has sticks that are much thicker than the drumsticks we know, the thickness being somewhere near the thickness of the wrist.
The drumming is done with the breath and with the whole body.
Now, I would be able to give a lot of reasons why this is a nice base for a project with refugee-kids, but at the time the choice was merely inspired by the trunk and the fact that the only material that was laying around were dead branches of the trees, and my intuition.
I started the project without really thinking about age-differentiation and much too complex. The complexity was the consequence of the fact that I really did not know what 'simple' means in this context. I thought that I was doing something simple.
But in reality, I had all kind of goals in mind. I wanted to connect the drumming to other projects, so, I spoke with another volunteer that was going to do a dance-class, and I agreed with her that we would try to combine in the end. She needed an 8-count for her dance, so I decided to work on a structure in which the kids and I would alternate 4-counts. I would have two different 4 counts as propositions, and they would have two different 4-counts as replies.
During the week that we did this in Zagreb, I got all kinds of problems. I could not get all the kids that wanted to participate to work together: (their ages ranged from 4 to 12, their numbers between 2 and 10. We would work for about 30-45 minutes, once or twice a day.) The smaller ones did not understand rhythm at all, the older ones had also incredible difficulties, but they would continue much longer. I had not enough things to beat on. I have tried to devise all kind of other things to hit on, there was a metal slide for with steps that gave different tones, etc. etc. The sticks kept breaking because the wood was too old. Girls did hardly participate, probably because most of them were doing the dance classes. I never got to work together with the dance class- of course.
Why did I not divide the age-groups? I still don't really know. Probably because I was afraid to loose the interest of the older boys if I worked some time alone with the younger kids, I never wanted to refuse them when they wanted to play, and I always felt some panic if they suddenly walked away. There was not very much for them to do, actually. At the end of the week I threw away the whole 8-count, and concentrated on a simple 4-count, with a loud beat on the 1.
On this base we could play with three boys as a small rhythm section during the treasure-hunt, making atmosphere for a prince that was sitting on the slide with an instruction for passing groups.
During two weeks in Savudrija I developed this: the difference in loudness turned out to be a much better entrance for kids than the counting of rhythms. (Probably this is a peace of cake for music instructors...) Here I did get a difference in age-groups, mainly because we moved over different parts of the camp. The bigger boys would come to the central area where the main activities were concentrated, the smaller kids would we find in the tents far away- they were also kids that did not get to participate in many other projects. Now I started to understand what simple was: sometimes with the smaller kids I would just have 8 counts of noise, and then 8 counts of silence in which Sinisa would play guitar.
The combination with guitar, (= melody) by the way, was an incredible improvement.
On the base of these simpler rhythms, (I usually did only 4 and 3-counts, I also used clapping hands and some simple stepping, to get away from the plastic jerrycans that we used for drums.(Of which I usually did not have enough). One time we used a group of trees as drums, but I did not like to hit living things, so I didn't repeat this although they liked it.
During this workshop, sometimes the kids would get ill or very silent. I would have to sit next to them for quite a while, or Sinisa would take them for a walk and a talk. One time he brought a kid to the doctor with an actual fever, but the fever disappeared after a couple of hours.
It is quite logic that the sound of the drumming alone must have caused associations for them, they had all been in shelters during air raids. But I feel also quite sure that the physical action of the drumming relaxed them, and that the control they had over the sound reassured them very much.
Some kids hung around for a long time before they finally decided to take something to make noise, and that would sometimes be quite surprising: one boy that I had expected to go and hit one of the jerricans, preferred a metal thing that gave a soft, very high-pitched sound. The moment that he lost himself in this, his mother, that had been with him all the time, left him to do something else. Although he seemed to be totally away, he immediately took after her.
Here, five of the older boys formed a rhythm group for the theater workshop in the afternoon, were they would sit for hours, endlessly repeating simple 4-counts at demand.
At the end I still felt like I was at the beginning of this project, and I would have liked to devise some special drums to make better and more beautiful sounds that would be less bother to the older people in the tents around. (They sometimes complained)
I am sure that this workshop could be developed into something very beautiful.
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Usually the work with puppets is considered as theater. I think that in some way the work with puppets is more fundamental than theater.
Puppets are a magical field, half-way to theater. For small children, they have their own reality. Often you will children hear asking about puppets in a show: "Are they real?". The question of the reality of puppets is much more difficult than one would think- puppets are in a way real. Also, many things can be puppets that you would not think- even people can be puppets; steered from outside.
The essence of a puppet is projection.
To project means, that you 'give' your feelings or your characteristics to some thing for a while, and let that thing feel what you feel, to let it be what you are. The process of projecting takes some time. You have to personalize that thing. Projecting is something that you can reach with a simple story: for instance, sit with some children in the middle of a field of stones. Let them chose a stone, and then start to give this stone a personality: ask what is the name of the stone? Does the stone originally come from a big or a small mountain? Where was that mountain? How was this mountain called? Was the mountain his father or his mother? Why was the stone separated from the mountain? How did it get here? Where does it want to go?
If the children have seriously invented answers to this questions, the process of projecting has been done. For each of the children this stone is now a person, with its own feelings, and its own goal. Probably it will have happened for you too. (Yet, for each child the stone represents a different personality, keep that in mind). From this moment on, it will be very difficult to just let the stone alone when leaving- something will have to be done before you can go, because the children (and maybe you too) will feel to abandon the stone.
You are now projecting your own fears to be left alone in the stone. You can project your fears for pain, for death, your feelings of joy and love as well- just according to the stories you make up that could happen for the stone.
This is not really a conscious process, although I have now described it very clean- this process of projection is in reality a very mysterious process that is the base of many of our theatrical arts. As such, it dates from our animistic past- as well in the pre-historical sense as in a personal developmental sense.
A very nice puppet project is to put personality into trees in a bush. Together with the children, you talk about the character that each tree could have, then improvise to give it a mouth that can move and let the children make a dialogue between the trees.
Another possibility is a variation on theater make-up projects: Let the children paint a face on the adults, and then let them sit on the back of the adults they painted. They can then whisper the text in the ear of the adult that has to say it. Quite comic for the audience it can be if the adult in question does not speak Croatian..
You will see how the child puts its image into the puppet, and gives it life. This process is in itself beautiful. A famous Croatian psychiatrist, Prof. Dr. Bastasic, has developed the work with puppets as a specialty, and he would like to advise you whenever you consider to make a puppet project. We have sets of tools and sewing machines to make clothing for those who want to work with him.
Theater is a very complex medium. To begin with, in the most simple form- the actor is his own puppet. He asks the same kinds of personal questions that we just asked with the stone, and then creates a personality, a character, with his own body.
The projection of feelings into this personality is then very personal: as do children when they play 'father and mother' or what ever.
There is a next step though, and that is that an actor can also invite the audience to project its feelings in the same character.
So 'theater' activities can be divided into two big area's: those in which the children are only concerned with themselves (= role playing), and those in which they do realize that they work with an audience: the performance.
Many times these two forms are confounded by people who do projects with children, because for some reason they have a performance in their mind, while the children have not. This can result in very awkward situations in which the children on the one hand, get totally manipulated, have no idea any more what they are doing, and a whole lot of adult onlookers on the other, get very emotional, positively moved, and enthusiastic.
The reason for this is that (for adults) children are ideal puppets. They can project so much of their own feelings and problems into these "Little mirrors of themselves" that they are no longer able to care about the child's own feelings. This process by the way does not only take place on a theater stage- it is a process that is part of everyday life. But when the child is being dressed up, made-up, and directed on stage the process works a thousand times more strong.
Of course in this situation it becomes totally irrelevant what exactly the child tries to play, and this fact it will register very well, although maybe not conscious. What the child will register very consciously however, is the reward of a lot of adult affection after having been on stage. This can easily cause a stage-addiction that has nothing to do with personal growth or making theater, but with the process of becoming a mirror for adult emotions.
In the simple form, theater is mainly about the creation of roles, and, like puppets, this can be an immensely rewarding form of creation. It can be played with quite a large group of children. Children from 6-8 will generally play it much different then children over 8.
To insure that the children really base their roles on their own idea's there are some things you can for instance do:
First you gather the children that like to play 'theater' in a place where they can be relatively quiet. If possible there should be some materials like cloth for clothing, and cardboard for marking 'house' or place.
Take care that the cloth are not already pointing to some character: no theater dressing, only simple cloth without meaning. (But let it be beautiful and clean- which has the meaning: You are worthy of good materials.)
The children do not have to be all present yet when you start to ask them who they like to be. Her you will train all your non-directive wits. The kids will first hesitate: if they cannot find out who you like them to be, most of them will feel insecure. Some will directly tell you: Pirate, Prince, Mermaid, Fireman. These direct answers stem from (mostly) symbolic images that the child has picked up somewhere, and they are not yet personalized. So the next important question is: "What kind of pirate?"
You will see that the child is surprised by this question. The more stereotyped character it choose, the more surprised it will be. It will look at you like you try to fool it: the child is under the impression that adults know better who pirates are then they.
Now you force he child into the field of imagination. Especially with insecure children this has to be done in a friendly way.
Invite the child to extend its idea of pirate for today, and after some talk you will get unexpected details about the pirate: He has a grandmother in Australia, he loves goldfish. Don't be satisfied too soon, because the fact that he misses a tooth may still be part of the stereotype. So, from now on, it is 'the pirate with a grandmother in Australia'.
It is advisable to have some broad brown sticky-tape for closing cardboard boxes around. You can then stick a piece over the kids breast, on which you can write with a marker in English and Croatian his full role. Now the kid can search for clothing and a place to live. These two elements are equally important to built the character
In the mean time all the adults have to get to know who are the characters, what they look like and where they live.
The kids who were more shy in the beginning will now see that the origin of roles is not in the adults and they will get more courage to invent something. So you will get strawberry's, flamingo's and other characters that are created less daily on the stages of the world.
