Being a teacher is my life and my mission
Coming from a family of teachers, Nikola's career path was set in her childhood. What she couldn’t imagine was ending up teaching pupils who fled a war-torn country.
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The silence is broken by the ring of a bell, exclamations and laughter. The class is over. The hallways of the Taras Shevchenko Joint School in Prešov, in East Slovakia, suddenly fill up with walking students of all ages, from kindergarten to high school.
A year ago, as Slovakia was enjoying some bank holidays, Nikola was watching the news at home. That’s how she discovered that war broke out in Ukraine. One of her first thoughts went to the school, as she wondered what awaited her at the school on Monday.
“When we got there,” she says, “we found crowds of mothers and grandparents waiting to enroll their children in school.”
“This conflict did not choose the beginning of the school year,” Nikola explains. “It came unexpectedly and suddenly, and we had to focus on integrating the pupils into the education process as soon as possible. One day you have 15 kids in the class. The next day you come, and you have 35.”
I never wanted to stop
The Taras Shevchenko Joint School in Prešov is the only school in Slovakia that teaches in the bilingual combination Slovak and Ukrainian, so it always had children from both Ukrainian and Slovak families. This was a winning combination, as the lack of language barrier in the school made it easier for Ukrainian children who fled to Slovakia to integrate and adapt.
"When the war broke out, our director began contacting the relatives of the children that attend the school who were still in Ukraine, telling them they could come to Prešov so as to stay with their families.” And so more and more Ukrainian children became her pupils.
From one day to the next, Nikola and her colleagues received many additional responsibilities, which automatically increased the time they spent at the school. But providing help when needed was never a question for her: "When I saw the children smiling and looking forward to coming to school the next day, it just proved to me that I’m doing the right job. Seeing all the results of helping others is a satisfaction, despite how difficult it is.”
Together with UNICEF, the school turned one classroom into a Play and Learning Hub, which also serves as an after-school club where children can play while they wait to be picked up by their parents. "Also mothers come here. I remember one of them, who confessed to me that after getting some tea and sitting down for a chat here she was able to forget what was going on behind the borders, even if just for a moment. It was a small thing, but for her it meant a lot.”
Children are not to be blamed
Over the past year, there have been various emotions and many questions about the future. Though, Nikola is clear about one thing: "None of us would want to be on the other side. If there is a problem or such a situation, we need to imagine how they feel and how we would feel if we were in their place.“
She becomes emotional as she watches the video her pupils made for her and concludes: "Children are innocent beings who are not to blame for a war or any political situation. We see that they are suffering. They have left their fathers behind, whom they have not seen for a year, and we really cannot imagine that.”