Coalition for Work with Psychotrauma and Peace

Contact Information

Areas of Expertise

The Coalition for Work with Psychotrauma and Peace has expertise in a range of areas, including:

Main Aims and Objectives

The mandate of the Coalition for Work With Psychotrauma and Peace (CWWPP) is the empowerment of people during or after armed conflict or with the potential for such conflict to take control of their own lives, particularly at grassroots level. The CWWPP believes in creating conditions for positive peace, as expressed by such workers as Prof. Emeritus Adam Curle of the University of Bradford, Prof. Johann Galtung of Oslo, Prof. Annemiek Richters of the University of Leiden and others.

Upholding the Principles of Conflict Transformation

The CWWPP gives direct individual and group counselling to people affected by violent conflict and to marginalized groups, whilst also carrying out mediation and other measures in the direct application of conflict transformation. Perhaps more importantly, CWWPP provides education on counselling, non-violent conflict transformation and civil society, etc, and is in the process of developing this into an online course, to complement their other onsite courses. Everything that CWWPP does is without charge to beneficiaries.

Where and with whom?

CWWPP works in eastern Croatia at present and will soon begin to working in the Doboj area of Bosnia-Herzegovina. CWWPP works primarily with other NGOs, and has also worked in the past with a variety of inter-governmental organizations. CWWPP also serve as a local centre for InterChange, a group of similar individuals and organizations.

The areas in which the CWWPP works can be defined as:

  • the two easternmost counties of Croatia, that is, Vukovar-Sirmium County and Osijek-Baranja County.
    • The border with Serbia from these counties is the Danube River and, further south, a land border. Osijek-Baranja County has a border with Hungary. Vukovar-Sirmium County borders on Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Sava River.
    • The total population of this area is presently about 535 000. Osijek, with a population of about 115 000, is the largest city. Vukovar, with a current estimated population of about 30 000 (roughly 100 000 before the war), is the city in which the 1991-1995 war began. There is little visible damage in Osijek, which was heavily shelled during the War. During the last few years there has been considerable reconstruction in Vukovar, which was almost totally destroyed during the War (see also the section on History below). Although efforts have been made to repair the physical damage to property and infrastructure, the impact of the war continues to impinge on all aspects of the Vukovar-Srijem County’s social and economic life.
    • While no exact figures are available, it is estimated that the area as a whole contains about 81% Croats, 12% Serbs and 7% of other minorities. Vukovar and surroundings are estimated to be about 57% Croat, 33% Serb and 10% other minorities. Before 1991, it is estimated that there were more than 25 ethnic groups and at least 10 religious groups in the region. Furthermore, it is estimated that at least 80% of the population has at least one first or second degree relative of another ethnicity. There are thus many mixed families and mixed marriages in the region.
  • the adjoining area of Serbia, roughly to the middle of Vojvodina, thus towns such as Sid, Backa Palanka, Apatin and Sombor. We do not include the city of Novi Sad within our purview.
    • The population of this area of Vojvodina is estimated to be around 200 000. It has a high number of Serbs from Croatia and Bosnia. Aside from the refugee population, which is heavily traumatized, Vojvodina has traditionally been a region with a high number of minority groups, at least as great and probably greater than that in the area of eastern Croatia that we serve.
  • the area of Bosnia-Herzegovina adjoining Croatia south of the Sava River known as the Posavina roughly as far west as Derventa. We also include Brcko and towns in its vicinity. Other towns in this region are Modrica, Bosanski Samac and Orasje.
    • This region has a population estimated to be around 300 000, with a slightly higher population of Serbs than of Croats or Bosniaks (Moslems). This was an area where some of the worst acts against human beings were committed during the war.

In the past, CWWPP has worked in all of these areas. Currently, because of our present limited funding, they are working only in eastern Croatia.

Main activities in the field of conflict transformation

The CWWPP sees the problem of psychotrauma in its area of work (parts of Eastern Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia) as an important element of the breakdown of society that resulted from the wars of dissolution of Yugoslavia. Other aspects are displacement of people from their homes, unemployment, destruction of physical infrastructure, increase in chronic disease and poverty.

