Final Report
Recreational stay and psychological-pedagogic support for traumatized Women and Children in Project SEKA, Splitska, Brac, Summer 2000

Group 4

The 4th group (9 women and 11 children) came to us via the organisation "Medica Visoko". But only three women and two children came originally from Visoko, the other women and children were east-bosnian refugees who fled to Srebrenica at the beginning of the war and had to flee from there again after the conquest of the "protection zone" and finally ended up in Visoko where the live until today.
During the war, Visoko was encircled by Serbian militia and taken under massive shell fire and shot at by snipers. Many times the city was cut off from the outside world when the only connecting road to Zenica was taken under fire. Due to the closeness to the frontline, the small town could be controlled entirely by snipers from the surrounding hills. People could even be hit in their apartments. That meant permanent mortal agony and constant extreme mental stress to the people of Visoko.
Apart from this traumatization caused by the war, one woman had been subjected to extreme maltreatment by her adult son. She had been an in patient in the Medica-Therapy centre in Zenica.
The east-bosnian refugee women and children who now lived in Visoko, were still strongly traumatized, even five years after the fall of Srebenica.
Four women had lost their husbands, six children had lost their father. One woman had lost her child. All of them had experienced the "disappearance" or death of male relatives or friends.
Three of the women´s husbands had been declared disappeared for years, today we know that they fell a victim to the Srebenica massacre. (About 8000 Muslim men had been "sorted out" , deported and murdered by the Serbian militia. Others had been killed on their flight through the forests.). Some women had to identify rests of clothes or other personal things that had been found in mass graves.
The circumstances of their flight were extraordinarily traumatic for all the refugees. They had to take flight over and over again, corresponding to the changes of the frontline. Experiencing mortal agony, permanent fear for the children, lack of food and water, cold and dampness inside the forest, exhaustion and desperation, made a deep impression on them that cannot be extinguished from their minds.
One woman and her five-year-old child were the only ones to survive a massacre in which all refugees that were about to be deported on a truck got shot by Serbian militia.The young woman and her child survived, lying underneath the dead bodies for hours, waiting without moving until the murderers finally left. It is admirable how woman and child have dealt with this traumatic experience. Fortunately, they get a lot of continous support by her family and her husband who survived the war as well. Now this family tries to get admission to the USA, because they do not want to return to their village where all this happened. In Visoko, the refugees do not have much of a chance to build up their own life either. The refugees mainly live in occupied houses, mostly belonging to Serbians who will probably return soon. There are no jobs and no perspective for them. With this group, Zeljan Buntic- Pejacovic and me worked with the women, the psychologist Marijana Smeric, Gordana Ivancevic, and me worked with the children.

Work with the Women:

The six refugee women were regularly meeting once a week for common talks, needlework, games and relaxation exercise, organized by Medica Visoko. Therefore they knew each other quite well, but certain roles within the group were already determined. The other three women got to know each other just before their departure to Brac.
Asked for their needs and wishes for their stay, the women first named recovery and relaxation. The east-bosnian women had never been near the sea before. Therefore they wanted to spend as much time as possible at the beach. But some women immediately indicated the wish to talk and to obtain confidential talks- they had heard about our psychological support back in Visoko and wanted to profit from it.
Zeljana and I therefore decided to offer loose group sessions on the terrace in the evening and to offer them private talks all day. Besides, we wanted to wait and see what the group was ready for.
With this group, a good relationship between us was built, and confidence grew day by day, especially due to our being together all day at the beach. Apart from teaching them how to swim (at the end of their stay almost every woman had learnt to swim!), playing in the sand, and walking, the women seeked intense conversation with us from the very beginning.
The traumatic experience during the war and the flight as well as the confrontation with the personal things of "the disappeared" they had to identify, the current difficult situation , the missing perspectives and the discontent concerning the political situation, were main issues in the private talks and in the group sessions at night.
In the private talks, the experience of maltreatment by the adult son and problems with the boyfriend or husband were further mentioned.
A nasty incident at Postira beach (at the neighbour village) made the women recall the old feelings of infringement, fear or even panic. Some male teenagers had tormented the women, obviously intending to "drive the Bosnians away from our beach"; they did not stop until Zeljana took out her mobile phone. At night, we we talked about the incident and discussed possible measures which we took two days later, bringing the police in as well. This nasty experience strongly reminded the women of what they had lived through during the war, so that we kept on talking about it until late at night.
Two day later, all five of us SEKA-workers went with the group to Postira beach to clarify the situation and to make our group feel safe due to our massive presence. As the teenagers adult leader- an extrordinarily primitive young man- appeared, we took him to task which provoked an agressive reaction. As a result we called the police. We had reported the teenagers to the police the day before and had come to an agreement. In the meantime, some inhabitants intervened and tried to calm the young man down.
We made clear that we were neither impressed nor intimidated by his affected behaviour, and went back in the water, to "claim our ground" on the beach and in the water. Some of the women and children were quite frightened by the argument; but we could finally calm them down and encourage them to go on playing. After the police had took down the incident and gave the teenagers a warning, women and children felt relieved. We played and swam in the water altogether as a group then which was a small triumph for them: as sad as it was that even on such a nice island as Brac lived such nationalistic idiots- the women and children had seen that we as SEKA workers protected them and claimed their rights for them, and that even the police- as a representer of the state- was on their side. And they felt: "We did not allow them to drive us away! If we act resolutely and stick together, we are strong!"
Obviously and fortunately, the incident did not undermine the women´s and children´s belief in being safe at Kuca SEKA.
After a few further conversations on the terrace, seven women finally showed interest in working in the therapy room. They mainly wished for relaxation exercise, exercise on self-awareness and movement that aimed at self-empowerment, self-support, self-assertion, stabilization, energization, and mutual support. The women were able to relax more and more and to allow themselves to be happy and light-hearted " despite of all the terrible things that have happened".

