“As we are relatively small, we have to be smart.”

The 2017 Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prize was awarded to War Child in the Netherlands for their global efforts to improve the lives of children exposed to war by promoting psychosocial well-being and fostering emotional resilience for their future.  The Jacobs Foundation talked to Tjipke Bergsma, Managing Director, and Mark Jordans, Head of Research at War Child about the Prize and their plans for the future.

How does the price help you to further develop your work?
This prize enables us to further develop and implement our methodologies, such as the IDEALs. Approximately 250 million children do grow up affected by war, a statistic that is both horrific as a boost for War Child. On the one hand, the fact that there are 250 million lives exposed to war is something that horrifies us. While the children are not at the cause of this conflict, they do experience the traumatic consequences. At the same time the immensity of this number activates us to invest all our resources in the resilient children.

As Managing Director – how close do you work with children (in your daily routine)?
I’m happy to be in close contact with my colleagues in the field – our local heroes – who work with our children on a daily basis. As managing director it is important to communicate with the field, to learn of their experiences and to stay close to our worldwide projects. That is why I try to visit one of our countries every two months. During my trips, speaking to children gives me the most energy once back home. It makes me realize again for who we work. Furthermore I try to offer my moral support to our colleagues in the field while evaluating the projects and reporting to our stakeholders.

What is the role of parents in fostering the emotional resilience of war children?
At the core of War Child’s care system stands the wellbeing of the child. As the children are at the centre of our attention, it is important not to overlook the role of the parents. War Child’s ultimate desired impact is that children grow up in peace, free from fear and violence. In order to enlarge the impact, the care system follows a socio-ecological approach. This entails that interventions are targeted at the different ecological levels surrounding the child: individual and peers, families, schools, community and state. More specifically, one of our methodologies is the Caregiver Support Intervention in which we provide psychosocial support to parents and other caregivers. War can negatively affect parents’ psychosocial wellbeing, as well as the quality of their parenting. This method combines peer support with stress management and problem-solving techniques, leading to positive relationships with their children who in turn will be able to build positive relationships with their peers and wider community.

On a personal level, what can we do to help war children when we meet them as refugees in our own home countries?
We believe that it is extremely helpful to get involved with the refugees in one’s country. For example to serve as a volunteer in a refugee shelter. In the Netherlands we have a program called TeamUp, located in almost 20 Dutch refugee shelters. Twice a week TeamUp offers structured sessions with activities like sports, games and dance. Our volunteers reflect very positively and are proud on their contribution. It is a beautiful way of reaching a helping hand to the children that have been through the most horrible traumatic experiences. They respond to the social emotional needs of the children. This results in the stability which is so needed for them and to feel like a child again.

Currently, you reach 350.000 children exposed to war, what are your plans for the future?
War Child is a networked expert organisation. Scaling up is key. We will do so through our War Child Academy. As we are relatively small, we have to be smart. If our programs are evidence based, then all children should have the right to enjoy the same quality. So we started making our methods available for the whole development sector so they can make use of it in order to help many more children affected by war.