One of you, Croatian of course, can than be the storyteller. If there are many kids, there has to be a microphone, because not all the kids will always follow the central story by being present. (Some ghettoblasters have microphone possibilities for karaoke-use.)
Also there has to be some music, sad, merry, calm and sensational, preferably on different tapes, operated by somebody else.
If you are lucky, some kids can make some music (drums) and one of you on guitar: Life is better.
Now, when all the characters are known and are in the process of creating their homes, you can make up the beginning-situation of the story: you create a world out of the elements that have been made by the children, and here you have to be creative. This beginning must sound as the beginning of Odyssey or one of the main fairytales: Once upon a time....
Usually there will already be all kind of dramatic elements in the beginning situation: the pirate has announced that his grandmother is ill and he has to go to Australia, the flamingo is hungry and the strawberry..... It is on you to choose the main dramatic element, the element that will move the story forward for the first time. Here you will find out what drama is: drama is controversy, something that causes a problem. So: the pirate goes to Australia: = no problem: Bye pirate, exit pirate. But: the pirate must go to Australia but he has no ship: = drama, and everybody will be involved, usually most of the strawberries will joint the trip- which causes the hungry flamingo to...
So: your job is to find problems, and announce them to the storyteller, who in turn will weave them into the story.
The music starts, and silences, the storyteller starts the story, all kids get to know who lives where, and what is the problem, and some of them will come forward with a solution, the music starts again until the storyteller knows how to combine all the solutions, and then tells the result. All characters join in the solution or continue their own adventure, building up material for the next problem.
This can keep you going for hours, provided you keep strictly to the idea's of the children. As soon as the children get the feeling that they cannot influence the story or are not heard by the storyteller, their interest will disappear.
When the story gets stuck for a moment you have all the natural catastrophes at your disposal: storms, rains, drought, earthquakes, etc., but you can not make decisions for the actors, although for you it will be very clear sometimes that the children neglect beautiful dramatic opportunities.
Also, adult organizers can take up roles as a consequence of a kids choice (they can be the white horse for the prince), or as a consequence of some fantasy that will help the story get on (they can be the bad witch that is hunted down).
They also can form doubles of kids that get in trouble during the story: (some kid wanted to be a pirate- suddenly, the strawberry, the flamingo and the blue whale with a not in her tail, decide to attack the pirate.)
This is not to defend the pirate, but to undergo his fate in unison. Even to be burnt can be played- and in these situations, certainly with children that have the history of these kids, here are the moments that you may not escape away from, but that you will have to perform in extremely political way. These fate-verdicts you will have to broaden, to make more general, by making the image stylized; impressing -not because of realism, but because of beauty.
There are many forms for this way of role-playing, you can make it more complex when you do it more often with the kids, and it can also be extremely entertaining for parents to sit and watch their kids do it- as long as you did not tell them that they would see a theater performance- then suddenly they will feel ignored as audience because a lot of the children do incomprehensible things in their little corner. They will then reproach you that the activity was too chaotic- and they are right in a way because of the audience normally has some rights in theater.
To cook a sandstorm with scissors.
The children are in these kind of role-plays usually very much in their own stories. The roles they choose, the reactions they make to the stories are usually loaded with significance that we cannot know, and that we also very often don't get to know. The knot in the tail of the whale can be derived from the knot in the hair of her mother. The fact that the strawberry ardently wants to use a pair of scissors to cook a sandstorm for the prince can have connotations from the way things were handled in the kitchen back home. You will have to develop your senses to recognize the importance of these seemingly absurd fantasies and find a way to present them as totally normal in the story-line. It is not necessary for you to analyze the origin of each fantasy, because the association-work that the child does in these situations will lead it to where it has to be by itself. The important thing is that you leave the associations intact, and that you really introduce to the story what the children say. This can be difficult because sometimes you think you understand the child, and without realizing it, you will use your interpretation in the story. The child will then not react; it just does not recognize the story-element as its own.
In Holland we never repeated these role-plays, and I doubt if it would have been possible. But when we did this kind of activity in Savudrija, the children have been repeating a role-play during several days, and in the end they even did it with a lot of audience. The originally created story was written down in a big, clearly empty book, and during the next days there were only small improvements and changes to the story. I got the feeling that the fact that this was their own story and the safety of knowing what was going to happen appealed very much to the kids.
Yet, the final performance was not a real theater performance: the kids did hardly understand that people were watching (I estimate that there were about 200-300 kids and adults), neither did they care. The kids that were audience did hardly understand anything, but everybody loved the reunion.
Real performing is different. It needs a different mentality from the performers, and this mentality is not as wide-spread as everybody thinks. Yet, there are those kids that love to act, the actors, the actresses- and it is usually easy to spot them.
In the camps this is probably more difficult because of the situation. In Savudrija there must have been more than a thousand children; of them about a hundred children were attracted to the theater activities at some time, and from them I only saw one girl there that really performed like an an actress, and she turned out to be the daughter of a staff-member.
Building is not only important for children in kindergarten, it is also very good for older kids. Building can be done with all sort of materials, and in all kind of seizes. Usually the materials that are just too big and too heavy to handle are the most interesting for kids.
Building can be done inside: to arrange or stack tables and chairs can result in beautiful palaces, gardens, towers, dwellings. And it can be done outside with tents (brought by volunteers) windscreens, or more permanent materials.
All kind of constructions must be able to support weight, because sooner or later somebody will climb on them- and probably even more bodies.
After some initial simple building projects, you can have a design-phase before the actual building.
Interesting part of architecture is lightning: to change the structure by changing the light. You will need some projectors for this, that you will need for theater and general performances anyway. In the evening, you can install projectors on different places, lighting a construction that you have created yourself, of lighting some existent (part of a) building, and then change the lights (yes- you'll want switches, too) together with some music that is only audible by the group that you work with (Important, if you work in the middle of the night).
The French call this 'son et lumiere' .
Of course all the work you do with kids on architecture can later be used as scenery for a theater performance.
Passive art experiences.
One can also enjoy art. It may seem strange, but enjoying art is in reality maybe more difficult than making it. To make is: to create, to decide, to be. But to enjoy art demands that you open yourself for another. Artists can make that more easy, but the fact stays: you must be interested in somebody else than yourself, you must be able to be open (again) for the outside world.
I hope that Suncokret will develop many ties with Croatian and Bosnian artists in the near future, and form a bridge between them and the people in the camps. Through the international contacts, hopefully also many European artists will go and perform.
But there are also many things that the volunteers can do when they work with Suncokret. Many of them play an instrument and bring these with them. They sing and play for each other in the evenings and with the children without much ado.
I think that it could be possible to extend this somewhat more and make some real performances- if you dare to do so (because real performing takes some special guts). Please, do not be too shy and contemplate this possibility: to give a real small concert, a real small dance-show, if you can- and treat your own performance with respect. Find a nice spot, make a good stage, and do not start with relativizing, jokes, and toning-down,- which only is a sign that you ask the audience not to take you serious. For European youth it has become difficult to perform, because through television they are confronted wit all kinds of seemingly perfect performances- so they are usually deeply convinced of their own inferiority.
But try to realize that all over the world people perform for each other without all the masking techniques of film and t.v. All these performances may lack slickness, but they have sincerity- and that is what the audience will appreciate in you.
At the same time it is, of course important to find the artists in the camp. There will be musicians, singers, dancers, storytellers: try to find out if they could and would perform, and what they would need. Many of the elderly will have some experience in storytelling: let them tell stories, but make a stage.
Have some fixed hour, some fixed place and some publicity, create respect for the storyteller and maybe find a musician that can co-operate with the storyteller. The stories? Why not the old fairytales, the old legends of the country. Yes- very often these stories will contain, in symbolic form, problematic meanings, but these stories are so much a part of the cultural history that they can never be excluded.
Of course I will encourage you to find modern fairy tales, to invent them, to have them told. If you have a good storyteller, sometimes the improvised stories that are made during children's theater workshops can be beautiful stories, also for the children that made the story themselves.
Being a writer I will also give you one of my own stories that I feel has special meaning in this situation and that turned out to be very effective. You are invited to tell it, of course and tell me your experiences....
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Once upon a time there was a prince that dearly loved a princess that loved him too until one day she died.
The prince was inconsolable. His sorrow was so great that in his presence no fire would burn any more.
When he would sit with one of the big fires in the castle, it would extinguish. In his presence no banquet could be enjoyed anymore in the merry light of candles.
Of course, in the beginning everybody felt sorrow for him, but soon his presence started to annoy his company, especially at night when there was a need for the light and the warmth of fire.
Thus, on a day, the prince decided to leave in search for a new beloved. He ordered a golden medallion to be made, with in it the portrait of the princess drawn by one of the best artists of the country.
He hired a large suite, and bought a caravan with horses, carriages and tents. His journey took many years and he met many beautiful young women, some very rich, some very poor, that felt great love for him. But his sorrow stayed; and it stayed so strong that even the fires he lit in these women extinguished very fast.Moreover, his suite started to decay. The food in the caravan was often cold, sometimes horses had to be sold because the smith couldn't forge new shoes for them. The day came that the last of his suite left him and some time after that he finally had to leave his own horse because it went limp.
On foot he arrived at the see, where he sat on a cliff for a long time, the medallion in his hand, staring at the waves.There laid his sorrow: uncountable salt tears, in waves as he felt them inside. The see seemed to ask him something, as it came towards him , yet at the same time pointed to the far horizon and he decided to follow her.
In a port he took ship. To pay the fare he had to part with the gold medallion, the last bit of richness that he had left. The portrait he took out, he pressed it against his lips, and to prevent himself from losing it, he ate it.
On the ship he was given a hammock, on the front deck near the bow, as far away as possible from the steam engine that drove the ship. After some months of navigation that hardly seemed to bring them closer to the horizon, the ship was caught in a storm and the prince was in danger to be flushed off the deck. The captain had him brought in, but immediately the fire under the engine started to die. The prince understood that there was no other way for him then to abandon ship although the captain was terrified by the idea and insisted that he would take back the medallion if he did so.
