From Group Therapy to Community Cohesion: a workshop in the Carpathians

In July 2023, BEARR launched a new programme in Ukraine – “From Group Therapy to Community Cohesion”, funded by the British Government through the British Embassy in Kyiv. For details, click here.

In October, after initial online contact, members of the various partner organisations taking part in the programme gathered together for a workshop held in a remote hostel in the Carpathian mountains in Ukraine.

Megan Bick, BEARR Trustee and convenor of the workshop, reports below.

The workshop in the Carpathians turned out to be one of those magical moments where everything came together serendipitously. In the most beautiful, peaceful unspoilt area of the Carpathian mountains — with gloriously warm, sunny weather (and away from the air raid sirens which usually blighted their lives) — we gathered a small group of staff and volunteers from our partner organisations in a remote hostel, also run by a generous and thoughtful group of  volunteers.

Each day started with an exercise class on the lawn outside the hostel, with elements of yoga and breathing techniques to tackle anxiety and hypertension, all while having a laugh as the instructor, Elena, put us through our paces. After a hearty breakfast, we had discussions – first of all on different types of therapy, such as art, clay, colour, and nature-based. Then our Moldovan colleagues demonstrated how dance, movement, and drama therapy can be used to help avoid burnout amongst volunteers.

After the skill-sharing sessions, we moved on to discussing our experiences of working with varying age groups, trying to understand whether it was more beneficial to group people with their peers or to work cross-generationally. We held similar talks on whether IDPs should initially be separated from the locals (as their needs tend to differ) or whether efforts to integrate them into their new community should be made from early on. This begged the question: “who is being left out of these opportunities to access trauma support, and how do we engage with them?”. Particular support and advice came from the three psychologists who took part in the workshop.

We also looked at organisational structure and volunteer needs. Freed from their hectic daily routine, these leaders of voluntary groups had the chance to think about the future – what they need in order to carry on both in the immediate future and in three months’ time during the winter. They even considered where they could be in a year’s time. Having raised these questions, our online sharing group will continue to look closely at training method, financial support and material needs.

Our living conditions were far from luxurious, with several sharing sparsely furnished rooms. Our dining area had long trestle tables and benches which had to be rearranged when we wanted to have indoor discussions. Meals were provided by two local women who brought in fresh milk, vegetables and most importantly mushrooms.  Trips out were either on foot, tricky and steep at times, by horse and cart or on the back of a huge Kamaz lorry around a few hairpin bends to reach a mountain peak. Massage was also provided on request (even on a mountain top!), a sauna some evenings, singing around a campfire, barbecues, a bar…… but perhaps the main entertainment for many participants in late September was the mushrooming – the neighbouring forests were full of all kinds (both edible and poisonous). Once the harvesting had begun in earnest, teams would spend an hour or so each evening washing, chopping, boiling, freezing. There will be many tasty meals through the winter to bring back memories of our stay.
BEARR’s hope is that, having brought together all these people from a total of ten organisations geographically spread across the whole country, a genuine network has been established. During the workshop everyone worked together so well, helping each other to jump streams, get in and out of the lorry, and to identify and prepare mushrooms, showing how a genuine and long-lasting collaborative culture can been fostered. Elements of this have already been shown as those receiving grants in July chose to invite people from other organisations.

From BEARR’s point of view this project has been like taking the charity back to its beginnings – we were formed in order to link up the right people. The only difference is that initially this was creating international partnerships for the nascent voluntary sector in the early post-Soviet years. Now we are more about creating national, regional and cross-border networks. Our main role has always been putting the right people together, preferably in the right place with the right space for sharing successes and concerns as well as the opportunity to relax and get to know each other. This time we hit the jackpot…… 

In the words of participants:

“What wonderful people I met and in such a stunning place”

“So many different types of ‘therapy’ we experienced – ‘mushroom therapy’, ‘horse and cart therapy’ even the vibrative therapy of riding in a huge truck up a mountain road!!”

“We are all linked by a common cause.”

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