table of contents | abstracts

Means of Prevention in Community Youth Work
Gordana Forcic

Suncokret is a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization that was organized in 1992 by a group of Croatian students and young professionals to respond to the needs of children and youth in refugee camps. As the war in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina has ended, Suncokret has focused more on preparing people for resettlement and providing support in local communities. Community youth centers provide youth with a variety of discussion groups as well as workshops in areas such as film making, music, drama, computers, and so forth. A program of prevention and education is also offered in the school; groups of 10-18 youth meet weekly to consider matters related to their psychosocial development. A program of work with youth in collective centers helps prepare youth for transition to their communities and to participate in their communities.

Suncokret is a non-governmental, non profit organization registrated in 1992 in Croatia. Suncokrets' mission is to address the psychological, social, cultural, and environmental consequences of war and social change in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Suncokret aims to mitigate the effects of conflict through local and international participation in social, renewal, peace-building, and post-war social reconstruction.

In Summer 1992 a group of students and young professionals from Croatia, joined by international volunteers, responded to the needs of refugee children and youth by working and living in some of the biggest and most deprived refugee centers in Croatia. Financial resources which were barely sufficient to cover some crayons and paper; the project grew, however, with imagination and commitment to a vital program serving all ages of refugees and displaced persons. In normal circumstances this group of relatively inexperienced young professionals and volunteers would have never dreamed of engaging themselves in the difficult task of helping children to cope and overcome the stressful experiences of war and relocation. The war induced the feeling of responsibility to address the problem and act with immediacy. The desire to support and improve services to refugees and displaced persons was the birth of Suncokret.

As the work progressed, it became clear that a short-term crisis response was inadequate and that a long-term perspective was mandated. Need for a clear organizational structure began to be a priority, and a slow and difficult period of change ensued. A structure is now in place with clear roles and responsibilities for proper use of a professional staff as co-ordinators and supervisors. The professional staff includes social workers, psychologists, teachers, and other professionals.

Suncokret has developed concrete policies, training, programs and a qualified professional staff to meet various needs of people of all ages affected by the war. The focus is on the psycho-social needs of children, teenagers, women, and senior citizens living in collective centers and in the local communities. Increasingly, Suncokret is engaged in community development and has started to develop work using community centers to facilitate participation of all people living there in activities which improve the quality of their lives and self sufficiency. Generally, programmes are carried out through a range of social, recreational, creative, educational, and self-help activities.

Suncokret aims to empower people to take control of their lives and communities. It has been welcomed and received requests from all parts of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina for services. Suncokret has been influential in the growth and development of NGOs in Croatia and has:

  • provided services in over thirty collective centers throughout Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina,
  • supported local initiatives for community development in five regions of Croatia, and
  • trained and supervised over 2000 local and international volunteers to work in collective centers and local communities.

Most international humanitarian organizations have withdrawn from Croatia and the majority of local humanitarian organizations have stopped providing support due to lack of finances. This has created feelings of abandonment and despair among refugee/displaced population Suncokret has, however, continued working with people in collective centers. In most centers Suncokret stayed as the only remaining organization supporting the remaining people and providing an array of services.

Suncokret works in twelve collective centers in five regions of Croatia organizing educational, creative, recreational, and other activities for all age groups. The work in all of these collective centers is, whenever possible, spread into the local communities around them, so that privately accommodated refugees and displaced persons as well as the local population are able to join these programmes. Suncockret provides group and individual support to prepare people to return their communities from collective centers.

Suncokret has also started several projects of direct support to the people who have returned. During 1996 Suncokret started work in Topusko, a town of returnees, some 100 kilometers southeast from Zagreb. Several public actions were organized to clean the surroundings; a Suncokret Summer Camp for children and teenagers was held during July and August 1996. Local authorities have provided for the community center for ten years. The Topusko Summer Camp involves about 300 children and teenagers (displaced, refugees, socially deprived) during July and August. Suncokret has also conducted a needs assessment in the town of Knin and is waiting for positive replay from local authorities regarding adequate space for a youth community center. In Karlovac, Suncokret is engaged is supporting displaced children from Turanj. Since 1995 we have organized four Suncokret Theatre Workshops using the Theatre of Opressed technique, for war traumatized children and local professionals working with them. Community youth centers and programs of psycho-social support and education are all the models of primary prevention in work with children and youth.

Copyright for the I.U.C. / B.S.U. Journal of Social Work Theory and Practice is owned by the Social Work Program, Department of Social Relations and Services, Bemidji State University, Bemidji, Minnesota, USA. One copy may be made (printed) for personal use; teachers may make multiple copies for student use if the copies are made available to students without charge. Permission must be secured from the editors for sale of any copies of articles or for any commercial use of the material published in the Journal.

2001 Copyright BSU/IUC Journal of Social Work Theory & Practice