As Ukrainian mothers bring their little ones, a vivid scene emerges within the walls of World Vision’s child friendly space aptly called Happy Bubble in Constanta, a city in southeast Romania.
Seven-year-old, brown-eyed girl Vika sits intently at a small green wooden table, her tiny hands holding a pencil. Nadiia Vesnina, World Vision’s Mental Health, and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Officer, guides her to finish her task.
“I don’t have anyone to play with at home. All my friends are in Ukraine or have fled to other countries,” says Vika, who came from Kherson city, southern Ukraine.
She adds, “When I started coming to the Happy Bubble, I made so many new friends. I don’t feel alone anymore.”
The project, supported by Global Affairs Canada, has became a safe place for Ukrainian children. A variety of occupational therapy strategies are utilized to improve children’s emotional well-being.
When I started coming to the Happy Bubble, I made so many new friends. I don’t feel alone anymore.
“We conduct ‘Say and Play’ sessions where parents and their children express their feelings and experiences through games”, shares Nadiia Vesnina. She said the activities improved the bond between children and parents, nonverbal communication skills and emotional awareness.
In addition, Ukrainian toddlers and youngsters participate in “Social Skills” and “Creative Hands” classes. During the “Social Skills” activities, they learn how to cope with stressful situations and come up with solutions.
“The “Creative Hands” sessions, namely handicraft activities, help children with brain development. They master one skill at a time, including body awareness, direction, muscular endurance, agility, problem-solving, emotional resilience, and breathing”, she explains.
Early in the morning, Veronika and her seven-year-old son, Illia, made their way as well to Nadiia’s psychosocial class. A few months ago, their lives had been upended when they fled their home in Kakhovka, a city recently devastated by severe flooding when the dam was destroyed.
“Even though we are physically here, our hearts are always in Ukraine. I don’t know what is left of my house”, says Veronika.
She adds, “I bring Illia daily to the Happy Bubble because I see how much he has changed after attending the activities. He is more sociable, and open to life.”
From becoming a refugee to serving Ukrainian children
“Even after a year, classes are still full, and parents bring their children to activities daily. It shows how significant our educational and mental health work,” shares Nadiia.
“A year ago, I dealt with different children in terms of behavior and emotional intelligence. Their mental health has substantially improved,” she continues.
Before the war, Nadiia served as the Head of the Inclusive Center in the town of Pokrovske, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, in east-central Ukraine.
With a psychology background, she worked with children with disabilities, behavioral disorders, and special needs.
She vividly remembers those frosty winter days. “There was no power. The roads were empty. We were constantly on high alert”, she recalls.
When you are contributing to these children’s lives who witnessed bombings and violence, your life becomes so much more complex.
She fled in March 2022, seeking safety in neighboring countries, initially settling in a small village in Bulgaria. As she could not secure a job in her field of expertise, she had to work as a cleaner in a local hotel.
Nadiia’s commitment and competence were finally recognized in February 2023 when she was hired as an MHPSS Officer by World Vision.
“When you are contributing to these children’s lives who witnessed bombings and violence, your life becomes so much more complex”, says Nadiia.
She concludes, “I have a deep meaning to everything I do. This makes all the difference in the world to my wellbeing as well.”
To date, World Vision Ukraine Crisis Response has reached more than 300,000 people in Romania, including Ukrainian refugees and hosting communities, through psychosocial support, basic needs, health, cash and vouchers, and educational programs.
Story and photos by Laurentia Jora, Communications Officer