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Base de données d'évaluation

Evaluation report

CEE/CIS 1998: A Critical Review of UNICEF's Support to Psycho Social and Peace Education Projects in the Countries of the Former Yugoslavia (BHG, Croatia, and FRY)

Author: Richardson, J.

Executive summary


While UNICEF has engaged in a number of program activities over the years that deal in one way or another with the psychological effects of war, it has been relatively recent that the organization has employed professional psychologists to design programs, the specific intent of which is to address psychological trauma in children. The relatively high profile of such programs during the terrible wars in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, in which so many civilians were brutalized, has opened a debate within the organization over just how UNICEF should address such problems.

Purpose / Objective

This assessment provides an explanation of the logic behind the decision to train teachers and other child caretakers without professional background in psychology, to respond to the needs of traumatized children, a discussion of some of the dilemmas accompanying such a choice, and an assessment of the extent to which the programs reached their objectives or lead to unforeseen consequences and opportunities.


Interviews were conducted with program directors, principals, teachers, psychologists, supervisors, UNICEF staff, UNHCR staff and other involved NGO staff. Nine interviews each were conducted in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; the Republic of Croatia; and Mostar, Sarajevo, and the Republic of Srpska in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A desk review of relevant evaluations and literature was also completed.

Key Findings and Conclusions

While there is an ongoing debate about the most cost effective and appropriate way to respond to large numbers of people whose lives have been severely disrupted by war, UNICEF's decision to support psycho social projects in the former Yugoslavia starting early in the war in 1992 was a good decision at the time. UNICEF could not respond with the massive material assistance that UNHCR was able to offer, and its decision to work through school teachers and primary health care providers was consistent with its larger support to such care givers in its global program.

Of the three countries that were visited for this review, Bosnia has continued with a central programming focus on psycho social programs for trauma-affected children. Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia shifted their programming priorities toward programs of peace education and various interactive methodologies towards the end of the war years (1994-95), and now focus primarily on those. In some cases, current interactive or participatory learning projects had their origins in work with traumatized children during the war. It has been in Bosnia where UNICEF-supported projects have focused most intensely after the war on the minority of most traumatized students, and on adolescents.

Despite the initial objectives of virtually all psycho social programs to help treat or even heal trauma in children, the most tangible benefits cited now that the war is over are those to teachers. When asked to assess what the benefits of various training programs have been, the majority of those interviewed teachers and psychologists involved in the program have said that they were given valuable information about behavioral changes in their students at an important time, and that many of them have learned new ways of interacting with their students and incorporating a psychological dimension into their understanding. Since very few children were interviewed, it is difficult to dismiss entirely the possibility that they would have offered a very different assessment of how the programs affected them.

It is possible to say that over a period of six years (1992-98), with the most intensive activity in psycho social work coming during the war years (1992-95), UNICEF supported projects that provided varying degrees, types and duration of training to tens of thousands of pre-school and primary school teachers. Lesser numbers of primary health care givers and mental health workers were also trained in such programs. Most were trained in the fundamentals of child trauma, and given instruction on how to identify its more obvious symptoms. Some teachers were given little more than this, but others were instructed in the application of various therapeutic activities designed to allow children to express their fears and share them with others. These included art, music and play therapy and, in some cases, in actual group work that allowed children to speak directly of their experiences of grief, loss and fear. The majority received training sessions of not more than several days.

Out of thousands who received training, a small minority perhaps measured now in the low hundreds have applied what they have learned in their classrooms on any consistent basis. Many of those who received training in psycho social education during the war were subsequently trained in various interactive teaching methodologies that form part of the larger efforts at education for development? or peace education.

Less certain but also possible to say is that hundreds of thousands of pre-school and primary school children participated in such programs during this time. There is limited anecdotal evidence and some limited evidence from follow-up trauma questionnaires that some of these interventions helped reduce symptomatology in such children. But beyond that, it is almost impossible to know, with any certainty, how the majority of such interventions affected various children and particularly difficult to know how permanent or profound the effect has been.

As in all wars, quantification of exactly how many were reached by what programs is difficult. Some estimates seem high, and there is little way of knowing what individuals got out of limited training exercise and whether or not they were ever able or willing to apply such instruction in their work or home life. The only consistent form of evaluation was based on questionnaires given to workshop participants, who commented on the workshop itself. In general, both students and teachers judged workshops helpful and desirable. Some have pointed out that this is because the workshops gave participants something to do that was worthwhile and a sense of solidarity during the debilitating days of war. There have been far fewer questionnaires designed to compare the severity and incidence of trauma symptomatology during and after programs but, among the few, there is some evidence that some symptoms diminished. Others point out that for the majority, trauma symptoms will diminish over time anyway.

The biggest limitations to further propagation of both psycho social and peace education projects have been the following:
- it is uncertain how much most teachers really got out of the short-term training programs that were offered in abundance during the war; after the war, a few programs have offered training over several weeks or months that promise a more complete education
- there is little overall systematic acceptance of or support for psycho social work and various interactive or participatory learning projects in peace education by government ministries; such projects are still undertaken by teachers on the edges of the main curriculum, as optional rather than mandatory classes for students
- there have not been enough professionals in any of the countries with extensive background in trauma psychology or new learning techniques to provide full and adequate supervision to the numbers who have been trained
- donor priorities shifted after the war from psycho social projects on trauma to reconciliation projects; a number of those who were interviewed feel this has been a mistake because the most critical time to deal with trauma is after the war


In cases where UNICEF decides to do psycho social work, it should insist on forming partnerships with psychologists or universities that last long enough to have a serious impact. Almost all agreed that the short-term consultancies that predominated during the peak of the war years were at best limited in their impact and almost impossible to assess. The best programs, among those in both psycho social and peace education sectors, have been ones that take place over several months or years.

UNICEF should place much greater emphasis than it has until now on evaluating how well teachers are applying what they have learned in training sessions. Since very few receive anything more than short-term training, this is particularly important.

UNICEF should put a higher priority on securing backing for its varied psycho social and peace education projects at the highest ministerial levels. Until some of these programs are officially sanctioned by the government system, they will continue to be marginalized. One of the more innovative approaches to integrating such projects into the educational mainstream is that of training future teachers at the University of Zagreb. It will be worth following that project for a few years to see whether or not the young teachers are able to apply what they have been trained to do.

At the same time, UNICEF should continue where it can to support that small nucleus of progressive partners who have to date been the prime movers of these limited programs. This is how civil society is created and nurtured.

If UNICEF is going to continue to do psycho social work in different parts of the world, it should make more of an effort than it has to work with other international organizations that share the mandate to work with children or the mandate to work in education.

There was a suggestion by one UNICEF staff member that information on psycho social projects be included in the organization's Life Skills material. That would be useful as a way of integrating it further into the organization's body of knowledge.

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