UNHCR – Safe place in Romania for refugees from Ukraine
By: Roger Burks in Bucharest, Romania | September 29, 2022 | Español
Three little friends – two girls and one boy – are sitting at a small orange table. They concentrate on making clay figures. They smile as they create a collection that includes a cat, a mug, a motorcycle and a bowl. New objects join others, each decorated with flowers and houses (ie, images of an interrupted childhood).
After surviving the first weeks of the war in Ukraine, Vlas and Masha, both 10 years old, as well as Ulyana, 7 years old, fled Odessa, their hometown, and went to Bucharest, the capital of Romania, a country that borders Ukraine.
In the colorful playroom of Zi de Bine (Spanish for “good day”), a community organization in Bucharest, these three children found a place to laugh and play. Founded in 2020 by journalist Melania Medellanu, Zi de Bine helps the Romanian population to get involved in social causes, such as education, mental health and children’s issues.
“This could be the breath of fresh air they need.”
The needs are many. Melania notes that while some children rush to play and chat, others “just go and sit in the corner and stand there quietly,” which is also fine. “We can’t forget at any point that they’ve been through a terrible trauma, so we always have to act calmly and warmly,” he says.
“I think this might be a breath of fresh air that they need,” says Melania. “Just the fact that there is a safe place – where they can meet; where they can laugh and cry and comfort each other; where they can do activities to occupy their minds to stop thinking about what they’ve been through – it can save their lives’.
Romania has taken in more than 86,000 refugees from Ukraine; most of them women, girls and boys. UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, supports refugees throughout the country by providing advice (including legal), psychosocial support and cash assistance (especially to newly arrived families).
“Mental health is an area where a lot of support is still needed,” says Pablo Zapata, UNHCR representative in Romania. “Many refugees from Ukraine, especially children, have witnessed or experienced terrible things. Zapata adds that UNHCR is collaborating with organizations such as Voces del Autismo (Voice of Autism), Fundación Estuar and Tierra de Hombres (Terre des Hommes) to provide assistance to families and children with mental health needs.
Through Zi de Bine, UNHCR helps refugees attend language courses, yoga, counseling and children’s art therapy. All these activities take place in the spacious and cozy building of the organization, which is located in the center of the city. The local Romanian population is often involved, along with refugees from Ukraine, which allows for the building of connections between them.
Marina also fled Odessa in March and heard about Zee de Binet from other refugees, so she decided to take her three-year-old grandson with her. “Today is the first day I’ve brought my grandson to an art therapy class for kids. He really liked it,” he says. Although the main goal was for her grandson to enjoy playing with hands and playing with other children, Marina discovered an unexpected benefit for herself. “I noticed that other women were bringing their children, nieces or nephews,” she shares. “I was able to talk to some of them; We share experiences and difficulties”.
Being able to meet and spend time with other refugees and members of the local community are essential elements in restoring a sense of inclusion and well-being to displaced persons.
Similarly, art therapy classes offer refugee youth an opportunity to share their feelings in an informal setting and through different media. A few days ago, while some refugee children were making clay figures, others were painting, dancing or playing music. While all of these activities provide relief, they are not a solution.
“I feel good here,” says Vlas, “but I can’t wait to get back home to be with my father. Romania is a beautiful country, but Ukraine is my home country. I dream of returning to Ukraine.”
Home, family and the trauma of separation and fleeing war are on the minds of every refugee here, regardless of age. In this regard, Melania says that this is why not only Zi de Bine is so important, but also the solidarity and escape that the center offers.
“I see people laughing, side by side: even for a moment they stop thinking about the pain they feel,” he emphasizes.
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