Many of you will still have vivid memories of the three-day hostage crisis at a school in Beslan, southern Russia, which resulted in the tragic death of 330 people, half of them children. Some of the traumatised children who survived the siege in September have just completed a four-week stay at a Czech spa and left for home on Wednesday.
This little boy, along with 42 children and 30 parents has just spent four weeks at the Manes Sanatorium for children in the West Bohemian spa town Karlovy Vary. The group was invited to the Czech Republic by the Czech government. Travel expenses were covered by financial donations in Russia and the rest, 1.8 million crowns (just under 60,000 euros), was provided by the Czech Foreign Ministry. This is how one of the mothers described the state the children were in when they arrived:
"One cannot describe in words what these children experienced and are going through. It was a horrific tragedy. They suddenly became very aggressive. But children are children and they have their own way of coping. It's probably easier for them. But it will take a very long time to heal the wounds. They are being treated but they will not forget and when we get back home they will not have forgotten. But the treatment should make it easier."
Manes Sanatorium director Svatava Liskova says nurses and other staff had to be especially sensitive to the children's needs. Most of them had lost a close relative in the siege and had their own ways of dealing with the pain. When they arrived, they played soldiers, built barricades, and pretended to shoot each other, in an attempt to show and express what they had seen. But the four weeks, she says, have been long enough to release the stress and significantly improve their psychological state:
"At first sight the children look happy and fine but as soon as they find themselves in a stressful situation, they fall apart. One young girl could not find her room just after she arrived and came to us completely traumatised. They all had large amounts of accumulated stress buried inside them and we had to approach them very carefully and be extremely sensitive. The treatment we gave them included soothing baths, swimming, exercising, walks, equitherapy (or treatment with the help of horses), and skiing."
With help from other institutions and sponsors the children went on tours of the historic sites of the region, visited the mountains, and went to numerous cultural events. They also had a traditional Czech Christmas Eve with a large Christmas tree, presents, and of course fried carp and potato salad. Before the group left for home, they spent two days in Prague to see the city's cultural heritage sites and go shopping. This little boy liked it so much that he did not want to go back home:
"I like it here very much and Prague is a very beautiful city. I don't feel like going back home. We all like it here."
The Health Ministry is currently organising another stay for an equally big group of children as early as next month. In a separate project, the Czech Foreign Ministry has offered the Russian Red Cross Czech spa convalescence stays for another 100 children.
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