UNICEF's Milky Way Race once again for mental health of children and young people in schools

UNICEF will support the expansion of the “Schools of Support” program

14 June 2023
Milky Way Race 2023
Goran Jakuš
  • National and inclusive humanitarian Milky Way Race will be held from 15 to 24 September  

  • UNICEF will support a mental health program for children and young people in schools „Schools of Support“ which is carried out in cooperation with The Forum for Freedom in Education, and with support of the Education and Teacher Training Agency

  • Almost 1,000 participants registered for the race in the first week


Zagreb, June 15, 2023 – Mental health issues have a strong negative impact on the everyday life and functionality of children and young people. If they do not receive the necessary attention and treatment, it can have a significant impact on their future lives. To encourage positive changes, UNICEF is running a campaign to support the mental health of children and young people for the second year in a row, and national humanitarian Milky Way Race, will be once again serve as its central part. The race will be national, taking place during 10 days via mobile app and will gather participants on thousands of paths from all parts of Croatia around a common goal. With the funds raised, UNICEF will support the implementation and expansion of the “Schools of Support” program to strengthen the resilience and mental health of students and teachers, which is carried out in cooperation with the Forum for Freedom of Education, with the support of the Education and Teacher Training Agency.

The first signs of mental health disorders and issues most often appear already in childhood and adolescence, and according to the World Health Organization, half of all mental disorders begin before the age of 14 while three quarters by the mid-twenties. UNICEF estimates that more than 44,000 adolescents (11.5%) aged 10 to 19 in Croatia face mental health problems.

In addition to the support of experts, it is important to provide children and young people with the support of adults in their everyday environment. Schools have a huge potential to protect the mental health of children and young people because teachers are the people with whom students, along with peers, spend the most time during their stay at school. They may be the first to notice that students have mental health problems, but very often, they don’t know what to do about it.  According to the research conducted by the Croatian Institute for Public Health,

  • 98% of teachers are ready to seek help for students with mental health problems,

  • but most of them feel insecure (71%) in their own abilities to provide adequate support.

UNICEF wants to help teachers, professors and other experts in schools develop resilience and provide knowledge and skills to recognize mental health problems of children and young people at school more successfully and act as first psychological aid and protection. This kind of support for children and young people facing mental health challenges is still not available in many schools throughout Croatia, and it is especially important to provide it in earthquake-affected areas, where children and young people still feel the consequences of traumatic experiences that limit them in achieving their potentials.

That is why, with this year's campaign and the Milky Way Race, UNICEF will support a program to strengthen the resilience and socio-emotional skills of students, teachers, and other experts “Schools of Support”. The funds collected through donations will be invested in:

• expansion of the “Schools of Support” program  

• continuation of the implementation of the program in Sisak-Moslavina County 

• strengthening the resilience, knowledge, and skills of educational staff in the field of mental health of children and young people 

direct work with students through workshops led by teachers with the aim of strengthening positive schooling experiences and creating a supportive school environment 


It is estimated that by investing in the implementation of the programme after the Milky Way Race 2023:  

  • more than 450 teachers, headteachers and expert staff will be educated to support the mental health of children and young people, 

  • more than 13,000 primary and secondary school students will benefit from the programme activities. 


“Every child and young person should grow up in a safe and supportive environment, with access to quality mental health care. Mental health problems can happen to anyone, and no one should have to deal with them alone. We all need to work together to break the silence around mental health – remove the stigma, raise the level of understanding of the importance of mental health and ensure that the voices of young people, especially those who have experienced mental health challenges, are heard. The Milky Way is a race of unity, and that has always helped us in achieving our common goals – so we believe that it will be the same this year. I invite everyone to participate in the Milky Way, because in September we will all come closer, kilometre by kilometre, to a common goal – the mental health of children, young people – and all of us.”