The prince was set overboard in a small sloop, that filled quickly by the stormy sea and sunk.
Not long after this he was washed ashore on an island that did not consist of much more than an active volcano. The locals that found him had great admiration for the medallion and gave him shelter and care.
Life was hard on the island. Every once in a while streams of red-hot lava would come down the slope which forced one to leave homes and farmland to move to another part of the island that had just cooled.
Because of the outbursts of the volcano, there was nearly always storm around the island, preventing any ship from landing to take the inhabitants away and nearly everybody on the island therefore was in some way descendent of some castaway.
Not long after the prince washed ashore, for the first time within living memory the sun broke through the clouds around the top of the volcano. Filled with awe they beheld the pillar of fire that erupted from the top and the streams of red-hot stone along the mountain slopes. As usual, they started to pack their house-holds for leaving, but the lava congealed and came to a standstill. Then they saw how the prince climbed to the top, to the edge of the volcano, and how the pillar of fire slowly shrunk and disappeared.
In the following months the island totally changed appearance. The sun remained in the days, in the night it would rain. Grass started to grow all over the mountain, and countless flowers colored the slopes. When the first birds arrived and proved ready to make their nests as well, only then the inhabitants dared to climb the mountain to look for the strange young man. But they found nothing, besides the gold medallion. They brought it down from the mountainside and gave it a place in a small chapel, where it is until this day.
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Until now, we have been looking at activities that in essence are individual, although the reception of art performances is already the beginning of being interested in others. Yet, there is still a big step to be made from projection- that is to put ones own feelings in something or somebody else, to an open mind for others.
To open yourself for others is very difficult when you are in big trouble yourself.
The safe place to enter into social relations is in the game, where there is distance from reality, where things you do have no consequence for the life 'outside'.
Games are a special activity in which we create a distance to reality by a set of rules and a metaphorical structure, in order to create safety for the participants. As long as you obey the rules, you will not be held responsible for what you do outside the game: it is only a game.
Therefore games are specially suitable to work with kids that need some protection. Yet, you must be aware that the emotions that the participants in games have, are real emotions- they are the objective of the game. If the rule is that you should prevent yourself from being touched by somebody else, the sensation of being touched is negative- if the rule is that you must be touched, than the sensation is positive.
So, a game is a set of rules, that you use to separate any activity from reality.
The game game
The game game is the most simple game that you can make and it also proves to you what a real game is:
Together with other participants you agree that you will pretend to play a game. The rule is, that outsiders can not understand that you do not have any rules. You can start in any situation: giving your partners small signals, or whatever. You can use dice, cards, chessboards Every once in a while, you give the signal to have won or lost, by cheering or sighing ( or swearing a little) Very soon you will have a group of outsiders that are guessing the rules of your game- there will be some that pretend to know the game you are playing, even better than you.
You and your participants have to pretend to be totally concentrated in the game, but your real attention is with the outsiders.
After some playing you will find out that you are forced to become more and more clear about what you are doing, because the outsiders begin to be suspicious- in the end, to your own surprise, the rules you thought were non-existent begin to materialize, and finally your game turns into a real game, in which others can participate. This is the end of the game game.
The game game illustrates what a game is, it will give you a lot of experience with rules for games, and it will give you and the kids (usually this is for kids of 8 and older) a lot of fun. It needs pokerface, though, and you cannot repeat it too often on one location.
Simple activity to game.
Let us look at a simple activity: making color. In essence this is what children do if they copy the colors from an example to a not-colored drawing. You can make a little game, that adds safety and togetherness to this activity.
You need water paint. You take two colors, paint them on one half of a paper. on the other half, you mix the colors into a new one. show the new color and ask the kids to produce this color.
The result will be a mixture between a cooking and a drawing workshop, the joy will be in reaching a color and the discovery how difficult it is. If you have made orange, some kids will for instance try to make it with brown and white. You will find that some colors are more easy to find than others. You will find that the target color influences the atmosphere. Take care that you do not turn it into a match, and that you also try to make the color of an other kid. Stay with kids that go totally in the wrong direction, but don't do the job for them- maybe they have their reason for not getting at the target color, maybe there is an eye problem. Watch out if you are working in a mixture of natural and artificial light. (this makes the game much more difficult, because the color of the existing light defines the color of all objects.)
This game can be introduced and done without language- the kids that can do it will do it, other kids will start drawing.
Now: what in this game are the symbolic elements?
1. Color for essence
2 bridging a difference (in color) for the way you have to take
3. finding unity, for the goal
Color is in our life directly connected with our instinct for beauty. Beauty is connected with our internal system of 'good' and 'bad', and beauty is the material translation of 'beauty'. Reaching for beauty therefore is the power of this metaphor, not only for the individual, but also for the collective.
It is the metaphor for what we in daily life call idealism. Reaching for an ideal that is connected with our sense of 'good' .
The game can be made more elaborate, for instance if you prepare the paper with circles, in which the color has to be filled, and the game can be part of a larger game in which for instance a dragon lives that can only be fed with a certain color.
The creation of games
Can we now, for instance, make a game that deals with the opposite, 'materialism'?
Let's consider the needs for that game.
The participants must be forced to act on the base of 'needs', and these 'needs' should be connected to 'life'.
Now, in each game, 'life' is symbolized by 'participation'- this means that one of the rules has to be that you are out of the game as soon as you do not gain enough to meet your 'needs': in a symbolic form you die.
So: the beginning of each game is birth, the end of each game is death, and in between is life.
Now we are nearly there. Each participant gets some stacks of 'things'. For some reason they lose things (The reason can be cards, or dice or many other things), and for some other reasons they can take some of the others stacks. He who looses the first all elements of one stack is out of the game (dead). By consequence, the last one in is winner.
Surely you will know some games that operate along these lines.
Both examples show some of the metaphoric elements that define games: The game has its own fence: in or out. This is the metaphor for life and death. Yet, to be in or out of the game is not really the same as to be in or out of the activity: after each game, there is a new game.
Consider for instance most ball-games: they have quite an elaborate system of putting players temporarily out of the game- for punishment, replacement, etc. To be taken or shut out of the game is in general a serious matter (within the reality of the game).
Colors have very strong symbolic functions. Not only they are in a lot of ways connected to our biologic system (Green induces rest, red induces action), but also some colors have a very strong, and sometimes problematic social implication. One of the most known examples of this is that 'black' is usually symbolic for the bad, the evil. This is a big problem when you work with black children, which, by the way, you will not find very often in the Suncokret work. In this situation one of the most relevant color-problems that you can get is the fact that green is the color connected to most Muslim organizations, and there fore usually in the camps for Bosnian children and people a very desirable color to be connected with, and red is the color of the former socialist society, and therefore for all parties usually less desirable.
Symbols and emotions.
We see with color what we see with all symbols that are used in social life- that they are connected to emotions. In fact, the definition of a symbol would rather be the other way around: A symbol is formed when we link an emotion to an object. Why did the heart become a symbol for love? It is a beautiful topic for an evening's discussion.
Some symbols seem to be more abstract, like the circle for 'unity', but the emotion is always behind it- when you see the circle for instance in the wedding-ring.
Most of these symbols are totally embedded in our society and in our culture. They are not only the way to represent emotions, but also they have become a way to handle emotions. We send each other cards with hearts, we paint a skull on a box with dynamite- and a box with a skull on it becomes dangerous even if it is empty. (You don't think so? Then why do you fear a teen-ager with a skull on his jacket?)
Swords, eagles, flags, gray hairs, powdered whigs, long ago they have become symbols because of their function, but after this, they now cause the emotions that they used to represent. They have become the language of the collective, of the community. They are the words of our emotional language.
Emotions and instincts.
Emotions and instincts are quite close together. In fact they might be the same thing, described on different levels. Instincts as we see it are biological, emotions are mental. 'Instinctively you know that something is wrong', means 'you have a negative emotion that you cannot further explain'. Why do we feel negative about death? Why do we feel positive about sex?
The relation between emotions and instincts has to be made to understand why emotions are so powerful: they are connected to the essence of life, to the essence of our existence. Large parts of the area of instincts are not consciously known to us- but they do rule our reactions in daily life. We can know that the color black has nothing to do with 'bad', but we are totally unable to rule out all our emotions connected with this color- at least, not within one generation.
To realize the power of symbols is very important for Suncokret's work. Not because we should do something about them, but we must be able to use the insight for the better.
We could develop, for instance, a game in which the decision to be shut out (= to die), has as a consequence that the kid enters another game- if you would like to open that perspective.
When the shutting-out is being connected to some kind of reception on another game-level, the symbolic meaning also gets another level; you are transcending the original level.
The entrance to the game is life, though, and the entering by consequence is a kind of birth, of creation.
There are many ways of starting games, and they all have the function of symbolizing birth on the one side, and creating safety on the other side.
The starting of a game must be a little rite, to get this effect. Sometimes it happens that you start a game in a bit of a fuzz, and when the participants do not really know who is in and who is out, you can get a dangerous mix of reality and game- dangerous, because the participants that feel in the game will take more risks than the participants that do not.
A game though, is more than symbols- it is also rules that make the game repeatable. The fact that you can play a game over and over again is essential, because it allows you to explore really the emotions that are being evoked by a game. There will always be another game is one of the major safety devises that games offer.
So, the essence of the game is a set of rules- rules that contain symbolic elements. In order for a game to work, these rules and symbolic elements must form a sort of completeness.
If this completeness is not achieved, or if there are too much rules, than the game will simply not work.
When developing the game, this is the real trick: to find the necessary balance between symbolic elements and rules, and this balance takes time to find and develop but it is fascinating work. It is, by the way, of course nothing else than the work of developing scientific experiments, only they do work with reality (they hope).
When you have found the right balance, your game will become popular, and the participants will, by playing it, finalize it. They will make some little changes as by nature, that maybe at first seem amazing to you, but will later seem totally logic although you may not yet be able to explain why.
