Project #16291

Support grieving children and families in Slovakia

by Pontis Foundation
Weekend meeting for grieving families
Weekend meeting for grieving families

The last weekend in September, as every year, we organized a weekend meeting for the families from our Home care. During our therapeutic weekend they have opportunity to meet other families, share with them their grief, talk and support each other. On the following lines we would like to approach it through the words of our volunteer Kristina. Please accept our warmest thank you. 

Uff, it´s done, everything is prepared, playroom is full of toys, crayons, pillows, lounge is bedecked, but the most important thing is still to come, we are waiting for families ...
I hear the opening of front door, I get up from the couch. I glimpse the first family that unlike me has come to look bold. I reach out to parents to welcome them and introduce myself: "Hello and welcome, I'm Kristina, a volunteer." Behind mommy popping pair of eyes, mischievous, a little shy. "Oh, it’s Emka!", The girl who I met on a summer therapeutic camp - Call of the Wildeness. We are sitting on the couch and Emka begins to draw. I ask her: "Emka, what will it be?" Did not answer right away, just stare at me. After a minute or two she says, "It will be a surprise. And also a surprise that for whom it will be." I smile and watch the drawing…

After dinner, we meet with the families in the lounge, where to meet. First, introduce volunteers and staff of Plamienok, n.o. , also speak to us our counseling center director, psychotherapist Iván Gómez and then what? Getting to play. "Deducted - first, second, first, second,… . The first will be built here, others here. Your task in the shortest time, sort by size, by month of birth, according to the first letter of the name.” When first entering the job I see in the faces of children and parents surprise and amusement. In addressing the first award was a surprise and amusement changed to smile and have a laugh of it. Introductory evening goes by producing bracelets. Colourful beads, shimmering, beads with letters, sundry animals, all these families and they choose with their smile was handed coloured laces. It is beautiful to observe each other cooperation between parents, between parent and child and even more beautiful is to see the joy of the result. Together bracelets photo on their hands, and shared hug at the end already ringing the bell, "quickly to cribs, because already the moon shines say goodbye to the cat. Good night to you, children! " (To Iván: it was the song, which Ondrej played on the end of evening. It is a song from fairy-tale).

In the morning we meet for breakfast ready for tourism, the weather wish to us. Slowly we climb into the forest, meet nice villagers here and there to blow away that is already enough, but drives us inner strength and curiosity of how far we come and to discover. It was worth it - beautiful forest environment, view tower, and common game!

After lunch we all face in lounge, where we go do or seek stars - our lost stars. With tears, smiling, quietly and uproar we hang their to give us shine .... We move out and we remember the children, siblings, whom we have lost, the beautiful moments that we have experienced with them and write them on hearts, into our hearts. Tree, around which we work symbolizes life and stability, permanence that children, siblings, though they are not here, they are part of us, the tabernacle of our hearts.

"You see now the ground?" "I see, I see, I see nothing ... still water everywhere ... always the cold, salty, deep water ... wait! There, there, do you see it? Somehow pirates! Go here. "With children we set out on a treasure hunt. We met various pirates Vratinoha, Scary eye, who’s accompanied us in the journey full of pitfalls, challenges surprises. We met the monster that we helped and bestowed upon us. We have found the treasure ...

In the evening artists accompany us. In the beginning we were all shy, sitting around, talking, and suddenly, out of nowhere, with a smile dancing - children, parents, all together. Neither we realized nor already there is again the end of the day, and again is ringing the bell, "quickly to cribs, because already the moon shines say goodbye to the cat. Good night to you, children! ".

Beautiful morning, the sun shines beautifully and we are going to last breakfast this weekend. At breakfast is ongoing debate to decide whether to go to the pool - "I hope it will not be cold water ..." or you go out exercise. Water polo brought us, laughter penetrates through the thick glass to the examiner in the yard, which attracted their attention. Everyone grabbed bellies with laughter ....

"Vratinoha! Come with us to shoot! "Click, click, capturing new pirates, beautiful moments and memories from this weekend.
Words brother Peter unite us even more, some cry, some are smiling. We think of our children, unforgettable moment.
After lunch we embrace, we thank and saying goodbye. The sun is shining on our road.

Tree symbolizes life and stability
Tree symbolizes life and stability

Roaaaawr! The call of the wild.

Summer therapeutic camp for bereaved children and adolescents, 2016

Plamienok Grief Counselling Centre has been organizing therapeutic summer camps for bereaved children from all over Slovakia for 6 years. This year,  57 children aged 7 to 18, 2 psychologists, doctors and play therapists from Plamienok staff, as well as 11 trained volunteers, all under supervision of the Centre´s director, psychotherapist Ivan, attended the camp and spent a week together. They played, contemplated, had fun, discussed serious matters, laughed and cried, created, did sports, relaxed and enriched each other.

