Power of Goodness in the North Caucasus – Update

Since summer 2016 the Power of Goodness project has expanded into Ingushetia and Dagestan. In August and September, trainings for trainers from these republics were conducted by trainers from the Chechen project in Grozny. From September, the Ingush and Dagestani trainers began conducting seminars in schools for teachers in their republics, supported by their Chechen colleagues. The trainings in schools, as in Chechnya, focus on using the Power of Goodness Stories of Nonviolence and Reconciliation and accompanying training resources to increase awareness of how to resolve conflict and build tolerance, trust, cooperation and empowerment in the lives and communities of the teachers and students involved. 257 trainings were conducted in all three republics from July to December 2016, attended by 655 teachers in total.

From June 2016 to February 2017 project trainers began the first of a series of round tables on countering radicalization and extremism among young people, in cooperation with local authorities, schools, religious leaders and young people. So far round tables have been conducted in the villages of Alkhazurovo and Goyskoye in Chechnya and in Makhachkala (Dagestan), led by project trainer-psychologists and the project coordinator. These meetings were attended by local imams, heads of the councils of elders, school directors and teachers, heads and other staff of local authorities and members of the public, including young people. All present agreed that the question of how to deal with challenges of radicalization and extremism is an urgent one. Themes discussed included how to protect teenagers from extremism and radicalism; how to counter extremism and terrorism through a deeper understanding of these phenomena, education and practical employment of traditional spiritual values as a way to counter extremism, and the challenges of youth unemployment. All present agreed that the community needs to come together and coordinate more closely in order to better understand and influence the reasons and pressures that are causing some young people to become radicalized and turn to extremist groups. It was agreed that these meetings were important first steps, and that further and continuous follow-up is required. Plans for additional activities were also agreed. Peacebuilding UK and our North Caucasus partners’ role is recognized as being important as a mediator and facilitator between local authorities and the community on this issue, to help increase trust and coordination to enable effective common approaches.

The work of Little Star in Chechnya, Autumn 2011

On 5th October, a feature article in the New York Times by Seth Mydans quoted the editor of Groznensky Rabochy, an independent weekly newspaper: “Unemployment stands at 85 percent… Chechnya subsists on huge subsidies from Moscow that are not publicly accounted for”. UNDP found 80% unemployment in 2008 and official local government statistics put it at 45% in 2011.

The article reports that Chechnya “has been brought to heel by Mr. Kadyrov’s strongman rule but its peaceful streets thrum with suppressed violence”. The article goes on to quote Taisa Isayeva, 40, a former journalist who now reports on human rights abuses: “No matter how much the city is remodeled, however, the trauma of the war continues to torment its residents. You are judging by all this beautiful architecture but not by the psychology of the people”.

Little Star’s psychologists are witnessing increased fear and anxiety in the republic as the government introduces and enforces ever more conservative and restrictive rules for the population. People feel defenceless in the face of impunity enjoyed by the government and security services. The mental health of Chechnya’s population continues to suffer, particularly as many people are already in a state of stress following 17 years of wars and instability. The children and young people who Little Star psychologists work with are also affected by these negative trends and their effects on their parents, teachers and relatives.

Little Star psychologists formed 22 groups of children and young people at the beginning of September at the eleven Little Star centres. They conducted psychosocial assistance workshops with these children until the end of October when new groups were formed. Any child needing to attend for more than the normal 6-8 week cycle is invited back into the next group. Around 400 children are assisted during each cycle, repeated six times during the year.

Since September the Little Star centres in Grozny have worked closely with social welfare officers working at each of the eleven schools to ensure that the most socially deprived children were given the opportunity to attend Little Star workshops. School directors and teachers maintain that these children have the most difficulties with their school work and are the most disruptive in lessons.

The lists of children attending Little Star points were largely made up of such socially deprived children during the September and October intakes at Little Star, as well as children with physical disabilities. The director of school No. 106 in Grozny was particularly happy about this, stating that “there is very little attention given to such children by any of the official state structures in Chechnya. I am very happy to see your care and attention to these children”.

In October Little Star psychologists Birlant Mudaeva and Rashan Shamkhalova conducted a one-day seminar with students of the Grozny Oil Institute. 32 students attended, from the faculty of Architecture. The themes of the seminar were “Increasing self-awareness, group cohesion and the development of imagination”.

Aishat Zubairaeva reports on her work with a boy at her centre in Michurina village: Sail-Selim is the only healthy child of physically handicapped parents. He is 13 years old, after school he works on a building site to help his parents financially. After work he does everything he can around the house (carries the water in, washes the floors, dishes, tidies the house etc.).

