Final Report
Recreational stays and psychological-pedagogic support for traumatized Women and Children in Project SEKA, Splitska, Brac, Summer 2001

General survey:

During the period of June 25 to August 30 2001, we have been able to facilitate recreational stays at the seaside and pedagogic and psychological help to 85 women and children who have been victims of several different forms of violence. Three groups with 63 women and children altogether spent 14 days each in Seka house; one group (22 women and children) spent 11 days here.
Altogether, 33 women and 52 children (between 2 and 18 years old) had the possibility to recreate in SEKA and received pedagogic/psychological support.
The recreational stays were made possible by the financial support of the following institutions and organizations:

We would like to thank all of them very much in the name of all women and children.

The Work with the Groups

As every year, the groups were very different from each other concerning their composition, the participants' traumata, their actual situation, and their needs.
One peculiarity was that two groups consisted in women and children of different national communities that had decided to take their stay in SEKA as a first or second step of re-approach after the war.
Until now we did not mix the summer groups (in contrast to the therapy groups or seminars for colleagues and multipliers), as these are generally composed by severely traumatized women and children who need as much safety as possible to be able to relax and open up. For many Bosnian women, even the journey to Croatia was very scary, especially if they had lived through attacks, persecution, and violence carried out by the Croatian side. In the first summers, we rather invited people that already knew each other or already formed a group. It would have been asking too much of those women whose traumatic experience was still pretty fresh to confront them with women "of the other side", especially in such a short amount of time as 14 days. The work during the first four summers focused on building a safe atmosphere, stabilize and strengthen the women and children and relieve the load of traumatic experiences on them.
Due to the ongoing return of the expelled population or their wish to return to their former hometowns, the question of how to live together is more frequently asked. Reconciliation is too big a name. For former neighbours, colleagues, acquaintances and friends it is all about a cautious re-approach that is naturally accompanied by strong feelings of fear, rage and mistrust. Nevertheless, there are - especially among women - many who are willing to take a step towards "the others" For that reason, two organizations asked us to facilitate a recreational stay to two nationally mixed groups of women and children in SEKA- house. Those organizations were "Prijateljice Tuzla/Srebenica" and the "Centre for peace, non-violence and human rights Osijek". They both support with their work the return and re-approach of the different national communities. Both organizations knew our work here in SEKA and were hoping that the combination of recreation and psychological as well as pedagogic support would positively influence re-approach and communication between women and children of different "entities" (that is how the three main religious/national communities in Bosnia are called).
As always, we took the specific situation of the women and children, their abilities, difficulties, fears, and wishes into account on planning the offers we would make.
In the following, I will describe every group's situation and the way we worked with the corresponding women and children.
But as an introduction, I would like to shortly describe the general concept of our work in SEKA house and to explain the meaning of the sea for the concept of recreational stays. A detailed description of those two aspects has been included in last year's final report as well. If you still remember, you can get to report of the group's here.

Conception and Atmosphere of SEKA-House

The most important basis for our work is the conception of SEKA-House:
SEKA is not only a centre for recreation, therapy and education for women and children, but a Women's Peace Project and a project, that struggles for Human Rights for women and children and for the improvement of the living situation of women and children. SEKA especially fights for their right to a life without violence.
This means for the concrete work with the groups:

SEKA-House is a safe place - especially for those women and children, who survived (extreme forms) of violence. In SEKA-House there isn't any violence - this basic rule we impart to women and children already in the talk round in the first evening. If - during the stay - we notice any kind of infringement from women to children or from elder children to smaller one, we immediately intervene - calming down the situation but also clearing. The intervention is followed by a talk with either the mother, the elder child, with both or sometimes with all children.

SEKA is an open house and a house of communication and peace.
Also from the beginning we make clear, that SEKA is a place for all women and children, regardless of the population or religion group to which the belong, regardless to their way of life.
We meet all of them with sympathy, respect, openness and esteem. On the other hand we expect also from our guests readiness for mutual respect.
This means: SEKA offers space to express all kinds of experiences, but not for valuations or generalisations
We support women and children to express their experiences, feelings, fears, dreams and wishes. They learn to accept the difference of experiences and feelings but also to recognise themselves in the experiences and feelings of others.
Sometimes for women and children it is the first time in their life that another person acknowledges their pain and the experienced grief. This is an important prerequisite for overcoming the survived trauma and for the healing of psychological wounds.