The game is now developing into a metaphor : it is becoming symbol for an aspect of life as a whole. This is the form in which a game will survive.
This process can today easily be observed in all games that are played on a board: from chess to the modern outburst of thousands of newly made board-games that are trying to become metaphoric.
Setting up games.
To set up a game that handles the emotions that you want to handle, you will have to clarify the emotions and to find a symbolical form for it.
What are the emotions that the children in the camps need to address:
The fear for pain, injury,
the fear for hunger, thirst,
the fear for violence, sound
the fear of confinement
the fear for death
the fear to be left alone
the fear to lose affection, love,
the feeling of injustice
the feeling of helplessness
the feeling of guilt
You will notice that all horrible things that can happen outside the child are translated into an internal feeling: the loss of a father causes loneliness and the loss of love, for instance. Games do not directly address the events in reality, they address the internal emotions. Loss is loss, and this is the emotion you want to explore in a safe context.
You will also see, that most emotions are described in terms of fear.
There are of course, other emotions- but fear is mainly what we have to handle in the refugee camps.
We will take the example of the fear for confinement. There are of course many forms in which we can symbolize the situation of confinement: two people facing each other hand in hand, representing a bridge under which the kids pass like small boats. Suddenly the bridge falls and a kid is caught between the arms that form the bridge. Now, the arms become barriers, the child is locked up (but in a very comforting way).This game can be connected with singing- as we do in Holland, and you probably do in your country.
More emotional is of course a game in which a child is for instance required to sit in a cardboard box- for many children in normal situations this is already very difficult if the game is about confinement, but in the camps it would, certainly in the beginning not be advisable.
Note, that the same children that would not go in the box during a game, will feel another box in another context (for instance as a house during a role play) as extremely safe.
A step in between can be made with projection:
Have two stones, on one you write HELP! and on another you write LEAVE ME! Put them under two cups and move them around, then let the children choose, to liberate the HELP stone. You will see that for some children this game can be very emotional.
If you want to play with more children, you can use the memory-game for this. Lay the game open, and place cups over one half of the stones. Then turn the other half face down, and move them. Now turn them one by one and let the children 'liberate' the corresponding stone that is under the cups..
Here there can be an introductory story, about all the characters of the memory game being confined for some reason. This story you can gradually make more serious, according to the coping capability of the children you are working with.
If you have the children sitting quietly around you while playing this game, you will see that, when emotions rise, they will start to breathe irregularly, very fast, or deep, and even to sometimes stop breathing. This is are instinctive reactions, caused by stress, and it is maybe useful if you are a rabbit in a bush, but here it is not- at he contrary, they create more stress.
To handle this, you have to handle breathing, to have some breath control. One of the most effective ways to do this is singing, and this is the reason that so many games are accompanied with small songs:
"One, two, three, four, look who kicks the door". A small stepping dance, some physical action, makes it even more effective.
Probably you will now start to see the contours of many games for small children, a rhythmical succession of dance and music with a symbolical action. (Many rites for adults have the same pattern, by the way). When the game is well- structured, you will never have very tense reactions, although the emotional content may be extremely heavy, which can be concluded from the involvement of the children and their wish to repeat the game without end.
Rules and stories.
Rules can be set as rules, just by telling the kids: "the rules of this game are....."
But rules can also be induced from a story.
A story is, in a simple way, already a metaphor on its own, because when you start one, you will have to stop it. The beginning makes the end necessary, and the listeners know this and will demand it from you- but they will also demand that you obey certain rules in finishing.
The story will develop from
To have a story for the introduction of rules will make the rules much more easy to handle and to understand, it will also make it more easy to find the definition of the goal within the story (For instance, to find back the stars that have been lost by the sea-fairies), rather than as an external magnet- like a prize. The satisfaction that a solution has been found within a story can be as big or bigger that the satisfaction of having won something.
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Many of the activities that we can start in the camps are not directly or uniquely targeted at the children. As we have seen before, children are surrounded by an environment that has great influence on them; their mothers, their families, the accommodating group, etc.
So we must also concern ourselves with the whole community. Here too, we can look at the community as something that has lost its identity: the members are usually thrown together by accident and without very much influence by the refugees themselves. This means that they do not know each other very well, and the situation in the camp is usually not very positively supporting them to get to know each other. On the contrary: the usual lack of privacy is a reason to be very cautious about developing too much intimacy.
Here too, we can start to help to built this identity- but there are some aspects that we have to keep in mind.
The most important thing is that all the refugees permanently want to leave the camp. The camp or center is not their chosen social surrounding, and there is no force on earth that can make them to like this situation. In fact it is one of their fears that they will be confined to this situation for a long period, and they are indeed suspicious of some authorities who they suspect to have lost the willingness to search for a way for them to return. Many of the refugees will usually be planning to return to their homes in a period of about 3 to 5 month, whether this is realistic or not. You therefore should not try to reconcile the refugees in any way with the camp on longer term or engage in the construction of elements that indicate a long-term stay.
Planting Trees might for instance not be a very advisable project.
On the other hand, there is also the permanent fear among refugees, that they will be evicted from the place where they are to some accommodation that has even less facilities- and often this fear is not without grounds.
In many, if not all camps, refugees will organize themselves in some way. It is clear that Suncokret will want to be a partner of these organizations, and that our activities will not try to copy or double their initiatives. Especially the activities that are directed towards the whole community will always in some way interrelate with the activities of the residents boards and their authority over these projects will always be a direct or an indirect fact.
The WHO Mental Health Manual.
The work with the adults in the refugee society demands a general knowledge about mental health problems in the refugee situation. Again, there will be professionals that object to the idea that volunteers and temporary workers concern themselves with these problems. The World Health Organization clearly has another opinion. At the moment it is developing a manual that gives a simple and clear insight in problems and ways to handle them, a manual that should be of great importance to the Suncokret workers. In 8 units the main problems are being treated by people that have a wide experience with refugee problems all over the world. These chapters cover: Stress and relaxation, Functional complaints, Common mental disorders, Helping refugee-children, Traditional medicine and traditional healers, Alcohol and other drug problems, Helping victims of Violence, torture and rape.
Although the WHO handbook is still in a draft-version, the information and the sharing of experiences that it offers are very important.
It is useless to copy information from this manual here, because it is already so much cut down to the essence that any summarizing would only be arrogant and stupid. The information in the WHO manual is more more basic and more general than the ideas you are reading here.
Children in social activities.
Many activities that are targeted to the camp-society as a whole can also be organized for and by the children. To the children it can be a way to socialize and to gain respect in the camp community. Of course this is usually only interesting for the older kids (from about 10) and the adolescents.
For other activities though, it is essential that the parents and older people are invited to participate, although they could seem interesting for the children too. In these cases you must keep your objectives very clearly in mind. When you involve children in activities, the results can never be fully depended upon- because children have the responsibility. If you need to depend on the results of an activity (For instance that some newsletter is really handed to everybody), than do not make it a children's activity, although the children will beg you to be deliverers.
Projects for Mothers.
After the children, mothers are mostly the second large group in the camps. Usually their psychological state is much worse than that of the children, because for them the crisis is still going on. This means that it is very difficult for them to relax. Their children is usually all there is left and they live with the children in a strange duality. On the one hand they are their only positive point in life, but on the other the children are a terrible burden that is with them 24 hours, and never permitting them some time for themselves.
The children on the other hand need their mothers, certainly if they are traumatized, as the last person that knows them and that they can trust. So the mothers and the children are chained together in a way that is very difficult for the mothers.
Suncokret 's activities are the place where children can be on their own for a little while, but we must realize that the first separation of mothers and children is very difficult for both of them.
Especially for the younger children there will always be a kind of kindergarten. Here we should be very alert that the separation between mothers and children is not made too abrupt and too long in the beginning.
You will see that the mothers tend to be extremely relieved when they can leave for a little while, but sometimes it can be too difficult for the children, and then you will have to create a more gradual way to make the leaving of the mothers possible.
Kindergarten demands some experience in handling small children that you may not have if you didn't have children of your own. Please take advice and do not underestimate what is needed to watch over young children. Only when the mothers feel that they can trust you wilt their children, they will really have a little bit more peace of mind when they leave them for a while.
Kindergarten are not only a project for the children- they are projects for mothers too- and treated that way too. This means, that the feelings of the mothers about the kindergarten should be known and a basis for the development of them.
Involvement in Suncokret Activities.
Of course it will be important to involve mothers in the Kindergarten, their presence though should not add to their burden. All of Suncokret's activities with the children will be a good place for the mothers- but in the beginning we should always realize that this should be in the interest of the mothers. Many mothers will feel guilty about the problems their children are in, and will tend to blame themselves for them. Therefore it can easily be happening that mothers feel some obligation to help in Suncokret programs, and even that Suncokret workers give them the feeling that they should.
This feeling can easily be radiated when Suncokret workers are too much stressing the importance of the participation of the mothers, even with the interests of the mothers at heart. Therefore, don't be too pushy in collecting mothers with your activities. They will come for sure when they have time and space in their minds- don't worry about that. But for sure do not start activities in which you have to have help from the mothers before you have the explicit feeling that they are ready for it.
The first activities in camps should be about inventory. These are activities that tell us and the camp what it looks like, so there must be a map, and an image of who live there- so there will be some kind of display on which the residents are shown.
To make a map of the camp can really be a very nice project. Start to make a huge plate, stick paper to it, and start making the outline of the camp and the places where the people live.
This can be a project about topology, about measuring, about geography. There can be the need for drawings of the market, the toilet and washing places, etc. Volunteers who have some experience in mapping can explain how to get distances and relations correctly on the map. If you get the hang of it, you can amuse the kids by letting them find out how the sewage system works, where water and electricity tubing is, where birds have nests, too. This project can easily perform the function of many geography lessons.
When the project is started, finish it- also if the participants loose interest. The last bits of this project can be somewhat tedious.
