Among the 5.1 million Ukrainians who fled the country due to the ongoing war is Yulia, a mother of a six-year-old girl named Solomia. She is one of the founders of the organization Creative Volunteers, an initiative aimed at fostering partnerships to support children.
The focus inisially was on helping internally displaced children but they soon came to understand that even the neighborhood where they are staying in Uzhhorod, located in the western part of Ukraine, was struggling to provide emotional support to children who live in constant fear.
This realization led them to set-up a modest hub where Yulia and other volunteers conduct creative workshops while others teach at a daycare center or child-friendly space.
A Space for fun, learning and growth
"When we were approached by NGO Girls Divchata, we gladly agreed to such a partnership, and this child-friendly space became the extension of the work we started earlier," Yulia stated.
Through dedicated effort and partnership, their volunteer group and NGO Girls created a nurturing environment for children. Proudly a part of the group, Yulia watched her daughter undergo a remarkable transformation.
"Solomia was once withdrawn; if she did not feel okay, nobody could calm her. She would cry until I came," said Yulia. By joining the activities, Solomia began to interact with her peers and communicate her needs and emotions through dialogues.
Similar transformations gradually happened with other children who come to the center. Children began to open up even those who had trouble speaking found their voices, and the hyperactive ones learned to channel their energy positively.
These children acquired invaluable life skills, fostering their emotional and social well-being. Reflecting on the impact of their work, Yulia said, "For me, the center was a lifeline, especially when it became clear we wouldn't return home anytime soon.”
She added, “It gave me and other parents the time and space to find employment and tackle financial challenges knowing that our children are in a safe and enriching environment."
These centers are not just good; they are essential. Despite the need of more academic resources, our children learn through playing and learning activities that strengthen emotional support.
The vital role of centers in children's lives
With support from Aktion Deutschland Hilft (ADH), World Vision and implementing partner NGO "Girls" (Divchata) established the child-friendly spaces to support children's non-formal education and psychosocial needs in Ukraine.
To date, World Vision has supported more than 20,000 children with child protection programming in Ukraine.
"These centers are not just good; they are essential. Despite the need of more academic resources, our children learn through playing and learning activities that strengthen emotional support," Yulia emphasized.
Sending Solomia to a child-friendly place gave Yulia peace of mind, knowing her daughter was not only prepared for her first grade in school but also equipped with a range of knowledge and skills gained from playing and friends.
She believes that children can really catch up fast if they are emotionally healthy and mentally ready to learn.
“Now, I am confident to send my daughter to school knowing she will be able to communicate with others, that she would be able to explain to her teacher if there is anything troubling her,” Yulia said.
With a hopeful gleam in her eyes, Yulia added, "I hope that all children, despite the challenges they face, can enjoy and come back to their happy childhood, receive the support they need, and grow into healthy, confident, and successful individuals.”
Yulia believe that the centers are essential to achieving that goal, providing vital emotional support during these challenging times.
She is grateful to her group, Creative Volunteers and to NGO "Girls" for their unwavering commitment to these children. She appealed to international organizations like World Vision and its donors to continue supporting initiatives like theirs.
"I know that together, we could nurture many children like my daughter Solomia to grow up in a healthy and safe environment, and shape a brighter future for themselves and for Ukraine," Yulia happily affirmed.
Story and photos by Eugene Combo and Christopher Lete, Communications Specialists