YouHub’s expertise is mainly related to the psycho-social integration of children and young people in challenging situations – Andreas Novacovici, President of the Association, says he is focused on making the best use of his experience working with young people in the child protection system. The 8 employees in Bucharest are all young people aged between 20 and 30, recent university graduates, some of them also have experience of growing up in the child protection system.
“Many of the young people who arrived in Romania and were living in Ukrainian institutions come here with multiple traumas. The institutions there are a ghost of the former Romanian institutions. Moreover, some of them have lost their families during the 2014 war. But for us, children are children first and foremost, and we know how to make them happy and help them open up,” says Novacovici.
YouHub social workers approach young people coming from the Ukrainian protection institutions by focusing on fun activities that help build their confidence in our team and don’t let them slip under the spell of their phones. Last summer they went to a camp in Sibiu along with 18 Romanian and 12 Ukrainian children, and they were happy to find out their need for translation was almost non-existent because the relationships worked out by themselves.
Young Romanians are very protective of their colleagues from Ukraine. They hug and smile a lot, they miss each other, and the relationships they build develop a sense of responsibility and cultivate empathy. The young Ukrainians YouHub works with are mostly relatives, like A., who is 15 and was orphaned in 2014. He arrived in Romania from a foster home with three younger brothers and two twin cousins.
“It’s important to get them out of foster homes as often as possible,” says Novacovici, who himself grew up in a protection institution. “When I first met A. he would sit by himself with his headphones plugged in his ears and sometimes sway. It’s plain to see there’s some trauma there. I sway at night sometimes too, unaware I’m doing it. It is an effect of institutionalization. Now they are here in Romania and they are housed in apartments and old-style foster homes“, Novacovici continues.
We want to get them out of that environment as much as possible, and consistency is vital. The safety and shelter a foster home provides are not enough. We tend to prioritize relationships and experiences and so far, we have seen their eagerness to spend time with Romanian colleagues.”
The YouHub Association Romania team has been on location at Isaccea border crossing since 18 March 2022. They braved some hard and cold days when 2000 people would get off each of the six ferries shuttling Ukrainians to Romania. They stayed on throughout the summer, when the flow dwindled to a few hundred people a week.
Today, YouHub employs 10 people at Isaccea location (mostly Ukrainian refugees) and provides support in two modular containers installed at the border crossing. They offer psycho-social counselling services and have set up a rest and relaxation area, plus a playground with trained staff who oversee the children while the adults can catch their breath and have their first moments of privacy after a long journey.
During the past few weeks, Novacovici says he has noticed the flow started growing again. “We know there’s a terrible freeze coming and we’re preparing for the worst this winter,” says Novacovici.
“We are putting in work to open an integration center in January 2023, which will have a floor dedicated to children and young people coming from the Ukrainian protection institutions. Here they will stay together with our institutionalized youth, for whom we already offer career guidance, coaching, therapy, and leisure services“, explains Novacovici.
“We are taking on a minimum five-year integration project,” says Novacovici. “Naturally, we hope that the war will end soon and Ukrainians will be able to go back, something they want so much. But the young people we work with will most likely not return or will be among the last to go. We have no idea how soon the protection system there will be operational again. They all talk about how much they want to go home. Until then, we are trying to offer them as much support as possible here.”
During the summer and autumn, they took trips to a climbing facility, a playground with trampolines, museums, always in mixed groups of Romanians and Ukrainians. They will soon go on a visit to Otopeni Airport to meet pilots and flight attendants and talk about careers.
YouHub Association is one of the organizations that are part of Care for Ukraine Project, funded by CARE through SERA Romania Foundation, CARE France and FONPC.