When it is finished, you make a photograph of the big plan, and convert it into an original that can be copied. This can also be done at the Suncokret center. Put the date under the legenda. Finally, copies can be made and handed out in the camp. Do not forget to name the participants of the project somewhere in a legenda.
Of course the map can also be of a building.
The making of a list of residents is somewhat more problematic. Not only that populations of camps change rapidly sometimes, but also very often there are people in the camps whose status is less than legal. When starting to make lists of residents, it is a natural instinct to strive for accuracy , but you must try to be realistic here.
You are not officials, and your task is not the registration of everybody in the camp. What you want is to give a broad idea of who are in the camp for everybody. For that purpose for instance a set of group photographs on which the people are united on the base of their own choice, collected on a display that is the camp map, can already be very satisfying. The residents will soon be able to connect somebody they want to see to some people on one of the group photo's. The making of a group photo on itself can, again, be another little project for a volunteer with a good camera.
The making of a list of kids on the other hand needs somewhat more accuracy. Here we have a big interest, because we know that many of the children that need the most help, will easily stay in their rooms, huts or shelters. Therefore it is imperative to Suncokret to know which children there are and where they belong.
This activity could be structured in the way a snowball is made: Start a small nucleus of signs that represent children in an attractive way, and slowly all the children will find their way to it, will want to be represented. Here again: it can take time, this is not an activity that has to be done in one afternoon. The crux of the matter is, to have a beautifully designed display, on which the resident children are grouped by the way of photo's, drawings, nicely written names, etc.
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The inventory- activities already indicate a group of activities that has a much wider implication.
One of the terrible aspects of the life of refugees is the total lack of information, the mist they are in concerning their position, the rules regarding their life's, the structure of the camps, etc.
Suncokret can play an important role in this by establishing systems for information exchange within camps and between camps.
These systems will only function if they are serviced by the refugees themselves in the end- and this presents a problem, as discussed in the chapter on the participation of refugees in activities; sometimes they will have their own problems in the way of working for these information systems. Another problem is that refugees who have an opportunity to leave will always do so: their loyalty to the tasks they take upon them within the camps must therefore always be seen as relative, and Suncokret must make clear to refugees that they must never hesitate to leave an activity as they see such a chance.
Information structures can be quite simple to quite elaborate.
An information display can be as simple as a blackboard, and it can grow into a small exhibition-like structure, if you have the chance to get some volunteers that are handy and can built a nice structure.
Important is, that, whatever you create, it looks attractive, and that it is maintained regularly: information boards with bulletins of 6 month old only create more depression.
The choice of the location is important: when it is not on a place that everybody passes regularly, it may not really start its function.
Later, when the function is established, it may create some burden to the direct surroundings, because people will gather. Than it is no problem to move it and find a more independent place for it, where maybe one can be seated for a cup of coffee.
A small group can be responsible for the updating of information, the drawing of announcements, etc. Especially the drawing of posters is a critical job. If you find somebody who likes to create beautiful posters, this will reflect on the atmosphere of the camp.
Some camps posses a P.A. (public address) system. These can be the basis for the formation of a radio-group. To create such a group it is important to have some volunteer who can explain what is necessary on the level of preparation and editing of the material, and who can help to handle the technical equipment.
A radio group is difficult to start, because the residents of a camp will easily get irritated if the radio programs are not concise and clear. Radio is in these circumstances a very imposing medium, but when it is rightly managed, it also can be very good for moral: not only for the residents but certainly for the group that makes the programs. Reserve this project for older girls: it is very difficult to find good projects for them, and the younger children, although they will like it will not profit as much from such a project.
Take care that you introduce all the requirements for responsible radio-work as checking the facts, hear both sides in case of conflict, honesty when you make a short account of anything, etc. If you do this, then this experience can be very important for their later chances on jobs.
A simple form of radio can of course also be that you create a program on a cassette, that is played several times near the info-center where people get coffee.
Although less intrusive, newspaper projects are more difficult than Radio-projects, and on the long run they require a lot more material. (Paper!). Newspaper is a slower medium, and writing short articles in an interesting way on the long run is quite difficult. Newspapers therefore tend to loose their actuality and editors are after some starting period, usually frantically looking for people that can produce whatsoever written material. More than in radio, the newspaper tends to become a goal rather than the means to some community service.
The creation of a (small) library can also be a beautiful project.
Life in the camps can be extremely tedious, and reading material is often desperately wanted.
To have a place where newspapers can be read, magazines and books be lent, can be a great thing, not only for residents, but surely also for some of the older residents who can run the place.
To run a library demands some skills. Not only books are needed, but also a system of administrating them, arranging them on shelves so they can be found, having a card system in which you can see what they are about- a catalogue, and a smart system to know where they are when they are out and to get them back when they are overdue.
Getting books and other reading materials is a project of its own; the local community can be approached not to throw magazines and second-hand literature away. On the other hand, sometimes it can be quite simple to open library facilities to non-refugees when the project runs smoothly.
Suncokret has its own video equipment. For the moment it is not very much, but it is of high quality. (Hi8).
As soon as a camp has a monitor and a regular video recorder/player, it therefore becomes possible to have this equipment temporarily in the camp and make some simple films or documentaries with groups of children in a simple way (Assembly editing only).
These tapes can than stay in the camp and be shown several times in the info-center, or on evening meetings. (It will be nice to have a copy for the center in Zagreb, this copy can then also travel to other camps.)
Problems with information
All information projects have some common problems.
The first is: how to become interesting. It will very soon become clear that the wish to write or make radio is very often not the same as the wish of other people to listen or read.
There are some ways of becoming interesting that you should be aware of, one of them is the production of gossip. It is the way that many news agents use and it must be strictly forbidden in the Suncokret structures. Gossip is a way to destroy people and it is the opposite of the reason we are here. Personal information in general is not to be subject of our information structures, although certainly young participants will find it a very intriguing field.
The second one is: as soon as you have become interesting, there will be a lot of people who suddenly will want to control the information the project delivers, and the way it is done. Especially the camp co-ordinating authorities, but also groups from within the residents.
European volunteers, who have been raised in the ideology of the 'free press' will in those cases immediately react in a very negative way, and start to 'fight for the independence of their medium'. This is very dangerous, and reactions of these kind must be subject to talks that you have had on forehand.
Here are some points to consider:
To begin with, the media in Europe are not at all as 'free' as they pretend to be. The European volunteers will, under other circumstances be the first to attack their own press on this item. Therefore they must not try to realize here something that cannot exist elsewhere.
Second, There is still a war going on over here- and that means that everybody is quite sensitive on information. In all cases one has to accept that there are limitations on what can be said - although one can differ in opinion on these limits.
Third, in all camps there are tensions that volunteers are not aware of. They are not part of the resident community, and they can not be- (which is their luck, by the way). Therefore it is entirely possible that some things are problematic to say in this situation. Usually, you will not be able to combine more parties in the redaction of a project, and therefore your project will immediately be part of some faction.
Fourth. The independence of media is not only a wide-spread myth, it is also very often a way of the direct producers to escape from the obligations that they have towards the community they live in. They'd rather concentrate on some spectacular story somewhere else then on the fifteenth problem in the kitchen this week. Yet, the art to make this problem interesting again is the real art for an information project. Suncokret is not in the camps to create media-tycoons, but to be of service to the community.
All of this said and considered, the moment can come that unacceptable limits are being imposed on an information project. In these cases it is extremely important not immediately to escalate the situation, but try to work with diplomacy. Receive the party that wishes to control, and listen first- do not start to argue immediately, but with some ceremony, note extensively his wishes. This will relax the situation already very much, because you make clear that you are ready to take the remarks seriously.
Then have a meeting with the redaction and analyze the problem.
In Savudrija I organized a Radio-station with a journalist and three older girls (16-18) from Sarajevo. After the fifth day the camp's co-ordinator demanded that the program be adapted to his ideas, and the girls were furious. We had a talk- and one of the most problematic remarks of the Man was, that the girls talked Bosnian- and in the Bosnian language Bosnian there are some Serbian words. So he told us that there would only be Croatian speaking on the radio. (Also he wanted more news about the problems in the kitchen and the sanitary situation and less about music) Later, when we analyzed his demands, it was possible to understand his aversion against the Serbian language (which , by the way, is not the same as pardoning it)- but the problem was, that the girls, who did a lot of life talking during the program, did not really know which words were Serbian, and since they were Bosnians, they spoke Bosnian and could impossibly 'on command' speak Croatian. (Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian are languages that are quite close together)
The solution we found was, that the problem would become an item during the programs: the girls would regularly cut each others talks with the question if some word was 'right'- but they would take care that they would never be explicit about the meaning of 'right'. With some giggling they would then have a small discussion in which the tension around this topic could be taken away with some humor. They became quite clever in this technique, and it worked.
If it is not solvable, contact Zagreb, do not act locally. In the center there are very good relations with the office for refugees, and sometimes it can be the right way to solve these problems on this level, before an all-out conflict has arisen that makes it impossible for one of the parties to retaliate without loosing face. Be aware of the possibility that the office in Zagreb tells you that you will have to recede. If no solution can be found we will probably have to find a way to end the activity without creating too much disturbance, in order to keep the possibility open that something alike can start anew in a later phase.
In this case it will be your task to help the participants in the project to accept this fact, something that can be very difficult. If you are not ready for this possible conclusion, than do not start a project, because if you are successful, this kind of difficulties will be inevitable.
When you were wrong.
Inevitably also, and very soon, the moment will come that you have, unintentionally of course, spread some wrong information or made some mistake. Be sure that there is a place where residents can complain- whether it is the Suncokret 'Office' or whether it is the Camp co-ordination authorities. Pick up complaints, also if they are not brought forward formally and make the handling of complaints to something special. Not only will this heighten the respect for your project, but some people will also get involved in your activities when they find out that they are taken serious in their comments. For some people, complaining is the most easy way to get in contact with you. (A consideration that should not usually be the reason to give somebody the grounds for complaining...)
