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.”

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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.

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.”

Televised fundraiser

This Friday we will be making a fundraising appeal for PBUK and for the Dobrota charity as part of a broader appeal for many charities during Ramadan. If you have Sky, turn on Iqra TV (Sky channel 826) in the early evening to see the appeal and Chris Hunter, PBUK’s programmes co-ordinator, being interviewed, as well as interviews with PBUK Trustee Alaudin Chilaev, and Dobrota fundraisers Sofia Janjua and Adil Wainwright.

Dobrota PBUK Ramadan Appeal

Iqra TV are helping us and Dobrota to raise money to rebuild schools in Chechnya, provide psychological support to children and teenagers traumatised by war, assist poverty-stricken families to start their own small businesses, sponsor orphans and distribute food to the hungry.

£25 can provide for an orphan’s needs for one month, £20 buys food for a family for one month and £100 can help make a life-saving operation happen. Please head to our donations page to find out how to donate.

A message from the Chair

Hello, and welcome back to the website if you’ve not been here for a while.  I’ve had a tinker with the website and hopefully it should now be easier to access and receive regular news reports of what we are doing – particularly if you use RSS feeds (if not then find out more on how to use them here).  Please let us know what you think!

Saturday 16th May saw Trustees gather for our Annual General Meeting to review our work over the past year and to look forward to another year of providing essential support to people living in Chechnya and the surrounding region.  Rachel Gillies, who has been a Trustee since 2005 was elected as Chair for the forthcoming year, and we are happy to say that another year’s report and accounts have been compiled by our auditors and approved by the Board.

We would like to welcome another addition to our Board of Trustees.  Alice Lagnado has worked extensively as a journalist in both Russia and Chechnya, including working as The Times’ Moscow correspondent.  She is currently the Assistant Editor of ‘One in Seven’ magazine, the publication of RNID.  It’s great to have her on board and all of the Trustees and staff are looking forward to tapping into her skills and experience!

This coming year, and in particular the next few months are looking incredibly exciting.  We’re thrilled to be welcoming Daimohk back to the UK for their first tour since 2006.  Their tour includes performances at the prestigious International Eisteddfod in Llangollen – a real indication of how much artistic respect Daimohk have gained in their own right.  We are still in the process of confirming dates, but we will be posting them up as soon as we have them available.

We also hope to be welcoming our incredibly hard-working Little Star psychosocial workers to the UK once they have gained Visas.   Please see our previous post on our hopes for their visit.  We will be working to develop a Little Star website to enable both English and Russian speakers to follow their work.  More information on that once it is up and running.

You may also have read in a previous post our hope to take some of the skills and expertise of Little Star workers to assist with much needed Psychosocial work in Gaza.  We are presently seeking seed-funding for this venture.

And finally, on the subject of funding, we’re happy to report that we have had a successful year of fundraising.  However, with money being diverted away from the Caucasus to other regions, with so many funding organisations suffering due to the recession and of course the fact that people in the Caucasus are not immune from the economic crisis, it is imperative that we receive funding to continue in our work.  Please consider making a donation to PBUK to support us in our peacebuilding efforts.

Best wishes,

Rachel Gillies (Chair)

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.

Conclusion
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.