He is now in his third cycle at Little Star. When he first attended my Little Star point he was very shy about his domestic life. Now he is attending my Little Star group for the third time and is able to talk freely about how he helps his parents. All the other children listen to him respectfully. I have tried to develop his pride about working hard for the love of his parents and sisters, without thinking of himself.

Previously his class-mates went to play football without him but these days when he’s not working on the building site his friends help him with his house work. Together they finish it more quickly so they have time to go and play. I conducted sessions with Sail-Selim’s group on reducing aggression and stress. We worked with the book “Power of Goodness”, with the story “Christmas Morning” and others.

Aslan Alihajiev, Little Star psychologist working at School No.106 in Grozny, stated end of October “the children in the new groups are now attending the workshops joyfully and openly. It is still too early to talk about therapeutic achievements at this early stage in the cycle, but the children are enjoying themselves and all is going to plan – this means that something good will inevitably come out of it”.

Aslan has already encountered issues in his current groups such as nightmares, sleep walking and fear of doctors, which can hinder and sometimes prevent the children from receiving the necessary medical assistance. Aslan plans to work with the current group for at least one cycle and will soon begin a programme of individual counselling sessions.

Medina Khasanova works at School No. 54 in Grozny and has been using play- and art-therapy to assist the children in her two new groups to get to know each other and build trust and openness. In her groups there are children with low self esteem, hyper-activeness and children who are under-achievers at school. She has started addressing these issues both through the group sessions and individual counselling sessions.

Little Star trainings for psychology students in Grozny

In July and August, five of the Little Star psychologists conducted trainings and arranged internships for 37 students of practical psychology from the Chechen State University in Grozny. Three groups of students (4 young men and 33 young women) attended separate 10-day trainings at the Little Star offices in Grozny. The trainings covered the following themes:

The professional ethical code for psychologists and the basic ethical principles of a psychologists’ work, the Convention of the Rights of the Child, What rights do children in our Republic have? relaxation exercises, the themes of ‘trust’ and ’emotions’, activation games, psychological testing, story therapy and working with stories from the book Power of Goodness: Stories of Nonviolence and Reconciliation.

Lecturers and the Chair of the ‘Pedagogy and Psychology’ faculty at the university attended some of the sessions and expressed great thanks to Little Star and its supporters for continuing to provide this training for students to develop their knowledge of the more practical aspects of psychology. The students have been spending time working alongside the Little Star staff at the Little Star points in Grozny and the villages to gain practical experience since the beginning of the new school in early September.

Snapshots from a visit to Little Star in November 2010

In November, PBUK trustee Lucy Hannah visited our projects in Chechnya.  Here are some highlights from her visit.

Little Star picture 2

“When there’s no LS seminar I feel sad. This is the place where we play, paint, put pictures on the wall and laugh,” Markha, 10, from the school in the Michurina region.

Little Star pic 1

Magomed, 12, has been going to the LS point at School Number 106, for two months:  “You’re not allowed to fight here. You have to find other ways to talk to each other. I think now, before I fight with someone.”

The Little Star “points” are classrooms in schools specifically allocated for LS to carry out their sessions. They vary hugely from each other and are all given a distinctive feel by the particular psychologist who is based there. For example, in School Number 18, the LS psychologist, Rashan, has a small room which can hold about nine children. It’s cramped, but cosy and warm. A candle burns in the corner and there’s relaxing music in the background. The children sit in a circle, as they do in all the points. Alie, 14, has just started here, “ I wanted to find out something new about myself. I like the idea of a circle, it’s not like being in a classroom; it helps me to feel different.”

Little Star pic number 4

Also in Rashan’s group is Hutmat, 13, “I like what we discuss in the group. I like saying positive things to each other. It’s different from the rest of school.” Marta, 13, came to LS because friends told her about it, “it’s different from the other parts of my life. I feel safer here than at home or anywhere else.”

In addition to the groups, the psychologists hold events which children/young people can attend. They also run intensive ‘closed’ groups, as well as more ‘open’ drop-in groups depending on the needs of their particular school. Raising awareness of substance/alcohol abuse isn’t the main focus of their work but it’s often a theme they incorporate and the group are planning a lecture/event about it to target young people in Grozny.

Psychology students from the university attend the LS points in the summer. They take part in the training and offer their own schedules which they’ve designed for children. At other times of the year, they meet children at the LS points and work with them for a week or a month. “We’re doing the work of employment agencies,” says Aslan. “Many people are trained by LS then work around the country in the same field.”

