Support to children refugees
For the almost 400 families from Ukraine who have sought refuge in Bar since the onset of the war which started last February, life is proceeding normally. Well – almost normally. Many have found jobs, got to know local vendors, registered for healthcare and enrolled their children in schools...
"Most of them plan to stay here for a while," says a representative of the Red Cross in Bar. With the support of UNICEF, the local Red Cross has been conducting psycho-social support workshops for refugees from Ukraine over the past several months.
Although they have settled, their wish is for the situation in Ukraine to be resolved with as few casualties as possible so that families torn apart by the war can be reunited.
They want to start living normal lives. After losing a close family member and leaving home and country, becoming a refugee is the biggest life trauma, as you embark on a journey without a definitive destination.
The weight of such trauma is immense and can trouble adults for a long time. She adds that children are not spared from trauma either. That is why Crncevic considers the psycho-social support programme that they are implementing to be extremely important.
"The mental health support programme has been ongoing from the beginning, and I think it is producing very good results. Our users are highly educated people who are aware of how important this psychological and psycho-social support is, and they have gladly responded, knowing it will be helpful," Crncevic said.
Support is provided in groups and individually for all age groups. One of those working with refugees is psychologist and Red Cross volunteer, Jana Sekularac.
"In the first days, the most important thing was to hear the beneficiaries' needs, help them cope with stress, overcome cultural differences... Now, it is more individualized, trauma-related work. Trauma is more pronounced in some, especially in children, so I work with them the most," Sekularac said.
She explains that noticeable changes in behaviour can be observed in the children she works with − these are children who struggle with regulating their emotions.
"These children tend to withdraw, experience nightmares and physical ailments, such as constant headaches, stomach pains... A lot of work is needed with them," says this psychologist and Bar Red Cross volunteer.
Among the workshop participants are also teenagers who struggle with adaptation in school.
"They often stick together and do not get to know many children who do not speak their language," Sekularac adds.
The language barrier sometimes poses a problem for Jana in her work with beneficiaries, but she says that she has the help of an interpreter.
I know that many things are lost in translation, which frustrates me. However, when it comes to children – that gap is easier to fill than with adults because we communicate through drawings. Children are able to convey how they feel in other ways.
Jana observes positive results in working with Ukrainian children, especially in relation to expressing and understanding their emotions.
Describing one of the cases, she mentions the example of a girl who used to be uncommunicative and difficult to cooperate with at the workshops while also hiding wounds on her arms.
"We later found out that these wounds resulted from tantrums. After several workshops, she showed a willingness to talk about the underlying emotions, name them, and try to channel them correctly."
She also mentions the case of a boy who, upon arriving in Montenegro, started sleeping in bed with his mother. After individual work with him, Jana says the boy is sleeping alone again, and there is evidence of improved sleep quality.
The volunteer with the Red Cross in Bar also says that special attention is paid to engaging with parents or guardians while working with their children or wards.
She believes that, in addition to the support they receive from institutions or through programmes and workshops organized by the Red Cross, every individual in Montenegro can provide support to Ukrainian refugees:
"We should be tolerant and empathetic, embracing the differences in regard to them and everyone else. We should work on empowerment, because by empowering them, we can help them overcome the trauma..."
The Red Cross provides psycho-social support workshops for refugee children, with the support of UNICEF, as part of the response to the crisis caused by the war in Ukraine and the increased influx of people seeking international protection in Montenegro.