|© UNICEF Russian Federation/2005/Leifer|
|Children at the UNICEF-supported Vladikavkaz Rehabilitation Centre|
John Varoli, a Moscow-based freelance journalist spent a week with UNICEF in Beslan talking to local children about their hopes and fears in the aftermath of last September’s tragedy. John has written for Bloomberg News, among others.
By John Varoli
BESLAN, Russian Federation, 3 March 2005 – When the Beslan school siege took place in September 2004, UNICEF recognized that former hostages and members of the affected community would need long-term psychological and emotional support.
Within a month, UNICEF, together with the Republic of Ossetia's Ministry of Education, launched a rehabilitation programme in the republic’s capital, Vladikavkaz, about 40 minutes from Beslan.
The Vladikavkaz Centre programme began on 12 October 2004. It is run by medical and psychological experts, some of whom were trained with support from UNICEF. The programme is set to continue till the end of the year.
About 25 to 30 children from Beslan attend each day, as well as up to 180 affected children from across the North Ossetian republic. If the child’s trauma is substantial, intensive rehabilitation may last more than three weeks.
“We have already rehabilitated 70 children, but certainly have a long way to go,’’ said the centre’s director Zhanna Tsutsieva. Plans are afoot to open a branch of the centre in Beslan so that families won’t have to make the journey to Vladikavkaz.
According to monitoring carried out by the centre and UNICEF, all 7,000 children of Beslan have been affected in one way or another by the tragedy.
“All of us who saw that terrible day or who even just heard about it, even children from Vladikavkaz, have suffered an enormous psychological shock, and need assistance,'' says Dr. Tsutsieva.
The most significant area of UNICEF assistance is in funding the training of local personnel. Some have been sent for further studies in St. Petersburg, and outside experts have been brought to the Vladikavkaz centre.
Other UNICEF support has included providing a bath for water therapy, physiotherapy equipment, and speech therapy computer programmes – essential for the many children who have severe head injuries.
All the children are different, and each requires a unique approach. Some children have foundered in a state of depression so deep that it is very difficult to reach them. Others have become more emotional and aggressive.
“It is important to build up a relationship with each child and find out what they need,’’ said psychologist Alexei Zakharov, director of Moscow’s Centre for Psychology in Extreme Situations, who has spent many weeks in Beslan. “You can't force them into treatment if they don't want it.’’
An important way to create both a relaxing environment for the children at the Vladikavkaz centre, and to make treatment even more effective, is to involve the parents and other relatives.
“The attitude of the parents to the child's condition and continuing rehabilitation is an important factor,’’ said Dr. Tsutsieva.
“If a child goes back to a home where the parents are still strongly negatively affected, then the assistance we offered will be undone.''