Work with the children:

These children were very special. Maybe caused by all the harm they had lived to see at such a young age, they were all characterized by a huge sensitivity and deep seriousity, but at the same time had such an abiltity to be happy and to enjoy, that it was a great pleasure to be with them. Even the youngest boy of the group, a 4- year-old, was amazingly witty and mature. The boys made the majority in the group that consisted in seven boys and four girls, but especially the boys distinguished themselves by means of their gentleness and loving carefulness towards us and the other children. We have rarely obtained so much empathy from a group of children (and women as well).
In my opinion, the children´s social behaviour showed that in spite of all difficulties mothers and children had to handle, the general relation between mothers and children was firm, even though most mothers followed a rather stringent educational style.
The children were most fascinated by the sea they had never seen before. After the first few days, the had lost all their fear and took pleasure in the sand and in the water with all their senses.
Every child learnt how to swim. It was almost impossible to get them out of the water. They dived, played volleyball or other ball games with us, jumped at the waves or let the waves carry them.
Sometimes we played the game called "water animals" (with crocodiles, dolphins, sharks, and sea snakes taking part.) I took the part of the "dangerous crocodile" (or the dangerous shark or sea snake), and the children noisily and cheerfully defeated me.
The children (and the women) loved to play in the sand, experiment with sand and water and mutually dig in the sand. Some of the children showed aggressions when other children were on their mercy while dug in the sand. I had to intervene a few times on such occasions. Only while playing the jungle game, the children showed similar agressions; but in this game agression can be expressed without doing any harm.
Actually, it would be quite strange and almost unhealthy if these children who suffered from so much violence and experienced so much helplessness, had no agressions at all. The important thing is to learn not to use those aggressions aigainst others. That is why we always offer certain games that give the children the possibility to express and reflect feelings like anger and hate (eg. via psychodrama, role plays), or canalize destructive energy into harmless ways (eg. via active games at the beach.)

The older children had a great need to talk, no matter whether we were at the beach, at the children´s house in the evening or on our photo-trip.They were interested in anything. We talked about their everyday life, their interests, their wishes for the future, their view of the world. They were very interested in our thoughts and opinions and our experience, and they appreciated being taken seriously very much.
We used a conflict between two of the older girls as an opportunity to talk about friendship, mutual expectations, jealousy, and fear to lose somebody.
The nasty incident at Postira beach arouse bad memories and fears in the children as well. But obviously it was satisfying how we dealt with the situation. Later on, they told us that they had felt safe and protected by us. They still wanted to go to that beach.
In the evenings, the children enthusiastically played in "kucica" ("the little house"), our therapy room for children. It was noticable that they did not have many toys at home and that there had not been much time and space to play. Even the oldest children (14-year-old twins) could not get enough of playing there. We explained to their mother who sneered a bit at it, that it was rather great that her children could now make up with what they had to do without during all those years of living in emergency quarters and refugee camps.
It was striking that out of this group almost none of the cildren could draw or paint. They did not even want to. Obviously they had neither had the opportunity nor did anybody encourage them. At the same time, this fact showed their lack of self-confidence and their unsecurity. They only drew a few pictures in the children´s house and were really inhibited (in contrast to other groups) to paint their T-shirts. They believed that "this would not work out" and needed a lot of support and concrete hints from our side to do it. In the end, they designed beautiful T-shirs, some children finally even painted the back.
Apart from the exhibition of the best photos on the last night, the second last evening was the highlight for the children as well as for the women: It was the twin´s birthday.
At SEKA, we celebrate every birthday with a big party, with a lot of loving details such as ballons, a cake, a birthday serenade, flowers, presents, and dancing. But there has never been a doble birthday before.
We chose a scrabble game for the 14-year-old Berzad, because we knew that he loved this kind of games. For his sister Berina, I bought a large beautiful light blue cloth on the village fair which she could wear as a skirt or as a dress. The colour beautifully went with her blue eyes. Later we found out that she had seen this cloth on the market, went to see it for several days with her mother and desired it very much. But her mother did not have enough money to buy it.
It was a wonderful evening, we all sang and danced happily together.

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