The LS point in School Number 9 is much larger and more like a traditional classroom. The LS psychologist, Rustam, used to carry out his LS work in a disused building nearby, but the director of the school has now given him one of their new classrooms due to the demand for LS’s services.

Little Star picture number 5

Maga, 11, has been attending for two months, his friends told him about LS: “This is quite different from what I’ve been doing in school. Here, I relax and have fun.”

LS picture number 6

In Rustam’s group, where the children have been attending for two months, they’re acknowledging their fears and doing an exercise in “throwing them away”.

School Number 106 is in one of the poorest areas of Grozny which suffered heavy bombardment. It’s also close to the River Sunzha, which often floods the area. Here, destroyed houses haven’t been rebuilt. LS psychologist, Aslan, has been given a classroom and an office – a reward from the director of the school for his work with Little Star.

Little Star picture number 7

In School No 16, Madina works with 1st– 6th years in a smallish but cosy room. Her group of 6 year olds have an animated discussion about trust. Meanwhile, next to Grozny Zoo, in School Number 54, another LS psychologist, Medina discusses happiness as the day’s topic. The children discuss what happiness is, then draw their own idea of it. The LS point is detached from the main school so “we can make a noise!” says Marta, aged 10.  Medina has filled the room with pot plants and pictures. Teacher, Maret, is impressed: “look at these kids. They’ve had four lessons this morning, but as soon as they come in here, they’re energised.”Other recent topics Medina has explored, include: “my mood today” “who I am” what I am” “tolerance” “emotions” and “fears”.

The LS team believe that if the teachers can see the positive results of the process they’re more likely to make time to work alongside the psychologists, reciprocally. Russian language teacher, Zina, from School Number 106, says, “after attending LS, the children study better, they become more interested in the learning process, they’re more polite, and friendly to each other.”

Little star pic number 10

Taharik, a teacher in School Number 16, says “I knew children who’d stopped smiling, but after LS sessions they’d become more open to living again. When Madina isn’t there, they go looking for her.” She agrees that children are more engaged with the learning process after being at LS. “Sometimes a child won’t obey the rest of the class, you can see there’s something going on; they won’t get involved, but it takes a LS psychologist to identify the problem.”

Petimat, another teacher in School Number 16, says, “the children have many problems – we have a huge number of orphans and those from broken families. I’ve had children who just cower in the corridor when they arrive. In the first year, aged 6 and a half, there are 150 children, but LS can’t cover them all and even if they could, we’d have to find a way of fitting it round the curriculum. We can take the children out of music class, for example, but nothing else. We end up referring the most problematic ones – the ones who’re crying in class all the time.”

The psychologists say, it’s simpler to liaise with the teachers because you’re in school and you’re both working with the children, but it’s harder to contact the parents; they only tend to come if there’s a serious issue.

Little Star pic number 9

Here in Michurina, LS psychologist, Aishat, works with every class in the school and the director also gets involved because the school is so small: “LS helps to discover creative talents in an informal environment. I don’t have much space available here, but I want to give it to LS,” he says.

The psychologists always try to attend parent’s meetings at the school as this is the only way to really get to see them. Aslan explains, “Often, the parents don’t care enough to get information from their child and it’s obvious they’re neglecting them. We have to make up for that. I always attend parent’s meetings. This job is about building relationships with directors, teachers, children, and of course parents.”

More funding approved for legal project

Peacebuilding UK has received 12 months funding from the Open Society Institute to continue supporting the work of the Human Rights Centre project in Grozny, Chechnya. This project was launched in November 2006 and employs three lawyers. Its main activities include legal counselling and filing cases before the European Court of Human Rights. The legal system in Russia is relatively well-developed, however corruption in the judicial system sometimes leaves people without the possibility to achieve tangible results in seeking justice at the domestic level. Therefore in many cases, lodging a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights is the only effective remedy that people can rely upon. Applying to the European Court should be considered as a last resort for solving problems, as this procedure is highly complicated and very lengthy. Over 90% of applications submitted to the Court by Russian citizens are declared inadmissible, i.e. the cases are not considered on merits due to procedural issues.

At the beginning of the project in Chechnya many potential cases for the European Court were related to criminal cases against alleged combatants in the context of the conflict between Russia and Chechnya. Nowadays, most potential cases are related to abductions, general fair trial issues and housing. Legal counselling offered by project lawyers is crucial, since it helps to manage clients’ expectations and avoid mistakes in the exhaustion of domestic remedies for further potential applications to the European Court.

