“An opportunity to feel like a child again…”
The curator of the summer leisure camp shared with us their experiences of spending 4 weeks with Ukrainian children, highlighting both the challenges they faced and the achievements they made.
More than 40 Ukrainian child refugees aged between 10 and 13 years old had the opportunity to participate in a children's camp, thanks to the initiatives of the non-profit group Youth Included and the financial aid provided by the Prague 14 district. The camp was held in four, five-day shifts over a few months and included art, sports, acting, and Czech language courses for the kids.
The purpose of the leisure camp was to assist the children in adapting to their new surroundings more effectively and to provide a space for making new friends. Tatiana Stroeva, the camp curator who has previously organized over 50 events for Ukrainian migrants and refugees, shared her thoughts with us after working with the Ukrainian children over the course of four sessions.
“Initially, they appear to be regular children who simply want to have fun and go for walks, but each one of them possesses a mature understanding of the current situation and has their own views on it," said Stroeva.
What do you remember from the shifts in the camp?
In essence, the most remarkable experience was the feeling of assisting the children and observing their eagerness to attend the camp day after day. Unfortunately, at the end of each session, all the children wished to come back, but due to the high demand, it was not possible to accommodate everyone. The goal is to provide an opportunity for all to attend the camp, have fun, and connect with others.
How was the program of the camp designed?
Prior to the sessions, a survey was conducted among the parents, and some were even given individual interviews to gain a better understanding of their needs and how we could assist. As a result, it was evident that the primary concern was Czech language learning. In addition, the parents expressed a desire for various creative activities, opportunities for intellectual and emotional growth, a variety of sports activities, and more opportunities for the children to interact with each other.
“Each child had their own traumatic experiences and processed the war in their unique way, and some may not have processed it at all.”
Can you share what specific events were held and if any were particularly memorable?
I recall the eagerness of each child to participate and their willingness to open up. Numerous fun activities were organized, such as drawing, acting, and daily sports. The Czech language was taught as part of the preparatory program for an hour and a half, four days a week, led by an excellent teacher. We also had a picnic and cooked together, played games, and held a "What? Where? When?" event, which was very enjoyable.
What complications did you face during your work?
Initially, they appear to be regular children who simply want to have fun and go for walks, but each one of them possesses a mature understanding of the current situation and has their own views on it.
Each child had their own traumatic experiences and processed the war in their unique way, and some may not have processed it at all. Children are often highly influenced by the behavior of their parents, and they tend to emulate it. When the only source of support for a child in a challenging time is uncertain, this can have adverse effects.
The children start repeating what they hear from adults, that they are only temporarily in the Czech Republic and will soon go back home. This makes them disinterested in learning Czech, and some even disrupt the language classes by being on their phones or not paying attention. There were also children who developed mental and physical health issues, such as anxiety about leaving their home or stomach problems. Some of them even experienced these difficulties when they first arrived in the Czech Republic.
How do you evaluate the result of the shifts?
It appears that we were successful in making the program engaging and enjoyable for the children. At the same time, we provided their parents with free time so they could work or search for work.
The program not only provided the children with opportunities to have fun, develop new skills, and make new friends, but it also gave their parents some much-needed free time. The end goal of the program was to help the children feel like kids again and to ease their adaptation to a new environment, and it seems to have been successful in doing so.
In addition, Youth Included recognized that a one-week camp is not sufficient to address or resolve the psychological difficulties that both the children and their parents face. Therefore, the organization has established groups that offer psychological support to Ukrainian refugees.