Regina M. Castillo, Representative of UNICEF Office for Croatia

Milky Way Race 2023_1
Goran Jakuš
Milky Way Race 2023_2
Goran Jakuš
Dubravka Brezak Stamać, Education and Teacher Training Agency, Regina M. Castillo, UNICEF Croatia, Vesna Šerepac, Ministry of Science and Education and Ana Munivrana, The Forum for Freedom in Education.

"The mental health of students, damaged by the crisis events that have affected us in recent years, is a precondition for their well-being and educational progress. The task of educational workers is to recognize students' difficulties and provide them with support, and in order to be effective in this, education and care for one's own mental health and supervision are necessary. The program Schools of Support includes all of the above. The program is aimed at strengthening the psychological resilience and socio-emotional competences of primary and secondary school students affected by devastating earthquakes. This is an area of our country where the number of traumatized children, young people and adults has certainly increased. Education workers are trained in how to help traumatized students, how to strengthen them to deal with stress, but also how to help themselves. Very useful work materials were also created within the program. An additional value of the program is connecting with the local community and parents and encouraging active participation of students in school, which increases the feeling of belonging to the school and is an important factor in the mental well-being of students. The Education and Teacher Training Agency would like this year's Milky Way to easily reach its goal and light up the faces of more than 13,000 students of our primary and secondary schools", said dr. Dubravka Brezak Stamać, director of the Education and Teacher Training Agency.

"Next to the family, schools are one of the most important places for the personal and social development of children and young people and have an important impact on socio-emotional development, well-being and mental health. The project Schools of Support showed the importance of systematic and continuous education and support of educational experts in the development of various methods, techniques and approaches for children and young people that strengthen their socio-emotional competencies. By using these competencies and new approaches, educational experts positively influence the mental state of children and young people, their personal and social development, and academic success. Investing in the development of the competences of educational experts in the field of socio-emotional development of children and young people, as well as the adoption of new techniques, methods and strategies for active inclusion in the teaching process and awareness of how all of the mentioned areas are linked together, ensures that schools become places where every child can achieve their full potential", said Ana Munivrana, executive director of the Forum for Freedom in Education.

UNICEF's humanitarian Milky Way Race 2023 is held under auspices of Ministry of Science and Education over 10 days, from September 15 to 24. Via mobile app children, young people, families, runners, associations, clubs, and everyone else can join by walking, running, cycling, rollerblading or in wheelchairs. Their messages of support and donations will help raise awareness on the importance of mental health and support mental health care of children and young people in Croatia.

Every year, an increasing number of corporate partners join the UNICEF race. Kaufland Hrvatska has supported the Milky Way as the main sponsor since the first edition, in 2017, and this year, apart from their sponsorship donation, for each registered participant they will donate an additional EUR 1. Other sponsor partners include Bina-Istra and Njuškalo.

Registration for the UNICEF Milky Way race: www.mlijecnastaza.hr, early bird tickets available until June 24, 2023.

More information is available at www.unicef.org/croatia where you can also find Tips for Preserving Mental Health. 


--- UNICEF humanitarian Milky Way Race – achievements in the first 6 years --- 

This year, the Milky Way Race is held for the seventh time in a row, and in the period from 2017 to 2022 it created a huge social momentum, gathered over 26.000 participants and UNICEF raised over HRK 5.5 million (EUR 736.000) to support children in Croatia. The funds were invested in supporting the establishment of the national human milk bank, providing financial support aid to foster families with the youngest children, providing equipment for all maternity wards in Croatia, equipment of sensory cabinets and providing sensory therapy training for children with disabilities, supporting establishment of day care and psychosocial support for children with disabilities and support for parents in areas where such services are least accessible or absent. Last year (2022), with the support of donors, UNICEF provided HRK 1.1 million (almost 150,000 EUR) for the implementation of the program to support the mental health of children in schools (PoMoZi Da), which will benefit more than 25.000 primary school pupils and secondary school students.

Media contacts

Morana Tuškan
Communication Associate


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