To handle the complaint, you must be able to reconstruct what information has been given- therefore, if you make radio, always try to have the latest programs on tape available so that you can check what actually has been said. Newspapers etc. should of course always be on file. This is the only way to show that possible complaints are unreasonable- if they are.
When you indeed were wrong: Apologize!
And do not be too stingy with your apologies, because you will never have shortage of them. It is amazing how reluctant people can get when it comes to apologizing, but remember: you are not in the camp for your ego. Very often one of the participants should be the one who has to apologize- and here tender fields can develop. Always try in the first place to make the apology on behalf of the whole project- but it will raise the self-respect of the participants in the end if they turn out to apologize on a personal basis too.
Information is serious.
From the examples that you see here, you will easily understand that information projects are serious matters. They mingle with the reality of the camp and the reality of the camp is a very hard reality. Therefore all these projects must always be carried out with precision, a sense of responsibility and respect.
If you gather information on the residents of a camp, then be aware that this is personal information, already by the simple fact that people are in the camp, a fact that they may not want to reveal somewhere else. It is therefore not automatically Suncokrets task to handle lists of names, let alone to have files on certain residents because they are in some project or so.
You must be aware of the fact that some information can be problematic for reasons that you cannot immediately grasp. Sometimes for instance, people will hesitate to give their family name- this can be because these names indicate sometimes rather clearly to Croatian, Bosnian or even Serbian background, and according to the situation in the camp and the situation between the camp and the outside, this can be problematic.
Nevertheless, these files can be necessary, especially when it concerns certain children in difficulties, and then it should always be noted that these files are confidential. Also, files may never be filled with unnecessary information, for the sake of the completeness of the file alone. So, when opening a file be critical in what you register, do not accept any 'normal' formats without thinking. Again and again and again: we are not the camp-authorities.
The relation between the camp-authorities and the refugee-residents are most of the times quit tense. The main reason for this is the fact that in this relation the whole big problem of the gigantic pressure of the refugee-problem for the society in which they are sheltered is concretized. Usually the camp-authorities are understaffed, they have too little means to do their job, and they can have quite emotional feelings about the burden that the refugees are for the Croatian society. They are usually the only people that really understand the vastness of the problem, and the gigantic amounts of money, quantities of food and other resources that are required. Usually they have a rather large responsibility: to cope more or less with what is supplied to them to meet the needs of the residents of the camps. These residents in turn, never get happy about the care that they provide- because in general there is never enough. So these people very rarely meet respect or even some acknowledgment for their work. It is usually very easy to criticize them and especially for young west-European anti-authoritarian wealthy students, they are easy targets. But also other, external people like journalists are greedy for stories about the misuse of power, corruption, incompetence, etc.
But our responsibility is not to publicize or to reveal these stories, our responsibility is to solve this problem- and we can do it, as long as we don't let us get ourselves maneuvered in the position of either become the camp-authorities or become adversaries to camp authorities.
Solving the problems between residents and camp-co-ordination is the first step of projects that diminish tension between the refugees and the society in which they live.
Many Croatian organizations, but also the internationals have the unhappy habit to call the camps co-ordination 'camp-command'. The origin of this mistake is of course simply that our authoritarian society can very difficulty think outside the lines of a military army, and that the organization of camps is very often done by (former) militaries. Camp-command is a concept that induces a military structure of responsibility and command. It is sometimes quite amazing to hear a military referring to himself as camp 'command' complaining about the fact that the refugees are so passive and unwilling to take responsibilities (responsibilities that they would never allow their soldiers, were they in the army).
Indeed, refugees are very often very passive, due to hopelessness and depression. But to put them in the situation of being commanded only enhances this passivity.
One of the first projects that we can therefore do is to introduce (with the consent of the camp-authorities) the word camp co-ordination as soon as possible in all the publications etc. that we produce. A good relation with these camp co-ordinators is essential for our work, and therefore we must have regular meetings with them, to explain our projects and to listen to their needs and problems. Of course sometimes we also will need their support in solving our problems, but we must constantly remind ourselves that we are in the camps to solve problems, not to make more problems for people that are already over burdened- and the cam's co-ordinators explicitly belong to these people.
Second: we must keep our distance to camp-command, and this also with their consent. The reason is that they still represent the authorities, and that they still are the people that have the responsibility to bring a lot of bad news to the residents. It is their work to solve the problems connected to shortage of means etc. and therefore they will regularly be very unpopular in the camp. There is no use whatsoever for Suncokret to be involved in this- at the contrary- when it is clear to the residents that Suncokret is outside this problem, we will be able to operate in a positive way when these tensions arise. Suncokret must therefore opt for a third position within the framework of the social structure of the camp (not refugee, not co-ordination).
Outside organizations tend to be rather clumsy with the structure of the camps. Many times we are forced to be ranked in an authority structure, and this structure only knows two directions: up or down. So, sometimes we are forced into the position of the camp 'command' and sometimes we are forced in the position that we have to obey camp-command. In the first situation Suncokret is used as a cheap enlargement of the man-power of camp-command (because we have many people that are paid for by non-governmental projects and a lot of free volunteers). In the second case we are being used to support the weak base for the authority of the camp-command.
But also our own volunteers are sometimes making the mistake of being over-zealous to assume responsibilities that they think they can handle better than the camp authorities. Usually this turns out to be based on a total underestimation of the problems and an over estimation of their own capacities.
Being a third party, we can have a big effect- if we continuously keep being aware of this position. For instance, we can invite members of the camp co-ordination to (shortly) participate in our projects when they pass by. This will allow them to have contacts within the framework of a game or an activity with the residents on a temporary level of equality- which can take away tensions and even create some trust. Of course you will have to explain to the co-ordinators in advance why you will do this, because usually they will feel to much pressed for time to 'play around' as they will initially feel it.
You will avoid to put camp co-ordinators in situations that accentuate their power-relation; at the contrary- you will try to give them the opportunity to do the reverse- for instance to be involved as an audience for a performance of the children.
Of course you must realize that these people are usually really pressed for time and you cannot expect them for instance to take time-consuming parts in a theater play although this could be extremely positive.
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Many Suncokret activities are the consequence of the great variety of skills that are represented by the international volunteers, from which languages are of course the most common: all of them speak a foreign language, and the children are intrigued by this. Their natural curiosity and will to develop make them eager to learn , and so many of the volunteers suddenly find themselves in the role of teachers of foreign language. Usually the level of their skill is relatively unimportant, very few of then are trained teachers and even many of them teach a language that is not theirs.
As long as the children's will to learn is the main reason for these activities, all of this is no problem- in shrill contrast to the problems that teachers have in real schools. Why is this?
This is because schools have to be disconnected from the natural yearning for learning of children. Teachers cannot always be interesting for children, and certainly not for a fixed group on every moment for all children. The obligation to follow a strict program changes the focus from learning into teaching: no longer is the curiosity of children the base, but the decision of the adults what has to be learned.
This is the reason that school had to develop a structure in which the authority of the teacher and the fight for results have become central.
When Suncokret has classes, these are designed to answer to the curiosity of children and to their wish to develop themselves by gaining knowledge and skills. They are the response to the healthy drive of children. This means that they can never be turned into obligation, or into some school-activity in which marks become important. Not only are marks again 'changing the magnet' , but also it is not the atmosphere in which children with a weak defense of their individuality will be able to develop.
Unhappily enough the school has great status, and many people that start out learning the children something interesting get caught in the relationship teacher-pupil. When the child turns away to some next interesting topic , the teacher will look for means to catch attention again, either by some form of manipulation or by straight authoritarian means et voila: the school has been born .
School is defended by the fact that children need structure, especially in refugee situation, school is defended by the fact that it is important for the future of the children, school is defended by the very definition of school which is: important. But the reality is, that he school is the most simple and uncritisized way to manage children out of the way. One person that assumes the title of teacher and a relatively small room (any other activity requires more space) will form a school and a respected activity; nobody will ask what exactly is happening inside.
This is not the place or the time to discuss the positive and negative aspects of school in general , this has extensively been done in a large discussion some 20 years ago. But this is the place to conclude that Suncokret must take care that its activities do not simply and without any critical sense develop into schools.
Yet, schools will develop. The social pressure to have schools and a schooling structure is so big that every authority will give priority to any 'school' activity over any 'creative' activity. Suncokret can therefore also not object or counter the formation of schools, but it must take care not to get involved in this, because schooling is an immense industry, very costly and heavily regulated.
As soon as schools are being organized, Suncokret must therefore connect them to UNICEF (who has a structure to support schools and teachers) and the authorities that have to support school with money and materials. It is important to realize that officially Bosnian children have to be thought a curriculum that is authorized by the Bosnian government- and the Croatian children get a program that is supervised by the Croatian government. Materials as books notebooks etc. are costly and cannot be paid through Suncokret, though sometimes we are connected to support groups in Europe that specially wish to support schooling in the traditional sense of the word.
Although the children are no longer in the Suncokret realm as soon as they step into school- other persons are: the teachers. Teachers in the normal world usually are heavily burdened. In the camps this is even more so, because they have to work with very little materials and the children they work with are not normal classes. They will usually be very soon very stressed.
Even more severe this situation will be when the teachers are refugees themselves, which is often the case. They are in a very difficult position, because in general these people are also traumatized to some extend. This means that they are in no state at all to cope with the stress that is presented by a group of closed-in children. Here you have really a condensed catastrophe.
Therefore teachers in these situations must be supported by Suncokret and by volunteers outside of the schools in projects of their own. These projects must enable them to handle their emotions, and to find friends, to find ways to make their work in the classes more satisfying and productive, and to lower the tension that will usually rise between them and their pupils.
There is another reason why projects with teachers are important. This is because of the very natural effect that there will develop a kind of competition between the Suncokret workers and the teachers with as prize the respect and the attention of the children. Because most of the children are obligatory in the school for a large part of the day, Suncokret workers feel 'robbed of the children'. Because Suncokret workers can do 'nice' projects for the children, teachers will feel them as 'unrealistic' concurrence.