All of these problems, and many more, are intertwined. Reconciliation will not happen without psychotherapy (better said: psychological assistance), and a person suffering from post-traumatic reactions has obstacles within him/herself to economic and social reconstruction. People also have to learn how to solve their difficulties non-violently. They have to learn basic attitudes such as self-reliance and self-initiative. Given the interconnected nature of these difficulties, the CWWPP’s model for post-war social reconstruction and reintegration rejects a fragmented approach that gives attention only to one part of the problem. It also rejects a short-term “quick fix” approach. Rather, CWWPP has designed a strategy that it calls “Complex Rehabilitation”.

Complex Rehabilitation is an intensive, integrated, long-term approach that includes therapy, capacity building within the community and research. It involves a number of elements:

  • Good assessment of the local situation. This assessment must involve all groups of the population in the assessment process (“action research”). It also includes mental and physical health epidemiology.
  • Training of local professionals and non-professionals and the population as a whole in psychotrauma relief assistance including peer-group counselling, non-violent conflict resolution, community organization, critical thinking, and self-reliance as well as in such essential skills as communication, organizational management and coordination.
  • Involvement of the population in making plans for the development of the community.
  • Work on reconciliation at a speed appropriate to the situation and the people involved.
  • Encouragement of the formation of local initiative groups and NGOs, and the formation of coalitions among these organizations.
  • Continuing evaluation of the process as a whole and of each element of it.
  • Continuing research into the problems and the solutions to them at a theoretical and practical level.

Projects undertaken by CWWPP employ this multi-level approach to address problems by keeping in mind their connection with each other. Thus, one of the guiding principles of the organization’s work is to engage a group or a community in its own future. Dr. Charles Tauber notes, “Complex rehabilitation involves getting the entire community involved. You have to be careful not to exclude anyone.”

When CWWPP starts a project in a village or town, it approaches refugees, displaced persons, and long-time residents. Groups of women, demobilized soldiers, workers from a factory that no longer exists, the elderly, union activists, parent-teacher organizations and the elderly all need to be included. At the core of this approach is a strategy that emphasizes the development of civil society institutions. These grassroots institutions, armed with the skills and training provided by CWWPP, give people the tools with which to solve their own problems.

Components of Complex Rehabilitation include:

  • Psychotrauma/Health
  • Non-Violent Conflict Resolution
  • Democratization
  • Capacity Building
  • Advocacy
  • Research and Education
  • Legal, civil, and human rights
  • Economic recovery
  • Cooperation among local organizations, and between these and national and international governmental, inter-governmental, and non-governmental organizations

Part of this strategy is to work at the levels of:

  • the individual,
  • the family,
  • the group,
  • the community
  • and, eventually, the society.

One might ask how CWWPP can possibly address so many problems all at once. The chicken-and-egg dilemma is whether, for example, to tackle post-trauma disorder first, or to get people back to work? Both are crucial problems. The CWWPP’s answer is to work on whatever the group involved sees as most important first, but to remain open to tackling related problems as they arise.

In one case, CWWPP was working with a village organization on communications skills. Members were learning how to write letters to authorities, how to file complaints about harassment, and how to organize meetings. One day a member came to the meeting crying that she had been the victim of domestic violence. With the guidance of the group leader from the CWWPP, this opened up a fruitful discussion within the group on the trauma-related phenomenon of family violence. This problem was addressed for several meetings, and then the group was able to turn back to its original goals and later deal with other, trauma-related problems.

The CWWPP launches a project slowly, so as to earn the trust of a community. This is a long-term approach. The first step is to let people talk, let them get it all out. That works. You then help people figure out the next step. If they want to figure out how to get their rights from the government, you help them learn how to write a letter, to speak to an official, to structure a discussion so that international organizations understand what they are talking about. You talk about how to organize a presentation. When this works, it raises confidence, and then you can talk about trauma. You raise people’s trust in you, and in each other. Then you can work on other issues. But it takes a year and a half or more. It’s a process which requires patience, persistence and creativity.

Dr. Tauber also emphasizes the importance of research to this and other areas. “There is not a great deal of data on the mental health or physical health epidemiology of our area of responsibility. Furthermore, we need to study, for example, the influence of coping mechanisms and the influence of psychological trauma on economic recovery, and the influence of a large number of other factors that contribute to recovery, reintegration and reconciliation.” This is why the CWWPP is working with others to form a Field Institute for Conflict, Post-Conflict and Conflict Prevention Studies and Peacebuilding and why the organization is proposing to form an international working group with projects in a number of similar areas.

The CWWPP believes that it is only through such integrated approaches and continuing research that efficient and effective reconciliation and redevelopment can succeed.

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