Play Hubs in Slovakia are responding to the needs of Ukrainian refugee children

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, at least twelve million people have been forced to flee their homes. According to the BBC, seven million people are thought to be displaced inside Ukraine, while more than five million have left for neighbouring countries — primarily Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. 

More than half of the refugees from the war in Ukraine are children. While some have been able to resume their Ukrainian school curriculum online, for others — especially young children and those from vulnerable groups, such as Roma; children with disabilities; children in institutions; and unaccompanied minors — alternative arrangements have been and must continue to be made to ensure that their education continues. In Slovakia, six new Play Hubs are providing safe and welcoming spaces for Ukrainian children to continue learning and playing. 

Škola Dokorán opens six new Play Hubs in Slovakia 

Since February 2022, nearly 80,000 refugees from Ukraine have registered for temporary protection in Slovakia, with thousands more transiting through en route to other countries in Western Europe. ISSA Member, Škola Dokorán – Wide Open School n.o, the national coordinator of the TOY for Inclusion programme in Slovakia has been extremely agile in responding to the needs of these refugees. 

In June, Škola Dokorán opened new Play Hubs in six parts of Slovakia: Tatranská Lomnica, Spišská Nová Ves, Prešov, Košice, Poprad and Žilina — with financial support from UNICEF, and technical support from International Child Development Initiatives (ICDI) and the International Step by Step Association (ISSA). These locations were chosen for maximum impact, being areas with large numbers of Ukrainian refugees. Three of the Play Hubs have been set up in primary schools, while the other three are in refugee camps. 

Community-based, inclusive, and non-formal educational spaces  

Since opening in June, the new Play Hubs have been instrumental in providing safe and welcoming spaces for Ukrainian children and families. As community-based, inclusive and non-formal educational spaces, the Play Hubs offer opportunities for socialization and integration for both refugee parents and children — helping them to socialise and make new friends; process their experiences and emotions; learn the local language; get to know their new community; and acquire access to healthcare, education, and social services. 

For children especially, the Play Hubs offer meaningful activities and interaction with others in child-friendly spaces. This can help to reduce stress, contribute to a sense of belonging, and help to re-establish routine for families that have suffered forced displacement. Alongside caring for children, the Play Hubs also contribute to the well-being of their parents and caregivers by guiding them as they adjust to life in a new country, connecting them with services and information, and helping them to establish social support networks. 

Since the Play hubs opened in June, they have already welcomed more than 3,000 children and families.