We thank all companies and individuals who suppported our camp. Children did not pay for the camp, which allowed us to accept also children from socially challenged families and orphanages.

Hereby we offer you words from the notebook of our colleague, play therapist Lucia. This is what it really was like in this year´s camp... 

The bus is ready, direction Vrutky, and I can see a variety of emotions ont the faces of the children – on some of them worries, in some of them sadness. Despite their doubts they enter the bus, it seems their inner call of the wild wins over fear and sceptisism, their luggage already in the trunk. Luckily there are children among us who have been to our Plamienok camp before, and with them the atmosphere in the bus changes, the air becomes lighter, we feel the expectations of something new, something that is awaiting us like a journey, like the one our bus is heading on. And here we are, on the spot, with more children waiting for us, the cottage full to its limits, the dividing into rooms, the first getting to know each other.


Day one – Unknown territory

Symbolically we are entering the unknown territory, stepping on the new land. The indigenous people, the savages, accompanied by the sounds of drums, come to greet us. One of them holds up his didgeridoo, the massive sound comes out and the chief of the tribe starts reading from an ancient roll of paper: Now you are in the skin of the explorer, new to the new land. Your bare feet will enter on a road which takes you to a new land, to the center of the wilderness. Go slowly, be careful, explore the road and at its end, you will find the entering gate – and you will enter the new, the unknown land and become its inhabitant.

Children walk through the path which resembles our journey through life – how it changes, how we face different things on it, from pleasant soft leaves to prickly pine needles. Each child discovers a notebook, empty on the first day, but with a promise to become full during the next seven days with their insights, experiences, messages – like Robinson Crusoe on the deserted island. It will be theirs only, about them, about their stay in this wilderness of ours.

Children write their expectations on the first pages and then share them with others: football, fun, friends.

Weather: raining, hopefully tomorrow the sun comes out.


Day two – Meeting my animal

 Dear notebook, today we were creating our own movie about the wild, then we were running around in the rain and later, in the group, we searched for our inner animal. We were divided into four groups according to ages. What animal would I choose to be? What do I like about it and why? Dear notebook, you know what, ok..I choose the bat. The bat because, just like it I sometimes avoid people. Then these people have different prejudices about me, just like about bats, because they do not know me, and they believe their prejudices. But they are wrong.

The first group meeting was strong, suddently we feel closer, we know our animals. Another child writes in its diary: animal is a horse, because just like the horse, I do not give up in spite of what happened to me,...silence, mom died.

It keeps raining, but we believe the sun is hidden there just behind the clouds.


Day three – We are not alone

Dear notebook, it keeps raining, it is really wild, and we still have so much to do. We play the Activity, we prepare ourselves for the Oscar movie awards in the night - for the movies we created yesterday, we play in the meadows and in the rain. Because rain belongs to life. In the afternoon we share our rainy moments with the group. Whom we lost and how we feel about it. Some feel a bit better, some are still deeply sorrowed. But we have discovered that we are really not alone, that there are more of us with similar fate, friends, who do not need explanations, whom we can talk to straight. We can simply share and feel this rain together, then laugh like wild animals watching the movies we created, such as The Hard Life of a Sloth.


Day four – Animal power

 Dear notebook, it´s not raining! The sun came out! We are in the forest, finally. There we meet animals, they tell us about their lives and we try to emphatize with them. Like when we meet the snake, we try to shed our skin (well, fortunately, we only try to shed our socks without our hands), the lion shows us how to gain courage with an immense roaring, the monkey teaches us curiosity and how to mimic others. When meeting the penguin we realize how precious life is, and the wolf explains that family and hierarchy is fundamental and we also train our sense of smell. And the butterfly reveals to us that life is change and transformation into something new.

In the evening we listen to four stories of animals. Of the frightened mouse, the angry bear, the sad elephant and the jolly hummingbird. We try to print each emotion into clay, we create our fear, anger, sadness and joy. The clay keeps changing in our hands just like the emotions within us. It is normal to feel different emotions, we realize that everyone can fear something different. Like someone fears loneliness and someone fears having many people around. How strange.


Day five – Blueberry trip

 Dear notebook, a great challenge for today – all day trip. The weather seems fine, but they say there is a bear wandering around...well hopefully we avoid each other. We walk the steep hill – over 1000 m above sea level. We believe we can make it, we already know we have the inner strength. It was worth trying – up there, we find a reward – endless fields of blueberries. Yummy! We have purple lipsticks on our lips, purple prints on our hands, and maybe even our hearts turned purple. We pick blueberries for the younger ones, who did not walk this far. We ascend the hill with a wooden cross on top, where we get an amazing view, with the world at our glance. And we see everything as if from a bird's-eye view.

