The Dobro Hub helps Ukrainian children in Bulgaria heal from war
In Bulgaria, a safe learning space for Ukrainian refugee children is helping scores to recover from the uncertainty and stress caused by war
The war in Ukraine has forced millions from their homes, with many finding safety in Bulgaria. On the Black Sea coast, the municipality of Nessebar has become a refuge – and even the birthplace of a charity foundation working to help displaced children recover.
The Dobro Foundation was formed by three Ukrainian refugees in the municipality of Nessebar. Together, they turned a hotel room into a humanitarian hub, collecting and distributing aid. Before long, their focus shifted to younger refugees, who were often traumatised by the horrors they had left behind and needed more than simply food and shelter.
In many of the hosting communities in Bulgaria like Nessebar, education systems are overstretched with the number of Ukrainian refugees exceeding the capacity of local preschool and school institutions. As Ukrainian children face another uncertain school year, many require support to learn and develop.
"Bulgaria welcomed us very well – we had accommodation and food, but the children had nothing to do,” says Lilia, a mother of three. “This was especially the case when they had to go to school. The children started studying online, but there is not always a connection with the school because, in Kharkiv, there was very often no electricity and there was no internet when the city was shelled."
Thanks to funds from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the foundation has opened a large learning space called Dobro Hub that is helping children socialise and recover from the trauma of war.
"At first, there was a lot of pain. The children were very closed and unsociable. They did not want to work in groups. Now you see happiness and joy in the children's smiles.”
"With the opening of the centres, we see how the children change,” says Kateryna Shubina, one of the Dobro Foundation co-creators. “They have become more sociable and do not want to leave here. They attend daily mental health groups, where they share things. At first, there was a lot of pain. The children were very closed and unsociable. They did not want to work in groups. Now you see happiness and joy in the children's smiles.”
Now operating in two locations, the so-called Dobro Hub offers formal and non-formal education for Ukrainian children aged 3 to 18, with an emphasis on early learning, school curriculum, mental health support, as well as Ukrainian and Bulgarian language classes.
For the youngest children, the hub helps to bridge the gap in access to preschool education through daycare services, as well as offering support for cognitive and emotional development. For school-age children, there are catch-up classes, extracurricular activities, and integration activities with their Bulgarian peers, with a special focus on adolescents.
The Hub team comprises over 40 committed and qualified educators, therapists and psychologists, all of whom are refugees themselves. They prioritize education and integration.
"This children's hub is such a good opportunity for kids to socialize,” says Inna, a displaced mother from Ukraine’s Luhansk region. “It's just impossible to put into words when a child sits in one hotel room for a whole year, already losing their communication skills. We are very grateful to the organizers, to the donor, who gave our children the opportunity to develop."
UNICEF and the Dobro Foundation also assist Ukrainian children enrolled in Bulgarian schools. Through this partnership, UNICEF has provided learning materials to vulnerable Ukrainian and Bulgarian children, supported Bulgarian language classes, and school mediators.
The efforts of the Dobro Foundation have been recognised by the European Union. In November 2023, the European Parliament awarded Dobro Hub the prestigious European Citizen’s Prize, a testament to the foundation's commitment to community efforts. The award particularly recognizes their remarkable achievements in supporting refugee children, with over 1,300 children benefiting from their educational and psychological services.
Meanwhile, for the Dobro Foundation team, the work continues. Efforts are underway to accommodate more children in local schools while giving others the opportunity to continue their education and development at the Dobro Hub.
In Bulgaria, UNICEF supports a network of ‘learning and play’ centres like Dobro Hub in cities and towns across the country that host a high number of refugees, helping more than 22,000 children to address their learning, social and emotional needs. These spaces are also critical for supporting vulnerable individuals and their families during a period marked by significant uncertainty and stress resulting from forced displacement to a new country.