This fight over the children can only be stopped when both groups consciously stop it- and to do this they will have to agree on the interest of the children. There is a program, developed by UNICEF, that helps teachers recognize traumatized and stressed children, and suggests to them ways of action. It would be very advisable, I think, to connect this program with teachers.
Finally, if the school develops to a place that can handle or wants to handle the situation, there should also be the moment that Suncokret has to contemplate to leave, to open activities in a place where there is more need for our work.
A different matter is, that we can make projects in which Suncokret volunteers are being thought by refugees. For this there should be some information in the camps that volunteers would like sometimes to get some lessons. Residents that have some skill can than offer to teach, if they want to. For volunteers it can be an extremely nice break in their role as helpers to have some two or three hours a week that they are being thought.
Of course you will have to be able to learn, that means to be quite independent in your ability to catch what your teacher is explaining to you -because most of them will not be skilled educators. This independence is more difficult for most people than they think, because the educational system in Europe has as an important side-effect that individuals have become quite dependent on didactic structures for learning. An independent student can of course never complain about a 'bad' teacher- if he doesn't learn, it is because of some problem of his own: either he is not interested or he doesn't find the right questions.
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Refugees do not have an income, and inevitably therefore the moment comes that somebody will want to start a project that generates income for them. These projects are even more serious than information projects, because they would mean that the refugees are entering the economic market place, and so will directly enter competition with the non-refugees, the people that live in the region and that are depending from the same market.
Because the refugees do not have means, they enter the market only on the supply-side and not on the demand side- which means that, if they are successful, some people somewhere else will get hurt.
This is the main reason that the refugees usually are not allowed to work.
Economic projects will therefore always raise the tension between the residents of refugee-camps and the local population as soon as they hit the market, unless you take precautions.
The first precaution to take is that economic projects are always undertaken in co-operation with the local population.
The second precaution is, that you will not kill prices by selling products too cheap.
The third precaution is that in whatever way, you should be able to extend the demand-side of the market, in order not to push local people out of the market. This can be done by either exporting the products to a new market (Maybe in your home-town?), or by importing capital, (Connecting new buyers to the local market).
Fourth, your product must be quality; it should not need the label: fabricated by the poor refugees of Croatia to be marketable.
Finally, you should get the necessary permissions. Refugees that work can under certain circumstances (nearly always, in fact) loose their refugee status, which can have serious repercussions.
So, if you consider to start an economic project, you will have to think economic first- and not to naive, because you may end up in frustrating hopes that you have raised yourselves first. You may end up with big stacks of unmarketable products, you may end up with a serious local incident.
Extending the market.
When you consider to bring products on the local market, whether they are goods, services or plain labor, you must realize that Croatia and Bosnia are not only in war, they are also in an all-out financial crisis. This means that the people do not have enough money to buy the most necessary things. You will see many people building houses, and consider this as a sign of luxury. The contrary is true: this is one of the few legal ways to save your earnings from devaluation. The Croatian money devaluates very fast because the state has continuously to print money to pay its debts. Bricks do not devaluate- so to put your money in constructions is a way to protect yourself.
This means, that in reality the market is very tight, and even if you bring a product that is not yet on the market, you will take away resources for other suppliers on that same market, and this will mean conflict.
You may now think that all economic projects are impossible, but that is not true. Because Suncokret, by its nature, represents all kind of relations with other markets all over Europe. This is where the solution is; and not only for the short term, but also on the long term. If you really want to create some future for the refugees who are now without any means for living, than you should try to be an agent for connecting them to the European market. In this, the refugees have as much interest as the non-refugee population, and here there are possibilities to create joint ventures.
Giving and helping.
Lots of help is being generated all over Europe to help the people in the war-region, but you will find that this help is usually structured as gifts- and gifts have the property of creating dependence.
You, connected to some place in Europe, could try and change this readiness to help into the readiness to open economical relations. In stead of just giving money, you could try and convince merchants in your city to risk capital. Of course you can only do this if you have some idea what the product would be.
When you find people with shops that are willing to sell products from your project, than you will have to enter (together with them) the world of in- en export. Very often you will see how the Economical Europe is quite different from the Humanitarian Europe, and how difficult it is to create even a little opening into this market, because there are all kind of regulations protecting the relatively rich European suppliers. You will see that it is very difficult to get permission to fill for instance empty trucks that were bringing help with goods to compete on the European market- although it seems economical not to waist fuel. Here you will catch a glimpse of one of the real reasons for poverty and war in the world, if you were looking for that.
As a conclusion, you must realize that economical projects will always ask a long-term commitment on a base that is slightly out of the Suncokret league. If you really want to start something like this, than Suncokret will try to support you and connect you to whatever resources we know, but we will probably not be able to back you al the way. Economical projects will be the responsibility of other organizations on the long run .
Projects for the elderly.
Usually the elderly in the camps are in bad shape and very often the will be extremely depressive. These depressions will not only result in the explicit wish to die soon, but they also deeply influence the children, who often have a task in taking care of them. Especially for the elderly the physical life in the camps can be extremely difficult. To go to bathrooms or to dining halls can be hell for them because of distances, bad pavements and lightning at night. The physical care for the elderly, especially when they get ill or disabled in some way, is work for professionals of the red cross that will usually be available in the camps. But there are special things that we can do to help them fight desperation.
The first is: accepting coffee. It may sound strange, but having coffee is a very important social habit all over Bosnia and Croatia. Everywhere where you come, you will be invited for strong, usually sweet, black coffee, prepared by boiling the coffee in the water in a special way. Accepting all the coffee will cost you the entire day and downright poison you, so you will have to choose, but you must know that you will usually give great pleasure to the people when you take a moment to sit down with them, have coffee and listen to their stories. When you do not speak the language, you will just sit, smile and listen anyhow, while they are probably commenting on you.
The fact that you work with the children is very important to them, and many times they will get very emotional because of your presence, they will cry and present you with gifts that you will sometimes have to very politely refuse because they are clearly too expensive (like a full pack of coffee: if you cannot refuse, than bring another pack some days later as a gift on your behalf).
To have a special relation with some of the elderly in a camp is not difficult: just turn up every day at the same moment, at the table for lunch, and change some words about the children, or just a smile. This can be your personal project and in fact is the simplest thing you can do.
Second, you can organize meetings for the elderly, take care that they can get there and back, have something to drink (Coffee again), and maybe some knitting or other handicraft material ready.
In many camps these knitting groups have become important meeting places that turn huge quantities of wool into all kind of useful clothing.
Also, you can invite the elderly to sit in with the children's activities if these are not too noisy for them. Here sometimes you can use a little bit of convincing, because sometimes they will be too depressive to have the feeling that this will do them good- and it usually will.
You must be aware though, that child-rearing in Bosnia and Croatia can sometimes be quite strict and it will happen that elder people get disturbed by what they see as 'too much freedom' for the children. It will happen that they beat children in front of you, and you will have to find a diplomatic solution for that. (You will mark my assumption that you are not a supporter of beating children)
Projects for Men.
You will notice that projects for children, projects for women and projects for the elderly are quite logical, but projects for the men aren't. One of the main reasons is that men are not the largest group of residents in refugee camps. But on the other hand, in their absence, they still are very important. Permanent residents are usually handicapped in some way. But there are also the visiting man- and they would be important for many reasons to be involved in some kind of activity.
These man usually come back from the front on leave or being convalescent from some injury, visiting family or being with refugees for a lot of different reasons, and with them is all the madness that reigns the fighting. This makes that these men are quite scary. They drink a lot, they are very macho, they are usually aggressive towards the people in the camp. Most of them are in uniform, and they make a big impression on the children. When they meet their wives, all kind of tensions arise after the first relief: the women in the camps have had to develop quite some initiative and self-support and very often this has changed them considerably.
Very often the only thing they want to do with Suncokret is football and basketball matches, in which they get quite rough.
These men also need to tell their stories, to be debriefed- but this is not an easy job, and many of them have to keep courage, because they must go back.
We have seen how they did get emotionally involved during the singing evenings- so there are ways to organize things for them, but there clearly is a need for many ideas and experiences.
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There is a nice, originally Scandinavian institution, called Ombud, that is as much as an institution that takes care of all problems that are not being taken care of.
Ombud is the place where the people come with problems that they cannot tell anywhere else. Of course Suncokret is not the organization that can handle all problems of the refugees- but still, Suncokret should at least create a place where people can complain about Suncokret.
This place can be the just an hour each week, or every three days of availability of one of the co-leaders, but it can be extended. This possibility will be advertised from the beginning of our activities.
This institution must not be felt as negative: at the contrary. It is the place where people will give feed-back about our activities, where they will realize that they have some rights in the Suncokret program.
The registration of complaints, and the subsequent action on them will also raise the quality of our work- not only on the spot of the complaint.
Of course we will not be able to satisfy everybody, but just listening is something that should at lest be done.
When this institution has found its place, it will also be used to bring other complaints or problems. The registration of these problems and the search for a solution could be the job for a small group of refugees that would be supported by the Suncokret information-system.
This group would have to get acquainted with the structure of governmental and other official bodies, and with the ways to reach them by telephone or by letter, etc. etc. The creation of such an Ombud-team would be the final goal for the ombud-project.
Parties and feasts.
As opposed to the long-run activities and projects, there are the short-term happenings: the explosions, the eruptions, the moments of catharsis in which feelings and emotions can reach huge proportions.
Feasts are essential happenings within a time-span in which emotions are being handled in a controlled way, emotions that are in fact too big and too important to be on the level of daily life all the time. Feasts are also social: what represents the relief of crying or of laughter and the ecstasy of orgasm for the individual, that is the feast for the society.
Feasts are never incidents; they are always related to the period before- and there are moments and periods in life that do not permit feasts- because they are too uneventful, to dull. When you try to start a feast in such a period, you will see that it will not work, whatever super-effects you buy.
