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.

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“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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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.