The summer of 2022 began with a new mission for the specialists of the International Foundation for Child and Family “Dr. Alexandra Zugrăvescu” – supporting Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in Romania, some are in transit, others decided to stay here, closer to home. The small team of just 6, all professionals working with vulnerable people, children in care homes and children with physical or mental disabilities, approached this challenge as a natural extension of their work. The Foundation’s 29 years of experience have helped them to design a specialized intervention for refugees from Ukraine, using an approach based on the resilience concept.
And so they began, in May 2022, by setting up a friendly space where Ukrainian children and their mothers can feel as safe as possible. “As a general objective of our project, we thought of offering the children and their mothers a time of respite for them to play, express themselves, to be able to socialize as they rebuild their lives, after all, in a new country, in a new city completely unknown to them,” says Justina Samoila, a social worker with the Foundation. Initially, only 50 people had signed up, eager and willing to participate in the center’s activities, but step by step, week by week, a community has grown now numbering over 500 mothers.
The objectives the FCF specialists have had in mind during all these months dedicated to supporting refugees have centered around providing Ukrainian children with opportunities for development, learning, play and resilience building, and to offering the mothers social counselling for a number of problems or situations requiring clarification.
Spending two to three hours a day in a friendly space, children were engaged in a variety of activities, from creative workshops, art therapy, yoga and breathing classes to personal development workshops and even music therapy.
But that’s not all – in addition to the workshops held at the Foundation’s location, outdoor activities were also organized to help Ukrainian mothers and children to integrate into Romanian society in as pleasant way as possible and to take their minds, even for a few hours, off the trauma caused by the war. Trips to the zoo, a night show at the circus for the youngest, evenings at the bowling alley or a few hours at the escape rooms for the teenagers, a day trip to the salt mine or to Comana Park, these would be some of the outings they found particularly delightful.
All these activities would not have been possible without the help of Avgustin Kireev, a young Ukrainian who came to study in Bucharest before the outbreak of the war and who took on the interpreter job with passion and vigor.
During all this time, FICF also had a mobile team made up of a social worker, a psychologist who was also the activity facilitator and an interpreter, making calls to the Bucharest transit centers for Ukrainian refugees where they organized group activities and got really involved with the children. Many of them returned quite quickly to their families back in Ukraine, some of them did it as the joint activities were taking place, which had an impact on both the Foundation team and the children who were just starting to open up and overcome their insecurity and tension.
“There are a lot of tiny moments filled with significance. I noticed that no matter what, in all their drawings, in everything they do in this creative area, they bring an element taking one’s thoughts back to Ukraine, it could be a flag, a rifle or a machine gun. And I just remembered a very painful moment, Justina shares with a visible emotion, “I did an activity with the teenagers where I would play to them several songs that triggered certain emotions: one song would bring a feeling of joy, another one sadness, anger. And whenever the song I was playing inspired anger, they would all draw things that had to do with war. And to me it was very striking.”
But there are also special occasions, such as a birthday or a Halloween party, and children and their mothers celebrate together, truly feeling they are part of a community and, if only for a few moments, some of them end up feeling at home here.
And even if some of their drawings, though full of cheerful colors, sometimes feature symbols of trauma, you also get some showing only hope, many with Ukrainian flag, their yellow-blue heart to which they long to return.
The International Foundation for Child and the Family (IFCCF) was created in 1993 as the initiative of the French Médecins du Monde Association and a group of child protection specialists and is a non-governmental, non-profit, non-political, non-religious organization. Through its programs, FICF contributes to the education, health and protection of children, families and communities by providing effective prevention and intervention services and training for professionals.
INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR CHILD AND FAMILY “DR. ALEXANDRA ZUGRĂVESCU” is one of the organizations that are part of Care for Ukraine Project, funded by CARE through SERA Romania Foundation, CARE France and FONPC.