“We learn here how to acknowledge our feelings. If I feel angry, I must let that emotion out,” says Victoria, 12, while meticulously applying the bright yellow oil on the painting she has been working on for the past hour.
The eleven children are all engaged in craft projects, diligently sketching colorful spring flowers. “Use the colours that describe your current state of mind,” says Natalia, the facilitator of the Child-Friendly Space in Vulcanesti, southern Moldova.
The soothing background music peacefully fills the spacious room which is surrounded by large shelves filled with books and board games. Natalia turns it on at the start of the session. Children unwind and become calmer.
The child-friendly space in Vulcanesti, implemented by Ave Copiii, World Vision’s local partner, and supported by the Australian Government's Australian Humanitarian Partnership, brings together Ukrainian and Moldovan children every day to work on the arts, read and play.
“A child-friendly space is a great way to integrate Ukrainian children into the community. I noticed they slowly adapted to the new environment. They have effectively made friendships with the Moldovans,” shares Natalia Petrioglo, facilitator in Vulcanesti.
More than 105,000 Ukrainians have sought refuge in Moldova, a vast majority are children. Psychosocial support and education are critical components of war-traumatized youngsters’ growth and integration in an unfamiliar environment, according to the educator.
“As teachers, we deal with children from difficult backgrounds, such as orphans or Ukrainian refugees who have witnessed the atrocities of war,” shares Natalia. She continues, “It is essential to determine the best method for helping them develop their emotional and cognitive brains.”
Trained facilitators to strengthen children’s emotional development
Dozens of facilitators in Moldova like Natalia have benefited from First Aid Arts training, supported by World Vision. The training utilizes arts-based psycho-social resources to promote resilience and reduce post-traumatic stress symptoms.
“The sessions were extremely beneficial for me. Initially, we tested all the techniques on ourselves, the facilitators, to see how they worked and what influence they had on our mental state,” says Natalia.
The ability to understand and acknowledge emotions, respond to stressful situations helps children not only in the child-friendly space, but also in their daily lives.
She adds, “Our understanding of psychological facts now allows us to help children cope with stressors in a more effective way. We became better educators.”
After finishing their art paintings, the children gather on the colorful carpet. Each participant grabs a balloon. Nine-year-old Ella chooses the green one and blows it up. “Think about an incident that upset you today or this week,” Natalia addresses the group.
Ella becomes thoughtful. “Recognize and release all negative emotions. As you let go of this balloon, let them soar away from you,” says the facilitator. Suddenly, bright floating balloons fill the room. Everyone smiles gently.
“I noticed changes in the children’s behaviour. They are more energetic when they arrive at the facility after school. They are enthusiastic about the activities. They are engaged. They spend more time socializing with one another,” says Natalia.
She continues, “The ability to understand and acknowledge emotions, respond to stressful situations helps children not only in the child-friendly space, but also in their daily lives.”
“When I feel angry, I draw. Painting helps me express my feelings. If the first method doesn’t work, I read. Reading is also an effective way to calm down,” shares twelve-year-old Victoria.
“Ukrainian refugees are taught self-regulation and interpersonal skills through First Aid Arts training, which includes eight sessions with 17 fun, calming activities,” explains Anastasiia Vasylieva, World Vision’s coordinator for First Aid Arts training.
She continues, “This is an art and evidence-based method that helps 8–17-year-old children understand their feelings, build resilience, and respond to stress.”
To date, World Vision has reached more than 250,000 children in Georgia, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine, offering protection, education, and psycho-social support.
Story by Laurentia Jora, Communications Officer I Photos by Chris Lete and Eugene Combo/World Vision