Why did you decide to get involved in supporting the Regional Support Center to help Ukraine?
Given the current situation, I received logical help at least as much as possible. If I did nothing, I would drown reading all kinds of news at home, and I wouldn’t help anything or anyone. Thanks to Dr. Pechová from the Department of Primary Education, I discovered the children’s corner, so I did not hesitate and immediately started working there.
How was such a day in the children’s corner?
Every day was quite different. During the first weeks, we took care of a very large number of children, sometimes twenty at a time. The children’s corner was open all day, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. In order not to go crazy, we created two teams. On our side, we had to make sure that at least one student was in the children’s corner at the time. Initially we were three students per shift, later we managed ourselves. The children’s area itself was divided into three rooms. The first was equipped with deckchairs and soft toys, where children and parents could take a nap or rest in peace. Later it was more of a game room and space for bouncer runs. In the second room, younger school children who were playing or creating something met. The last corner was for preschoolers and the smallest, where I spent the most time. I would say this is the corner where most of the children of all ages met, mostly from 2 to 9 years old.
Did you have enough toys?
The children’s corner was very colorfully equipped. There were so many stuffed animals that you couldn’t move slowly. Lego, bouncers, coloring books, cots, just about anything you can think of. I am really happy for this great material support. Every day we received new and new toys. At one point there were so many toys that I had to stop everything, because it really wouldn’t be possible to move around. On the other hand, I usually didn’t need to come up with a special program for the kids, because they were just as happy when they could dive into the stuffed animals and look for what else they could capture around. . I often told children that they could take a few toys with them and keep them forever. I often read this sentence because I then became their favorite partner. Sometimes I would have the kids keep going towards the bouncers in the rooms, where there were queues of people, and I had to wade through the crowd and catch some “bikers” from the kid’s corner…
Did you have a problem with the language barrier?
Yes, she did and great! Since I had never learned Ukrainian or Russian, I was really sick the first few days. In the end, I solved it by creating a little dictionary of basic phrases, which we messed around the corner with. I pasted these sentences on the walls to facilitate our work and our communication. Even so, some kids still didn’t understand me, but we still made a deal. The language barrier was probably the biggest challenge for me. I feel like I invented my own language over time. I often started with a Ukrainian sentence, then I added some Czech-Slovak sentences and sometimes I also refined in Russian or English. Anyway, an interesting experience.
Housing for refugees is plentiful in Liberec, but food is lacking
Do you still remember the emotions felt during your first visit?
During my first visit to the children’s corner, I immediately started drawing with the children. Drawing is a grateful activity in which there is nothing to explain. A boy started drawing a tank, another army or the Ukrainian flag. These moments were very strong for me. I wasn’t even sure I could walk around the corner. I was pretty bad about that. After a few days, the burst of emotions passed, and on the contrary, I felt that my work made sense.
Was it possible that the children knew that they had suffered trauma while fleeing the war?
It was like a swing. At one point, the preschoolers were thrilled with the number of toys they saw and went straight to play. After a while, a boy came to me and cried that his father was in the army. He asked me when daddy would come. There were times when I was quite confused and didn’t know how to handle the situation. Sometimes the kids didn’t want to stay in the kid’s corner without their parents. They made sure Mom came back. The older school children didn’t talk much, they often looked at the phone, and it was obvious that they were quite tired of everything. Some children had dark circles under their eyes and were very upset. My main goal was to entertain the kids and cheer them up as much as possible.
Have you had the opportunity to learn more about the stories of some refugee children or adults?
Most of the mothers didn’t speak English at all so we couldn’t talk much. However, for example, I met a twenty-five-year-old mother who came alone with three young children. She told me that she had been on foot for a very long time. She didn’t know where she was going until the last moment. She was very happy to be safe. I’ve often thought about how someone could be so cheerful and capable when such terrible things happened to them. Some people are truly admirable…
PHOTO: Neighborhood meetings. A Czech-Ukrainian evening was held at the Novoborsk cinema
I guess it was mentally demanding. What helped you with mental cleansing?
I had the most issues with being home and feeling like I wasn’t helping enough. Whatever I did, it made no sense to me. Paradoxically, the help from the children’s corner cured me of these negative thoughts. I also realized that I can’t cut everyone. That’s why I reserved more free time for myself so as not to go crazy. My most effective mental cleanse is swimming and baking bread.
Did this experience influence you in your future educational orientation?
I was originally supposed to start a six-week internship after primary school after Easter, but I thought it would be much more meaningful to stick around. I imagined that I would learn Ukrainian better during my continued work in the area, so that I could set up more interesting projects with the children. The integration of foreign language children in primary schools is a very current issue, so working in a corner could help me in this regard. At present, however, the children’s corner is not functioning. Citizens of Ukraine have thirty days to settle their permanent residence in the Czech Republic, and therefore no queues are formed at the office as at the beginning.
Do you plan to help for as long as needed? Aren’t you worried that there will be fewer and fewer volunteers over time?
Yes, I will definitely keep trying to help. It’s quite difficult to reconcile with school and other responsibilities, but if a children’s corner is needed again, I will of course get involved. I’m open to other ways to help, so I’m definitely leaving this question open. Of course, I think volunteers will be needed here in the next few weeks or even months. Many people are no longer as passionate about helping as they were in the beginning, so we need to reflect on this and remember that there are still countless people we can help.