Handicraft-making inspires meaningful healing experience for Ukrainian children in Moldova
The only noise at the railway station on Sunday morning was the fading sound of an air-raid alarm and shattered glass. Natalia, 40, was then in a town in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast, hurrying to pack all the essential items in her small suitcase.
With her two daughters, Polina, 13, and Katerina, 10, by her side, they fled Ukraine the next day after the horrific missile strike, arriving in Moldova in early April 2022.
“Natalia, Polina and Katerina arrived in Moldova after the big explosion in their town. I remember every time I shut the enormous door of the building and a loud noise would reverberate, the girls tremble with fear,” said Maria Boico, the local coordinator at the Grătiești Educațional Centre run by Step by Step, supported by World Vision Korea.
A kinder world opens for mother and daughters
Without a job or financial assistance, Natalia struggled to support her two daughters. After a few months, in September, the mother was hired as an educator at the Grătiești Center, where she now teaches Ukrainian handicrafts-making activities twice a week.
“They were so tense and sensitive to sounds. I talked to them every day, trying to reassure them that this is a secure place where they are most welcome. The terrible things we already left behind,” said Boico.
She added, “Now that they are calmer and more confident, they participate in activities or just hang around with the other kids during their spare time.”
After the family relocated and settled in Moldova, Polina and Katerina restarted their education through online classes. Being separated from their friends in Ukraine and no social connections was emotionally draining for the girls.
Finding their passion in handicraft-making and languages
“My daughters missed interacting with children their age. They spend hours in front of the computer every day for their online classes. Due to power outages in Ukraine, the school program was frequently disrupted, which forced them to study most of the time independently,” she recalled.
In September 2022, Polina and Katerina joined the handicraft-making activities and English lessons at the center. “After half-day of studying, I come to the center to relax, and enjoy the hobbies and passions I love - languages and the arts,” said Polina with a gleam in her chestnut brown eyes.
As we create a new object of art every week using recycled materials, the experience enriches my creativity.
“Coming to the educational center has filled the void left by an absence of communication: now my daughters socialize on a regular basis and have made new friends,” noticed Natalia.
“My favorite courses are English lessons and handicraft-making. As we create a new object of art every week using recycled materials, the experience enriches my creativity. They bring a great deal of satisfaction since I have invested time, commitment, and love into creating them,” added the 13-year-old girl.
Simple joys from doing things together
This Monday, they are working intensely on a colorful decorative jar in which they will later store their pens and crayons. Natalia patiently monitors the children’s progress in adorning the meticulously styled pot. As the clock ticked four o'clock, everyone became even more focused and determined to finish the work.
“There are lots of activities here that children love. One day, kids made felt teddy bears, gluing their tiny brown eyes, nose, and ears to them. As they cuddled their newly made teddy bear, their joyful faces were beaming with enthusiasm,” recalled Boico.
“It is an immense pleasure for me to work on the paintings by number on canvas, since I can spend hours looking over the various watercolors and carefully painting the small details,” Katerina said when asked which practice, she enjoys the most at the center.
“While it allows me to relax, it also helps me train my mind and focus; it enables me to lose track of everything else going on in the world and to immerse myself in the core of the painting,” she added.
Children always manage to get along
Besides the dearth of social connections, the girls faced language barriers. “Polina and Katerina could not speak Romanian, and the communication generated some constraints. They attended Romanian classes held at the center and practiced with the locals. Six months later, the improvement is evident,” emphasized their mother.
Boico also noticed the improvement in the interaction. “No matter how much you believe there is a language barrier, children always manage to get along."
She added, “I recall being amazed by the friendship of two girls, one Moldovan and one Ukrainian, who formed such a special bond, even though neither of them speaks the other's native language. They found a way to communicate in English.”
“Nurturing creativity and imagination, the Integrated Emergency and Child Protection Services for Ukrainian Refugee and Host Community Children in Moldova Project empowers children to develop essential skills”, explained Daria Stratu, World Vision’s Project Coordinator.
Stratu added, “These important skills include communication, collaboration, and cooperation, providing a meaningful and imaginative outlet for their free time.”
The children’s dreams no war can stop
“My dream is to become a psychologist. I am curious why our brains work the way they do, why our mental health is related to all subsequent diseases. It fascinates me to study and research the human mind,” Polina concluded, sharing her ambitious goal in life.
As part of Ukraine Crisis Response, World Vision has provided 232,249 children with education, protection, food security, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene), non-food items, and cash and voucher programming.
In collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP), Communitas, Food Bank, Step by Step, HelpAge, and AVE Copiii, World Vision provides humanitarian assistance to 56,098 people in 32 districts of Moldova, meeting the needs of Ukrainian refugees and the host communities.
World Vision’s Child Protection Report revealed that 36,000 of the estimated 140,000 children who entered Moldova during the first wave of Ukrainians seeking asylum are still in the country. To date, more than 27, 991 kids have benefited from World Vision’s non-formal and formal education programs in Georgia, Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine.
Story and photos by Laurentia Jora, Communications Officer