SEKA is a place of women's solidarity: The project arose from the solidarity and active support of a big number of women in Germany and other European countries for women and children who survived violence in the war on the Balkans. To strengthen women's solidarity and to support women's and girls' mutual understanding, encouragement and learning from each other is therefore another one of the main objectives of our work.

SEKA is a place of women's power: In SEKA-House we support women and children (and here specially the girls) to get aware of their strengths and their capacities, but also of their rights. We strengthen girls and women in getting more self-confidence, in being more critical and in their capacities for self-assertion. We support them to become independent and to take their lives in their own hands. We help them to gain further knowledge and abilities and we encourage them to become active in society and in politics, with the aim to improve the social conditions for women and children and to contribute in the process of the democratisation of society.

All the mentioned aims and attitudes are the basis of the project's work and determine the atmosphere in SEKA-House as well as the co-operation in the SEKA-team. They also are the basis for our work with the groups during the recreational stays.
But there is still another medium that is indispensable for the success of the recreational stays: the sea and the beauty of the island of Brac.

The Meaning of the Sea

For all groups that are coming to SEKA-House in summer the physical and psychological recreation of course is in the first place, so especially the daily excursions to the sea.
(In this summer we had in the whole period of 11 weeks not a single rainy day, that would have forced us to stay at home.)
Usually three of the SEKA-workers (among them at least two therapists) accompany the group to the beach. This is a prerequisite to be able to offer intensive caring and support for the specific group.

For many women and children coming to us in this summer the stay in SEKA-House meant their first contact with the sea. For others it was the first time after a period of ten years that they met the sea again. Sometimes already the view to the sea caused tears. The loveliness of the sea and the island of Brac touched the feelings of lack and long lasting missing, of being "like in prison" and of being threatened. On one hand the sea awoke the remembrance of former times, holidays at the seaside - and of a "normal life in peaceful surroundings", on the other hand it awoke also the pain about the loss of this "normal life".
Usually with the sea we connect many various existential feelings. The sea causes feelings of wideness, longing, freedom, beauty, eternity, but also of fear from its wildness and its unpredictability. The sea challenges us, to overcome our fears, to be courageous and to find confidence in this unpredictable element.
Especially for the traumatised women and children the sea causes in the beginning at the same time feelings of fear and fascination; it awakes feelings of helplessness, threatening, fear or even panic, feelings which are connected with the survived traumatic events. But at the same time women and children feel the strong attraction from sea and (sand-)beach. Sea and sand almost 'demand' to touch and to enjoy them with all senses.
We support women and children in their careful approach to the sea. In the beginning our main role is giving hold and security. Then with simple exercises we support their confidence that the water is carrying them. If women and children can find their own tempo in their contact with the sea, they more and more loose their fears. They step by step gain confidence - first towards the therapists holding them, then towards the water and finally - when they have learned to swim - towards themselves. It is for them a really important and healing experience, to be able to move safely alone in the sea. This experience supports their trust in themselves, in others and gives them the feeling, to regain the control over one part of their lives.
The sensual experience of the water, the sun and the beach in the same time supports the ability to "be completely there", to live the moment now, to enjoy life.
It is touching to see the women playing joyfully with the children in the sand and in the sea, each day becoming more courageous, more relaxed and more free; to experience them gaining back their confidence that life can be lovely - and not only mean pain, fear, lack, violence and exhaustion.
On the other hand is the common approach to the sea for us as SEKA-workers the best and most easy way, to come usually very quickly in an intensive contact with women and children.
It is working like a catalyst. Already the first day at the beach builds a common ground and makes confidence grow as a basis for the women and children to accept our further offers.
At the beach, in the water and on walks the women quickly take each chance for individual talks with us workers.
For the mothers it means also a great relief that we intensively deal with the children at the beach as well as in the evening in the therapy house for the children. For some of the mothers, who educate their children alone, it was the first time, that they left their children with others without any problems and without worrying.

Following I describe our experience with the different groups coming to SEKA-House this summer.

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