On the other hand, there are situations in which the emotions are so overwhelming, that any possibility you offer will result in an outburst, yet, this outburst will not always be a feast.
This is the situation in the refugee-camps.
Feasts are a way in which all kind of emotions (sadness as well) find a way to explode in a form that is big enough and appealing enough.
If the forms are not big enough or not appealing enough, frustration will be the result, and frustration will in the end always transform in some form of aggression. Therefore the forms of a feast are extremely important. We have seen some Spanish groups that have found beautiful forms for feasts, and they are an argument to always invite groups like them if you really want a big feast.
Feasts and parties can also be a rhythm of life, they can offer some regularity over a longer period, and that is why a good structured pattern of parties and feasts will be very positive in the life of camps.
Parties, small feats, can also be important on a micro level: you can have a little party with a small group of children, just because a puppet has been found back, or a difficult job has been completed. These little parties can also be totally euphoric and cleaning, if you can find a form (a dance, a song, some wild running and jumping) that permits the emotions to 'come through'.
The Essence of Activities in Reality: Hope
The difference between activities in reality and games is maybe so obvious that you would easily overlook it: reality is no game. Activities in reality therefore miss the safety of games, and this means that things that go wrong in activities have consequences in reality.
All activities that we organize for refugees and refugee-children are aiming to create some sort of perspective, some sort of opening. To be able to use this opening, the refugee must feel some idea about the usefulness of the opportunity, and this idea about usefulness is in fact: hope.
Everybody knows how it feels to hope, and everybody knows what tremendous force hope can be. Also, everybody knows how terrible the loss of hope feels, and how it feels to discover that a certain hope has been an illusion. Hope is probably one of the most terrible forces that reign our lives.
When we create activities in reality for refugees, we create the possibility to hope. This has a big consequence: we have to take care that all hope that we raise by our activities are in fact realistic.
Here again a big difference with many activities in west Europe that are in reality leisure-activities. People in neighborhoods start a newspaper project, this project exists for a period and then it is finished for some reason.
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The most important part of Suncokret's work is the end of it. Suncokret should, if it really wants to be effective, be able to tell when it has reached its goal within a certain community of refugees.
There are two reasons for that.
The first is the gigantic number of refugees and the relatively small organization that Suncokret is and can be.
This means that it is imperative that we try to do our work, and then, to move on.
The second reason is, that Suncokret has a goal. It wants to be effective for refugee children. It wants to help them overcome the effects of war. We do not have to do this for them, we just want to be there in the period that they need help with this.
A lot of social work does not really believe in its own effectivety- we have already seen this.
If you do not really believe that what you do is effective, how then to explain your usefulness? The answer to this is that you start to believe that your presence, your being there, is enough.
The effect is, that the social worker believes that his presence has a function for the people that he is assisting- and in believing so, he creates a lot of social security for himself, and a continuous dependency for the client. These social workers do not fight any more to make their clients able to do without them, but when they fight, they fight for the continuing of their own institutions, their own jobs.
And the client, who has become dependent, believes that he can only be helped by the social worker, and fights with him.
This symbiotic relationship is probably the most realistic explanation for the matter-of-course way in which the prolongation of social programs are accepted. The same symbiotic relationship applies, by the way, to a lot of psychological therapy.
If Suncokret wants to escape from this trap, it will have to develop measures for its effectiveness, then develop a program to reach this effect as fast as possible and then to leave.
How would these measures look like, how would the program be developed? A lot of this is of course implicit in the suggestions that I have written in this book. But this book, written in the early stages of development of Suncokret cannot yet be very definitive in this respect: the measures for effect will have to be found in practice, to be recognized and then to be generalized. All of this will take time.
One of the essential goals has been named here: All the kids must have been able to tell their stories in a way that they can handle the emotions that go with them. Let us say, for the moment, that we would accept this as the only and definitive moment that we conclude that Suncokret has done it's job. What would this mean?
It would mean that we develop all projects in a camp in such a way that this goal is reached as soon as possible.
That we develop a way to register that we have reached this goal.
That, after we have reached this goal, we search for a way to hand over the responsibility for all the projects that have supported our goal, but that have their own goals as well, to the refugees themselves or to other responsible organizations, and then leave.
Leaving will be difficult. Difficult for you, difficult for the refugees.
Of course you will find important reasons for staying.
Of course there are a thousand ways to be useful in a community as is a refugee-camp. Of course it is more easy to just sit in a place and do all kinds of odd-jobs for people that are in no position to criticize you.
But, when you go to camps where there is nothing yet, you will see that there are more important reasons to move on. In fact at the moment, Suncokret is being forced to start work in too many camps, just because we do not have any idea yet what is needed to be effective. So: we start work at a moment that we cannot concentrate yet on having effect, and we do not have a clear goal, a well defined moment to stop our presence.
In the end this means absolute superficiality, and worse: some other possibly effective projects are not supported and developed.
Leaving will be difficult, and there will have to be a protocol for leaving. It would for instance look like:
For the moment these thoughts about ending our activities are of course still very tentative and theoretical. They cannot be something else.
The important thing is, though, that we all know that this is what we really want, what we are working for: to complete a task. The idea that Suncokret's existence in a camp is limited to a certain amount of time will also connect with the hopes of the refugees, and help to disconnect us from other services that are continuous, like general health care (in which mental health care is a part).
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All Suncokret activities need systematic reporting. The main reason for that is the need to develop new activities that can successfully help the refugees and their children. We hope that we will be able to gather all this information in Zagreb in a systematic way, so that it will be easy for you also to take profit from this information.
We are establishing a center in Zagreb where co-leaders and all Croatian and Bosnian- speaking workers in Suncokret can come with a report on projects , whether it be oral, written or on video. In this center they will meet workers from other camps and national and international experts on all sorts of fields. These project-reports will be topic of critical discussion and there will be praise, analysis, support for the problems in set-up and hopefully answers to questions.
( This center will also be the place for personal support, debriefing, counseling by colleagues and professionals, by the way)
But there is another important reason for reporting on your activities:
Suncokret is not a governmentally founded project. Suncokret is supported financially by a lot of European organizations, who in turn will have to report to their supporters. These organizations often give considerable sums of money for our work, and therefore the responsibility to give them information must not be taken lightly.
The people all over Europe that are the base of Suncokret's work simply have the right to know what happens with the funding that they have provided.
Often the effect reaches further that a simple account: if we succeed in giving good information, in the end Suncokret will fulfill one of its secondary aims: to counterbalance the sensationally distorted information that is being spread by the official press.
For this, it is not necessary that you make specially positive reports: in general, a sincere account of the difficulties you have is appreciated very much- as long as it shows how you are on the way towards a goal. Of course it is important that specially beautiful moments, radio-programs, newspaper-editions, drawings, etc. etc. are available for all kind of people that would like to be introduced to our work. Please- if you know of this material, send it to Zagreb !
Some people feel in a way that this implies a certain control. And indeed, it also is. You are using money that has been sent to us to do real work- and there is an obligation to perform such work. You would probably not accept it when big organizations refuse to explain what they did with their money, well, Suncokret is not a very big organization, but very small it also isn't. Therefore we all are responsible to see that we do not waste money or other resources.
Suncokret operates in the middle of the Croatian people that sometimes are not better off than the refugees- in reality sometimes their conditions are worse. Suncokret concentrates on refugee-children, and it can only do its job properly if we keep that concentration clearly in mind: we cannot solve all the problems.
But also, we must be realistic, and not engage in projects that are way beyond the possibilities that are offered to the non-refugees.
Suncokret operates in a permanent field of tension between the improvement of the programs in the camps and the spreading of the work to other locations. Reports on the projects will also be the base for a permanent assessment on this level.
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Suncokret is about hope. The hope that we will be able to break the chain of cause and effect, of war and revenge, of hurting and violence.
But when we try to do that by being another cause, we create paradox, while we are effect ourselves.
To be able to succeed therefore we cannot see ourselves as cause, and the children as effect- that is not enough.
I advocate the view that is forced upon us by history: Not they are the children- but we are. Aristotle's' views on mathematics were childish, compared to the views of any second degree-adolescent of today. Columbus' excitement cannot be shared any more by seven year old kids on the block that play football with a globe.
We would never be where we are if we had copied the ways of our parents, yet strange enough nearly all education is about copying what we did. We do not know what the young ones feel. We have not been there before, our sense of superiority over them is pathetic, ridiculous.
The young ones are not here to follow our steps- they are here to go way beyond us. This may feel bitter, certainly if you are only 20 yourself, but in a way we know it. And what else is it, if we try to force them to do what we did, than a badly concealed jealousy?
The kids will heal themselves, if we let them, if we can succeed in breaking down the barriers that our generation creates and that the generations before us created. These barriers are not out there, somewhere in the fields, they are inside us. To do that, we must regain the same force that we trust in the young ones: the forces of creation.
If we are creative in the surroundings of the kids, than we will be the ideal stepping stones for them.
This way of trusting the force in children is not a blind one. At least, it does not have to be, if one is willing to look. What we have top do is to stop the stupid amazement, every time a child does something ingenious. Stop whining about how unexpected that is, because the fact that you don't expect it only shows your underestimation.
Expect it. See it as proof. See it and your trust will not longer be blind.
Will we be able to shield them from history? Absolutely not. We are history. But we don't have to teach them history, they will learn it from us- inevitably and necessarily: the human species cannot live without history.
Suncokret in the end is therefore not about children at all: it is about us. It is about a try to survive in the middle of madness, to escape from the duty to be just a stamp, carved by history, obliged to stamp endlessly bad copies of itself out of the future.
It demands from us that we dare to go in the unexplored, in stead of seeking shelter in the rites of the past.
Not far from us our peers are aiming weapons at each other. They are raping, they are killing, they are being raped, they are being killed. That is what we are being thought by history, that is what we are being convinced of today by our societies, by our governments, by our armies: that there is no other solution.
It is not in the kids that we have to fight this conclusion, it is in ourselves.
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