Issue date: 29 April 2003

ISSUE DATE: 29/04/03

Learning disability nursing students from the Faculty of Health and Social Care at the University of the West of England will visit Croatia with the aim of raising funds for Croatian children and adolescents with autism and learning disabilities and to gain experience which will form a valuable part of their training. This trip is the third organised by the Faculty and the students will travel for a two-week period from 3 to 17 May 2003.

This opportunity is afforded through a project set up in 2001 called ‘Croatia Calling’. The students will spend time at the Centre for Autism in Zagreb where they will observe the work of special needs teachers and visit similar institutions in the immediate area

Eric Broussine, Lecturer in the Faculty of Health and Social Care, set up the project together with colleague Maggie Whittle when he visited the Centre for Autism in Zagreb through the Charity ‘Convoy for Hope’ at Easter in 2001. Eric said, “This elective is a two way project where the Centre for Autism receives funding raised by the students and the students get to enhance their skills in communicating and developing positive relationships with children and adolescents with autism and learning disabilities The students will keep reflective journals so that they can feedback their experiences to the Faculty at the end of the visit.”

Croatia Calling has to date raised £2,200, which has contributed to the purchase of much needed furniture, toys, equipment and clothing for the centre. ‘Croatia Calling’ still needs to raise more money so that it can contribute to the refurbishment of a holiday home for children on the Dalmatian Coast.

Eric Broussine continued, “ The Croatia Calling project gives students the chance to compare the similarities and differences of services for children and adolescents with autism and learning disabilities in Croatia and the UK. I like to promote a reflective approach to learning by facilitating group discussions about the students’ working day and encourage reflective thinking and writing about their experience.”

Matt Joel is a student travelling to Croatia for the second time, he said, “The focus in Croatia seems to be concentrated around education and development for children with autism. We tend to concentrate on health treatments in the widest sense so I worked at sharing with the Croatian teachers things like care plans for everyday health needs. The teachers work in very difficult conditions because the autistic children are all treated together. In the UK we tend to give more individual help and care because autism by its very nature means that patients are quite egocentric and have varying obsessions and hobbies needing different kinds of support. The experience has been an eye opener for me as before studying I had a job as a one-to-one carer for an adult with autism. This project enables us to give some positive input in many ways in a country suffering from the lack of infrastructure caused by a bitter war where health funding is very limited.”

Craig Boothroyd will visit Zagreb for the first time this year. He is looking forward to what he can learn from the trip. He said, “I’ve heard a lot from the group who went last year and I get the impression that Croatia is about 15 years behind us with regard to care models but I’m keeping an open mind about this. I think this experience will be invaluable to me. I’ve worked with people with learning disabilities in the US and that was a life changing experience so I’m hoping this will be too. I think this trip will give a valuable insight into another culture and give me the chance to see how a different country cares for people with learning disabilities.”

For more information about the project see the website:


Editor’s notes

In June 2000 the charity ‘Convoy of Hope’ visited the Faculty of Health and Social Care at UWE and gave a presentation of what they do and requested any unwanted medical aids, computer hardware, clothing, etc to take to the Balkan states, including an autistic centre in Zagreb. Eric Broussine went along and asked them to come back and talk to some Learning Disability student nurses. A group of interested people got together to see if it would be possible to tag along with the convoy on the next trip, planned for Easter 2001. It did not seem realistic for so many people to hitch along with the Convoy, so a group of 13 decided to fly out for a 10-day exploratory visit. The charity contacted the autistic centre and they agreed to accommodate the group.

The visit proved to be very successful – students evaluated the experience as a powerful way of learning about alternative care delivery systems, developing positive relationships with autistic children and adolescents, how an educational model is implemented and perhaps most importantly what values and attitudes teachers had towards the ‘students’. Nursing students had first hand experience of the paucity of resources, the institutional atmosphere and unfortunately the physical abuse witnessed. This would not be experienced in the UK.

Last year another group of students visited Croatia and developed the partnership between UWE and Zagreb Autistic Centre. They also visited other autistic centres throughout Croatia, including a holiday home on the Dalmatian coast. Staff at the centre in Zagreb valued our contributions and appreciated the opportunity to continue with our collaborative efforts.

The Faculty plans to sponsor some of the special needs teachers to visit the UK. The group will also continue to raise funds for the holiday home and provide an opportunity for children and adults with autism and learning disabilities in this area to have a holiday in Croatia.

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