Together is a great place to be
How Spilno Hubs in Poland became community centres for refugee and local families
Entering the doors of a busy Spilno Hub in Poznan during afterschool hours, there is a pleasant hubbub. A mother drops off her children for a Polish language class, while a father gives a hug to his daughter before she goes into a film class. Two teenage girls laugh on their way to tutoring, a busy helpdesk helps with answering questions. While mothers and grandmothers wait for the pickup, they watch a movie together or sit on the sofa and chat. It’s apparent that this is a buzzing and lively community centre.
“I come here often; I really like it here. My best friends are Nastia, Vika and Ruslan,” says 9-year-old Lesia, who attends Polish language classes, computer, filmmaking and dance classes. Her mother Olena chimes in: “I bring my daughter to Spilno almost every day. She wants to stay as long as possible and tells me about her day with excitement. The educators working here are great.”
Olena came to Poznan from Dnipro in Ukraine with her daughter and son in March 2022. Stopping in Kyiv and Lviv, she travelled to the Polish city because she had friends there. She first learned about the Spilno Hub because they lived on the same street – they passed by and heard the Ukrainian language. They have been coming here ever since.
“I attended English language classes, yoga classes, a computer course and a workshop on parenting,” adds Olena. At some of the classes, she has also met Polish people living in Poznan.
As the war in Ukraine sadly drags on, refugee families need more sustainable support in the communities where they have settled. This is the thinking behind the six Spilno Hubs in Poland, UNICEF-supported community centres offering assistance in accessing public services, mental health and psychosocial support to children and caregivers, legal assistance, Polish and English language lessons, recreational activities, skills development, and activities for young and adolescent children. "Spilno" - which means "together" or “jointly” in Ukrainian - are run in partnership with city municipalities and provide a safe space for refugees to connect with the local community.
Spilno means together
Each Spilno Hub provides a core package of services helping with the integration of refugees but is also adapted to local needs. At the Spilno Hub in Lodz, families can come to art workshops, hip-hop dance classes, therapeutic groups, and game nights. There is even a choir, a women’s club and a music band – called Spilno.
“I go to photo collage workshops, I just attended one today. I made one for my teacher because tomorrow I am graduating from the second grade. I will give it to her as a gift,” says Daniela, 9, from Zaporizhzhia. Her father, Sergey, also attends the centre. Most often he meets other parents to play financial education board games. “I help my dad with the board games, he cannot do it without me,” she laughs.
Parents and educators underline how important Spilnos are to the children, making them feel less lonely and confused about their new situation. But the hubs do the same for the parents, giving them a space to meet, talk and support one another.
“I attend the women’s club meetings. It is much easier to learn about everything in a group. Each woman asks different questions, which I might have not thought about before, such as how to file taxes, and what are our legal obligations,” says Krystyna from Chernihiv, now living in Lodz with her daughter Stefania, 6. “I do not know what will happen next, but I am doing everything I can to stay here and work.”
Educators at the heart of the community
In both Poznan and Lodz, the team of educators, psychologists and coordinators work behind the scenes to glue the Spilno community together. They care about every child, every story, and every family.
“We prepare students for the 8th grade exams and tutor them in many subjects. We want them to succeed,” says Galina Samoiliuk, a tutor at Spilno in Poznan. Galina moved to Poland eight years ago and is a teacher in a public school. “Many families do not know what is next. Some children followed the Ukrainian curriculum while being in Poland, and now their families decided to stay here long term. We need to bring them up to speed with Polish language so they can access the Polish school system.”
“Dzień dobry!” (Good morning in Polish) says 9-year-old Mark as he enters the room.
“My children love Spilno,” says Iryna, mother of Mark and sister Nedina, 8. “When they improve their Polish language skills, they will be able to attend school.”
Mental health and psychosocial support are at the foundation of many of the activities run at Spilnos. The staff, many of whom are Ukrainian, are aware of the anxieties and challenges that children and families carry with them. A variety of art and creative workshops, yoga, dance and psychological groups are meant to ease some of that stress and support them in settling into their new lives. “Every human has emotions… we all carry a lot. We express those emotions through our bodies. Dancing works well for de-stressing,” says Nastya Saraikova, a psychologist and hip-hop dance instructor at Spilno in Lodz.
“Children that come to Spilno have reactive nervous systems,” says Irina Serhunova, educator at the Spilno in Poznan. “Parents are stressed too, and they pass it on to their children.” She adds: “Art and working with their hands calm them down.”
Marta Molfar, director at the Spilno Hub in Lodz, also believes in the healing power of art therapy. “I did not believe it works until I picked up the brush myself,” she says. “You can really work on processing emotions through that.”
UNICEF’s work on Spilno Hub in Poznan is made possible thanks to support from the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM), while the work on Spilno Hub in Lodz is possible thanks to the Government of Japan and private donations received through the UNICEF USA National Committee and UNICEF Australia National Committee.