The third group came via the Zagreb advice centre for women and children who experienced violence, and via the women´s shelter in Zagreb. These 19 women and children mainly came from Zagreb and surroundings and from Slavonia.
The group consisted in 6 women, 3 teenage girls (15-17 years old), and 10 children (2-13 years old).
All of them had experienced long lasting violence by the husband/father and had just escaped from this situation. All of them now lived in the women´s refuge in Zagreb. The traumatic scenes were still very present. This was noticable in the work with the women and children. Especially the children were extremely disconcerted. There was no way of approach to the youngest children (2-3-years) at the beginning. After three days our efforts paid back: The youngest ones started to react to our offers. Finally, the children calmed down more and more, and it was possible to develope a natural way of contact.
With this group, our colleague Branka Bilogrevic (educationalist with diploma and body therapist) worked with the women; Zeljana Buntic-Pejakovic, Gordana Ivancevic and myself worked with the children. All the other helpers worked in an honorary capacity, because it was not possible to achieve financial aid for salaries. We thank them all from the heart for their work.
The women decided on rather slack group talks on the terrace in the evenings. At the same time the women and teenagers took the chance to do private talks. On the one hand they emphazised that they wanted to "relax and leave the problems behind", on the other hand, the violence they had suffered from as well as the economical and legal problems after the separation from the maltraitor were massively present all the time.
The group talks mainly dealt with these topics. We felt that every woman was extremely occupied with her own situation and therefore could not give attention to other peoples´ problems, neither their children´s problems.
One woman, who just left the maltraitor because her daughter pressed her for it, was in a state of posttraumatic depression and had so strong psychosomatic trouble that due to us presssing her for it, she went to hospital after her stay in SEKA house.
Branka mainly looked after the women and teenage girls, contacting them one by one. Only by the end of their stay, when the group interacted more, the women accepted Branka´s offers to do common exercises on relaxation, movement, and dancing in the therapy room. Out of this rather loose group work, a little play including dancing acts developed and was presented at the farewell party the last evening. (It told the story of a woman who came to the women´refuge and then could come to SEKA house.). In this play, the women could see their own story from a distance, told in a humorous way. Obviously, the play had a happy ending!
At the beginning, we mainly worked with the small children at the beach. Especially the three 3-year-old were very afraid of the sea at first. Not until the end of their stay, they dared to enter the water and began to like it. Therefore, we mostly played with them in the sand, collected stones and seashells and did some experiments with mud which they really enjoyed.
The essential work with the children related to their fear to step over any border; but the total lack of rules and limits was a problem, too. They gradually figured out that we would not infringe on them in any way. They could decide on the game, they determined the proximity between us. But we made clear that we had boundaries as well: We did not want to be hit nor rudely tackled, nor spit at. Besides, there were certain rules everybody had to keep (for example : no rollicking about the minibus, no running away on the way to the beach, listening to each other and other things). After a few days keeping the rules started to work. On the last days of their stay, the contact between us became stronger, the children even came to play without their mothers to the children´s house- at least for a short time.
Besides the common games during the day, we worked with the older children (4-13 years old) in the therapy house for children every evening for two hours. These children totally loved the therapy house- they desired to play there during the day as well. We granted them their wish on the last day of their stay.
Main topics in the work with the children were: violence- protection from violence/ safety- unsafety/ unpredictablity, limits and boundaries/ rules and violating limits, the total lack of stable limits/ rules, contact/ proximity/ confidence-and fear to trust.
For a 4-year-old disabled girl the list had to be enlargened by "fear to meet with disapproval or derision" " wanting to be a part of it", "helplessness, depending on others."
An 11-year-old boy indicated physical and mental neglection. He felt obliged to check out how far he could go, whether we would still like him in spite of his provocations or would react with violence in the end (he had never seen another way of putting up rules and boundaries.) On the beach and in the therapy house, we had a permanent struggle about this issue. After 2 days he gave up his resistance, accepted the rules and became cooperative, obliging and clinging. Only on the day of departure, he relapsed into his former manners, expressing his anger and grief about having to return to Zagreb. But now there was a way of talking about it. " I´d rather stay here with you or take you with me to Zagreb", he said as we were saying good-bye.
Of course we carried out the photo-project and the T-Shirt painting with these children as well. Additionally, we intensively used the techniques of Psychodrama: Upon my proposal, we played the "jungle-game": Every child chose a wild animal doll ( e.g. a lion, gorilla, eagle, bear, crocodile, or a snake), whose role they adapted in the game. We agreed on certain rules for the game: it was only allowed to act via the dolls, nobody was to be hurt. If anybody had enough, he could loudly call out "stop", and the game would be interrupted. I participated in the role play as well (so did Zeljana for some time, which was helpful as we could cooperate.) The children chose the roles for us. Again and again, I was told to be the kangaroo mother with (according to the number of participants) 3 to 5 children, Zeljana had to play the eagle´s part representing a police officer. After the first jungle game that lasted for about an hour, the children wanted to play it almost every day.
This game gave them the possibility to express their oppressed agression, and to experience themselves in powerful parts (in contrast to the powerlessness they had experienced in real life).
At the beginning, they tended to choose bad characters as their role: They constantly attacked the kangaroo babies, tried to kidnap them, to bite them, to eat them. As the kangaroo mother I was extremely busy protecting my children all the time. Many times I failed in spite of my efforts. It was important that I permanently gave comments on what was happening and that I spoke out loud what I felt (fear, anger, helplessness, preocupation, desperation, exhaustion), and that I asked for support.
The children´s way of playing showed their experience during the last few years: total unsecurity, permanent fear that something bad could happen, no stable rules, knowing that nobody will help them. In the game, they chose to be on the other side, to be agressive and violent. In that way, their oppressed agressions could come out and they could free themselves from the feeling of helplessness. As I permanently expressed my feelings- as the kangaroo mother- their own feelings in helpless situations were reflected. This helped them to analize and understand themselves better and to take those feelings as normal in such a terrible situation.
In the course of the game, we observed clear changes, especially regarding the development of the game: The children more and more chose "good, powerful roles". At the beginning, they had delegated this part to Zeljana as the "police officer" without giving her too much influence. Generally, the children kept to their chosen doll, but changed the characters and were now "protectors" and "deliverers". Some played ambiguous roles ("good but somehow evil"), which represented their experience with - and feelings towards their parents. (Experiencing the maltraitor´s unpredictable behaviour, as well as the feelings of love and hate they had towards father or mother.)
After a few hours of playing (the game was still about "life in the jungle"), a structure was to be seen in the game. The children evolved solutions to help the kangaroo mother and her children to leap to safety. There were still terrible things happening in the jungle, but now there was a real plot being followed. There were always helpers and protectors that took mother and children to the hospital, who operated on them, found them a safe place to stay, brought them food...Only in the last hour of playing, violence was not the main topic any more: The "good and powerful gorilla" found a scared, abandoned (!) child in the jungle and handed it to the kangaroo mother as a 5th child to be taken care of. All the little helpers supported me as the kangaroo mother: They brought us food, even cooked a meal for us, and finally they organized a wonderful birthday party for the abandoned child. The two stepfathers (gorilla and lion) tried to surpass each other in giving presents to the child.
In only five hours of playing the children made this astonishing self-development.
Fortunately, there is a child psychologist in Zagreb who cooperates with the women´s refuge there. In the house itself, a educator works with the children half the day. So fortunately, our work will be continued.
The women are supported by the workers of the women´s refuge and are offered additional therapeutic aid by a psycologist who works in the advice centre in Zagreb.