In the group we are making our own necklace of strength, either the strength of our animal, or something that empowers us. The necklaces are so varied, just as we are. And with these necklaces, we are ready to face the following day and life.


Day six – Festival of colors

 Dear notebook, the final day in the wild has come, the final wild thing – a shower of colors. We are on the meadow and the adults keep throwing colors on us, for pure joy. We join them after a while and all of a sudden, the dailiness is gone and we are on the meadow shining with colors, looking like someone from another land, or even another planet. Click and click on the camera, trying to capture this joyous moment for ever, or at least for a memory. In the group we say goodbyes, we write messages of honest and courageous words to each other, we leave our prints and the prints of the other ones, how we saw each other. It is interesting to read how I was special to someone, that he could laugh a lot with me, that he will not forget how I spilled water on him during lunch, maybe a banality in the eyes of an adult, but something very precious for me.


Day seven - Goodbye

 Dear notebook, we are packing, we hug, some of us cry. The final fullstop, the end of the wild. But we surely carry something of it with us, not just written in the notebooks, but especially deep within. We are not the same as before. We take our notebooks with us back home, to the place where we hope to bring something of this experience with us.


The sun is shining on our way home.
And gives us warmth. 
Every child express feelings differently.
Every child express feelings differently.

“Today, we created a giant!“ that was the first thing a small boy told his parents after the end of the session. We are meeting together in the corridor. His parents have been only a bit further away – in the neighbouring consulting room. Johnny has been in the playing room – a therapeutic room containing different stimulating toys.

The thing is that we unwound from a roll of paper a pretty big piece today.

“What size do we need?” “At least as big as you are.”

Johnny was quick to lie down on the paper and remarked with a smile: “I can fit in it.”

“And what to do next with the paper?” “We need to trace on it a head, hands, legs, the whole body…it needs to be as big as you are.” “So draw an outline around my body.”  So I do. His outline appears on the paper.

“Now, let´s paint it all over with different colours – the head, the hands, the legs, the whole body according to what you can feel in that part of the body. We have different colours available here. Which colour would represent which emotion?” Johnny has already known a big range of emotions; we have been working with them pretty often. It is totally up to him which colour he will assign to which emotion. Every child can express the same feelings with different colours.

Step by step Johnny is picking from the range of colours and brushes. Big paper requires big brushes, big paint rollers, big sponges as if you were painting a wall. Johnny starts rolling the brushes, applying and imprinting colours, until the outline is transformed into a boy full of colours.

The legs are all yellow because when he is joyful he runs, he jumps, he is moving around. The belly is painted in green because it is pleasant for him to eat well as well as stroking his belly. He has chosen the blue colour for the eyes. When he put a teardrop in the eye, it became clear to me. He put several colours in the heart because he feels there the red love, the yellow happiness, the blue sadness, the black painful crack. He painted the hands in brown because he can express his anger with them.

Johnny lost his sister six months ago. Every child is coming to terms with the loss of a loved one in a different way, with its own range of emotions and it is quite natural. We are helping children at PLAMIENOK Counselling centre through therapeutic and creative techniques. Play and creative techniques create a safe environment for children to freely express their feelings in a playful way. We are picking the techniques with the intention to help children realize which feelings they have inside and to be able to express them subsequently. The burdensome feelings lose their intensity this way and children feel better. This is how we help children in coming to terms with their loss.


Music workshops are full of joy.
Music workshops are full of joy.

At Plamienok Counselling Centre we welcome children, adolescents and families who have lost a loved one. Also thanks to your support in 2015, through individual, group meetings and organized events, we helped 109 children and adolescents, 102 adults and 76 families in coming to terms with their loss.

In the meetings with young people who have lost a loved one, many different and intense moods, feelings, emotions and frames of mind are present. But how to talk about them? How to help a young person, confused from all the burden they have inside, to get it off their chest? Music can be very much helpful in that. It can express a large scale of emotions and is able to influence our mood.

