Converting a child center into a shelter and serving the needs of internally displaced persons, this has been the main work of Transcarpathian Regional Charitable Foundation “Blaho” (the host organization of REYN in Ukraine), for the last year. Today, 24 February 2023, marking one year of war in Ukraine, we ask the head of Blaho, Eleonora Kulchar, how their work has changed and what are they doing differently now, after a year living under the war conditions.
Since February 2022, Blaho has worked to develop a Station of Hope by converting their early learning center for Roma children in Uzhhorod (in Western Ukraine) into a shelter. Many people fled from the east of Ukraine in search of a safe environment and found refuge at the Station of Hope, where Blaho builds community and creates a sense of normalcy for children and their families.
“We provide support for Roma children and their families, as well as for non-Roma people, affected by war,” tells us Eleonora Kulchar. “Now there are about 80 internally displaced persons in the shelter, including about 20 children. In the shelter we can host 155 people maximum, and there were times when we reached that number.”
ISSA training on psychological aid
The shelter operated within the child center’s building until May 2022, and then, after the need for renovations, it was turned back into a learning center. Now two age groups of Roma children aged from two to six, and from six to 10 are getting ready for school through a preschool program at the center. In addition, the current war context has required Blaho to add a psychosocial support component to the services they provide both for the learning center and for the shelter.
“Before the war we provided educational and social assistance to Roma children, and now, in addition, we also have psychological support. We also work with children in the shelter as they continue their education with the teacher and get art therapy from a psychologists. If needed, all children from the shelter can have individual classes with the teacher,” says Eleonora Kulchar. “The training of trainers on psychological first aid and trauma-informed practices we at Blaho received from ISSA last year showed us practical steps on how to deal with stressful situations and how to help children. It was great that materials were translated into Ukrainian so that we could use them in our work the right away. Our psychologist and art-therapist use some parts of what we received from ISSA.”
Roma children before and during the war
During the last year, Blaho monitors of the situation of Roma children and families in Ukraine, analyzing their needs and conditions in the times of the war. They have recently complied a 70-page report covering eight Ukrainian regions. A similar study was conducted before the war, when the REYN Early Childhood Research was investigating the status and needs of young Roma children and their parents throughout Europe. The study on Ukraine can be found here. The report presenting findings during the war will soon be made available in English.
“We can see that availability and inclusiveness of Early Childhood Development (ECD) services welcoming Roma children is very low,” says Blaho’s director. “We will present the results of the study conducted during the war during several round tables and invite representatives of the Ministry of Education so that they can also work with the results.”
Roma and non-Roma together
A shelter for internally displaced persons that Blaho runs is now located in a separate building. Renting it now, Eleonora Kulchar dreams they can soon buy the premises and ensure that people who stay there can receive proper, stable, and continuous assistance.
The shelter provides complex support to the families that live there. People are receiving three meals per day and hygienic products for free. Teachers work with children, and psychologists provide support to those in need. Medical and legal support is also provided. Roma families live in the shelter together with non-Roma families, building up an inclusive community and adjusting to the needs of children together. A Station of Hope is a place that nurtures a sense of community and promotes diversity and inclusion, paving the road toward peace and unity.
The photos in this article show the Blaho center and are Courtesy of War Child
How to support young children and families in Ukraine
Since the first day of the war in Ukraine, the ISSA Network has mobilized to support young children and their families, both in Ukraine and in the countries receiving refugees. ISSA is a network of organizations dedicated to creating societies where families, communities, and professionals work together to empower each child to reach their unique potential and embrace values of social justice and equity.