Missing my home, helping those who lost it
Originally from Ukraine, Yana moved to Slovakia four years ago to study social work. Now, she works at the Blue Dot in Košice to support Ukrainians who were forced to flee the home that she misses.
As the orange rays of the setting sun hit the container that hosts the Blue Dot Hub in Košice, Slovakia, the people inside are still busy. Among them is Yana, a 21-year-old social worker from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. As she walks, she glances at a small group of Ukrainian children that joyfully play on the multi-coloured mat that covers half of the Blue Dot – a centre for refugee children and families coordinated by UNICEF, UNHCR, and the Slovak Humanitarian Council.
“I have a great relationship with many of the children,” she says, “but it’s not the same with everyone; every child comes with a different story. I remember one girl who, when she first got here, was frightened of everything. She used to spend all her time alone in a corner rather than with other kids in the playing area. Looking at her, I was almost frightened to approach her,” she recalls.
Yet, Yana didn’t give up. “I eventually just talked to her and listened to what she had to say. I tried to be her friend. It took time and some work, but after a couple of weeks she behaved like a completely different person: a smiling, talkative, cuddly little girl,” Yana concludes.
Supporting the Ukrainian community Yana misses
Yana was a social worker at heart even before she officially became one. She always liked helping others, including her family or friends, she says. Then, four years ago, she moved to Slovakia to study social work. When war broke out in her home country, she passed from student to volunteer, and after a couple of months, she got hired by the Slovak Humanitarian Council which, together with UNICEF and UNHCR, coordinates the Blue Dots in Košice and Michalovce in East Slovakia.
“As I came to Slovakia before the war, I live a quite normal life here – I have a roof above my head and meals on my table – I don’t share the same worries and issues as refugees, but I do know the city and the country, so I can help.” “I also miss Ukraine, my home, and my family, and the people that arrive at the Blue Dot are just like the ones I miss back home.”
Help, then help some more
Yana’s job focuses on dialogue and case management. “Whenever a mother or child arrive here, I approach them and ask what they need,” she explains. “It’s a conversation: they tell me what’s wrong and I give them options based on their case and try to adapt each solution to the needs of every person.”
“Many ask about finding a place to stay, a school for their children, and about other basic necessities,” Yana continues. It’s not an easy job, “but when we manage to solve their problems it’s an amazing feeling. It actually makes me want to help more people,” she concludes.
The Blue Dot as a bridge for friendships
Social workers at the Blue Dot Safe Spaces for Ukrainian children and families support refugee children and their caregivers in getting what they need to live and integrate in their new communities. In addition, the Hubs also provide mental health and psychological support services, first aid, and help refugees dealing with bureaucracy or finding other public services when they need them.
But that’s not it. “Aside from the work we do, the Blue Dot also helps Ukrainian children and mothers socialize and integrate, both among each other and with Slovak people,” says Yana. “This is because Slovak mothers also come here for information sometimes, and when they do, they generally leave their children in the play area. This means that their children end up playing with Ukrainians and, for some, that was the first step towards a friendship that has been lasting ever since.”
Theory and practice
“Learning about social work while sitting on a desk is useful, theories are useful – but it’s all very different once you get to the field,” tells Yana. “Theory teaches you one approach, but everyone is different, with different experiences and emotions, which is why putting the theory into practice is challenging,” she continues. “Working in the Blue Dot taught me so much; I am glad to be here.”