Assisting Dobrota

We are pleased to share the news that we have been working alongside Dobrota, an NGO looking at ways to support women and families in Chechnya, especially those on low incomes in isolated areas.  Over the coming months we should have more news appearing, but in the meantime we have added a page to our site where you can learn more about their work.

Dobrota logo

Little Star in Turkey

Little Star in Turkey

The Little Star team of psychologists and support staff gathered in the Turkish Mediterranean town of Kiris, near Antalya from 14th to 22nd October together with Louis Greig (Honorary President) and Chris Hunter (Programmes Coordinator) from Peacebuilding UK, Janet Riley from Friends’ International Library, and interpreters Ismayil Khayredinov and John Coutts.

The main task of the meeting was to create a first draft of a teacher’s training manual to assist teachers in Chechnya in using the book Power of Goodness: Stories of Nonviolence and Reconciliation in schools. Janet Riley created this book project and has worked on it with many other people from around the world for over 15 years. The stories that will form the second edition of the book can be seen on the website www.fil.quaker.org.
Peacebuilding UK has applied for funding for the printing of the second edition and the teacer’s manual. Janet was moved and delighted to see how the Little Star team have taken the project to heart and found good use for it in their work with children in Chechnya, and to see them developing it further and creating the manual for use in Chechen schools.

Having created an outline structure for the manual, the group proceeded to work on individual lesson plans for each of the 25 stories. These and other sections of the book will be finished in Chechnya by mid-November, and then edited by an educator with experience of creating curricula in the US. Little Star will review the edited version before sending the manual to print.

John Coutts has translated many of the stories in Power of Goodness, and Ismayil Khayredinov not only interpreted tirelessly throughout the meeting but made many excellent suggestions for the teacher’s manual. Louis Greig was able to hear detailed reports and stories on the present situation in Chechnya and the work of Little Star, and the psychologists very much enjoyed renewing their connection with him. We were all impressed to hear from Little Star how their training work with teachers and school psychologists in trauma counselling and psychosocial assistance workshops is developing. The Ministry of Education is increasingly making requests to Little Star to conduct such seminars to help staff to better understand and deal with psychological trauma in schools throughout Chechnya. Little Star is preparing a mobile training unit to visit all of Chechnya’s 15 regions next year, to provide three-day training seminars in each regional centre.

Everyone greatly appreciated and enjoyed the banquet that Louis arranged in a nearby restaurant on his final evening, presided over by the newly appointed Countess of Kabardino-Balkaria, Janet Riley, and of course the evening’s hostess and Little Star accountant Zargan Isaeva. Staying in a resort near the Mediterranean meant that there were excellent opportunities for well deserved relaxation. Long lunch breaks and later afternoon/ evening sessions provided several hours for swimming in the sea and sunbathing in the middle of the day. The hotel’s evening entertainment had an extra attraction for the week we were there – Chechen dancing! This complemented the Turkish dancing well and was enjoyed by our group, our Turkish hosts and Russian holidaymakers alike. The group left for home in good spirits, happy to have spent the time together and to have made so much progress in creating the teacher’s manual. The completed version will be ready for printing in early 2010.

Little Star Psychologists to Visit the UK in 2009

Most of the twelve Little Star psychologists will visit the UK in 2009. Working every day with traumatized people causes a strain for those conducting this work, and Peacebuilding UK therefore arranges a break or retreat for the team of psychologists and counsellors each year for rest and recuperation.

Previous retreats have been conducted in the UK, Norway, Azerbaijan and the Crimea. The visit will also include a training component to increase and deepen the range of skills of the Little Star team. A small team of UK-based specialists has agreed to work with the Little Star psychologists during their visit to support them in the writing of a teachers’ manual to complement the book ‘Power of Goodness: Stories of Nonviolence and Reconciliation’, which Little Star has been using in its work for over a year (please see ‘Psychosocial’ page).

A substantial part of the financial support for the Little Star project comes from the UK via Peacebuilding UK. The Little Star visit to the UK will therefore also provide the valuable opportunity for such contributors to meet with the Little Star team.

Finally, the visit will enable the Little Star team to meet with Peacebuilding UK friends and trustees. The team’s visa application attempt was unsuccessful in March, but we hope that discussions with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office will lead to successful applications shortly.

Supporting Psychosocial work in Gaza

Peacebuilding UK has been invited by an NGO in Gaza to support their work through staff training in the fields of child psychological trauma counselling and rehabilitation. This co-operation will focus on psychosocial counselling of children in the field and the training of new staff/ mental health professionals in Gaza. An initial one-week seminar is planned in Gaza in August 2009. Two representatives from Peacebuilding UK and two Little Star psychologists will visit Gaza in August to conduct the training seminars. It is hoped that this will be the first of a series of such trainings and cooperation between Peacebuilding UK/ Little Star and the partner in Gaza.

