|© UNICEF/2007/ Ikoyeva|
|A psychologist works with a young girl in the UNICEF-supported BINONTÆ (‘Family’) centre, which helps children heal through art therapy and other psychosocial services.|
By Bela Tsugaeva
BESLAN, Russian Federation, 6 March 2008 – Soslan, age 10, was in the gymnasium of School Number One in Beslan on 1 September 2004, when nearly 333 children, teachers and parents perished during a siege.
On that day, Soslan bravely protected a younger child from harm caused by a hostage-taker who was irritated with the child’s crying. Soslan was injured during the storming of the school, but survived. His mother and father waited several days after their reunion to tell their son that his elder brother had been killed during the siege.
There are hundreds of children and adults in Beslan who experienced the same horror, and not only those who were taken hostage. In some way, the tragedy in Beslan left its mark on every citizen of North Ossetia.
In 2006, UNICEF, in partnership with the Ministry of Education of North Ossetia, opened a centre in Beslan called BINONTÆ, which means 'Family', to provide psychosocial support and therapeutic activities for children and their parents. Since then, the centre has assisted 2,700 people.
Florence Shaal is a French journalist who was in Beslan during the siege. She later wrote a book and made a film about the tragedy to help generate funding for the centre.
"The goal of the centre is to strengthen families' capacity to ensure a protective environment for psychologically affected children, as well as to reduce the effects of long-term psychological trauma originating from the crisis," says the head of UNICEF North Caucasus, Dr. Rashed Mustafa.
|© UNICEF/2007/ Ikoyeva|
|At the opening of BINONTÆ in 2006, with French journalist Florence Shaal (second from left), who helped generate funds for the centre through her reporting.|
Finding joy through art
Margarita Izotova, a psychologist from St. Petersburg, recalls her work with Soslan.
“The boy was very reserved at the beginning. He did not want to talk to his peers or to anybody,” said Ms. Izotova. “He started to speak through his drawings, which shocked me. He would always take a red gouache and paint a whole white piece of paper with it. With sadness in his voice he once said that he was drawing blood.”
Soslan drew a total of 80 drawings like that.
Ms. Izotova used art and other psychosocial therapies to help Soslan. After seven months of intensive work, he began to open up about his memories. His drawings changed, too. He now drew more positive pictures, such as an island that, he said, was “only for children who can recognize immediately the good people from bad.”
One day, Soslan arrived at the centre praising the “nice rain outside” and the “scent of the drops falling on my face.” Ms. Izotova’s said these comments made a lasting impression – it was the first time since she met him that Soslan had expressed joy in life.