At the beginning of the meeting I bring drums. We talk about them for a while, we try them out, we talk about music in general and what it represents for Andrew. In fact, music is another language – a universal one, understandable for everyone. When you play a sad melody, you don´t have to add any comment. Everybody understands the sadness. Well then, let´s try to “talk”. I will tell you or rather I will drum to you who I am. You can join me so I will know that you understand me. The melody comes out spontaneously. At first, Andrew listens for a while and then he starts playing my melody with me. It looks like we understand each other. Now, it is your turn, Andrew. I will join his melody after a while. It looks as if we spoke the same language. Step by step, Andrew is discovering the secret of the drums, the initial blush on his cheeks is replaced by a spontaneous laugh, his posture is much more relaxed. So we got introduced. We didn´t have to talk about my or his favourite colour or movie, we directly talked about the feelings of my and his life. What my or his life sounds like…

After a while he puts three words on the paper. Joy, sadness, anger… that is what he feels inside. And we continue our “talk”. How does your joy sound? A rhythmic, spontaneous and dynamic melody comes out. Yes, I can here it there. And what about my sound of the joy? Listen… After a while we find ourselves beating the drums with all the power, feeling the vibrations in all the body, the movements are sharp and vigorous. Anger. Fortunately, the drums stayed in one piece and when we finish playing, we laugh. We feel relief, satisfaction and we are relaxed because we got it off our chest. And how does your sadness sound? Weak, cautious, uncertain beating, here and there it sounds like rain, here and there it sounds as if we were getting lost. I will play my sadness, too, it may sound a bit different but it can still be easily identified, like an irregular ticking of an old clock or a sound of church bells gradually disappearing in the distance.

The number of possibilities as well as the number of melodies is infinite. At the end, we play a “battle” between sadness and joy. Let´s see who is stronger…This time it was Andrew playing the joy even though my sadness really did its best. And then we switch to the “normal” talk and we talk about what has just happened, what we have heard and felt. After a long period of time Andrew is contented, smiling, relaxed and talkative. It is the first time in our meetings that he expressed the feelings of anger and sadness and he had a good laugh at the same time.

Without your support, this wouldn´t be possible. Thank you for becoming one of our regular donors.

Rhythm is the way to overcome sadness.
Rhythm is the way to overcome sadness.
Children can express themselves through music.
Children can express themselves through music.


Art therapy
Art therapy

Imagine asking two teenagers how they are feeling. Both of them will give you a reserved “fine” and turn away from you. They don’t feel like talking about it.

And now imagine that they both draw their “fine”. One of the drawings is full of nervous, sharp movements, red splotches are blotted out by pitch-black darkness in some places; pencils break under the pressure, the drawing looks as if on fire. The other drawing is almost without colour, pale, here and there are bits of blue nostalgia. It looks like a tired grey cloud... They didn’t have to say a thing and yet they expressed their feelings. The first drawing tells about feelings of anger, maybe injustice, the second one is more of an expression of sadness.

That, too, is what art therapy is about. It gives us an opportunity to express our feelings through art using our own “words” without the restrictions and traps of our vocabularies. Even those of us who are otherwise very capable verbally often suddenly freeze when talking about feelings. After all it’s very difficult to talk about sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness; we don’t want to risk being misunderstood. At other times we feel that it’s impossible to put what we are going through into words. “My sadness is not the same as yours,” we feel like saying when someone claims they understand us and immediately adds something that proves the complete opposite. Because when two people talk about sadness both of them can experience it in different ways when it comes to intensity, oppressiveness, and future prospects. To talk about the details of our sadness is a really big challenge.

Children should not lose their siblings and parents. Parents should not lose their children. It happens, every day. Join us and help families suffering the loss of their loved ones. Become a donor for Plamienok – become a ray that warms up their days.

In instances such as these, paintings, statues and other works can “talk” for us. They can capture what is really happening in our minds because while creating we are using different parts of our brains than while talking. It’s not as careful, controlled and maybe toned down as with words. What’s more, when it comes to art therapy there is also the sheet of paper, clay, or some other material we communicate with and it definitely won’t oppose us or judge anything we create.

We can also talk about our work in third person. It’s safe. For example, a little boy draws a figure of a boy who is shouting and scowling. He tells you that the boy in the picture is very angry because his parents don’t have time for him. You may think that he could say this “straight out” but what if the boy’s parents spend most of their time caring for his sick sibling and therefore he feels guilty about his anger? Other adults could have told him that if he behaves like this, he is “a bad boy” and that is the reason he won’t talk to you about his anger so easily. However, it does not concern only children. We adults are also often faced with feelings that are not tolerated by our society, but we still need to get them of our chests. And art therapy can help us with that in the same way. When we draw or mould these feelings, they are no longer only inside of us, but they are also on the sheet of paper or in the clay right in front of us. There we can see them better which allows us to better understand ourselves and our minds.

Here in Plamienok we use art therapy as well, because we believe that it provides the so much needed safe space for expressing emotions. Every single one of us experiences them in their own unique way and we respect this uniqueness.


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Organization Information

Pontis Foundation

Location: Bratislava, Slovakia - Slovakia
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Marek Chalány
program coordinator for individual philantropy
Bratislava, Slovakia

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