Rebuilding Sharoi School

Classroom Sharoi SchoolIntroduction
The children of the village of Sharoi have been without a school from 1999 to 2008, after the original school building was largely destroyed during bombardments in the second Chechen war from 1999-2000. Sharoi is deep in the mountains in the South of Chechnya, and access to other villages from it is limited. The children’s education was therefore severely limited to ad hoc lessons in homes in the village, and when possible to making trips of several miles, sometimes on foot, to the nearest neighbouring village.

Work Conducted
The work at the school in Sharoi has been completed, and the Ministry of Education of Chechnya is currently running the school, providing the necessary funding and supervision for the school to operate, including paying teachers’ wages, maintaining the school. The Ministry of Education will continue to run the school over the long-term now that the building has been rebuilt and can provide adequate provision for classes. The school opened for the new term on 1st September 2008.

The population of the village of Sharoi is 520 people, and the number of children attending the school is 62. This includes 31 children attending classes 1-4; 25 children attending classes 5-9, and 9 children in classes 10-11. There are 35 boys, 25 girls and 12 teachers. One of the children is disabled and five are orphans. There are now six classrooms in the school, as previously before the devastating damage inflicted to the building before the war. The school, as many others in Chechnya today, works in two shifts.

Please see further data regarding the school and the work conducted below:

District: Sharoi regionEntrance Sharoi School
City/town/village: Sharoi
Degree of damage (1-5): 5
School: No.1 secondary
Work being conducted: Full repairs, including laying floors, ceilings, building walls, roof, plastering, installing electrics, heating system (wood boiler)
Population of town/ village: 520
Total number of children 6-18 years: 62
Number of pupils classes 1-4: 31
Number of pupils classes 5-9: 25
Number of pupils classes 10-11: 9
Number of shifts: 2
Number of boys/ girls/ teachers: 36/26/12
Psychologists: no
Number of classrooms available before rebuilding: 0
Number of classrooms after rehabilitation: 6
Electricity/ gas/ heating/ water: no/no/no/no
Latrines/ lavatories: no/yes
Medical room: no
Canteen: no
Gymnasium/ playground: no/no
Number of disabled children: 1
Number of orphans/ semi-orphans: 8

The grant of £6000 from QPSW was used to fund the replacing the school roof, including the wooden framework, insulation, tin sheeting, guttering and drain pipes. The costs of both building materials and labour were covered by the grant. The actual costs of repairing the roof rose to £8120.

Sharoi Corridor, Before and AfterThe full cost of the repairs to the school was £31,600 – £7600 more than expected. This included the rebuilding of walls, roof, laying of floors, ceilings, plastering, installing electrics, heating system (wood boiler) and installation of doors and windows. The majority of the shortfall in funds was covered by additional funds from UNICEF (see more details below in ‘Problems in Implementing the Project’) as well as some additional funds from Peacebuilding UK.

All building materials for the project were purchased locally in Chechnya from local suppliers. This helped to reduce the environmental impact of transporting such supplies, although they did have to be transported up into the mountains from Grozny along narrow and at times perilous mountain roads. The timber purchased was from sustainable forests in the region. The building has been insulated, thereby reducing the loss of heat as much as possible.

Problems in Implementing the ProjectSharoi Ext, Before and After
A truck transporting building supplies to Sharoi skidded off the road and fell down into a small ravine in March 2008. The materials lost had been funded by UNICEF. As the materials were lost, UNICEF fortunately agreed to replace them, which is partly the reason for the project expenditure having increased above the budgeted amount. A recent earthquake in the Chechen mountains has caused landslides that have now completely closed this road. The further reason for this was the substantial increase in the costs of building materials in Chechnya and Russia as a whole.

There is currently a problem of insufficient number of school desks at the school. Peacebuilding UK’s partner, the ‘Centre for Peacebuilding and Community Development’ Russian charitable fund, is assisting the school authorities to find a solution to this problem with the Chechen Ministry of Education, which initially expressed that it would provide all such furniture.

The teachers, pupils and parents of Sharoi school have expressed their sincerest gratitude to all of those people and bodies that supported the rebuilding of their school, including QPSW. Eight years was a significant amount of time for the children and families of the village to be without a school, and its re-opening marks an important step for them in rebuilding their lives after the destruction of the war, and to restoring their educational system.