Ukrainian and Polish children speak the common language of friendship
How a center in Warsaw for children with disabilities promotes inclusion
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“Bo…”, “Bo…”, “...a”, “Bo… a… Boa!” exclaims 10-year-old Oleksii.
“And do you know what a boa is?” Agnieszka asks patiently, encouraging his engagement and pointing at a drawing in the exercise book to help him focus his attention.
“A snake!” Oleksii responds, proud that he knew the answer.
Oleksii is one of 20 Ukrainian children currently enrolled in Ognisko Marymont, a center for children with disabilities in Warsaw which offers extracurricular activities and one-on-one tutoring. The center is supported by UNICEF as part of our partnership with the Warsaw Municipality covering education, health, protection, mental health support and youth engagement.
Oleksii, whose infectious energy ensures he’s always surrounded by his peers, came to Poland with his parents and his 16-year-old brother. He attends the center on a daily basis, which has helped him not only to improve his academic performance and Polish language skills, but made him feel like he’s part of a loving and caring community.
When I first arrived, I didn’t know the language very well. It was difficult. Now that I speak Polish, it’s a lot easier. I have many friends here. I love to play with them, it’s my favorite thing to do!
Moving to a new place where you don’t speak the language can be especially challenging for children with disabilities. Integration becomes one of the most important and urgent tasks. Yet, it is also one of the most challenging ones.
For a true integration, we need to invest time. We can’t force anything. We need to make sure that we give these children the best care, that we let them play with each other, encourage them to help each other and do activities during which they need to work together. Only then the kids will build strong friendships, regardless of their nationalities, gender, or religion.
When the war broke out, together with her colleagues, Marta decided to implement special programming aimed at the newly arrived children to help them with the difficult transition. From hiring more Ukrainian staff to organizing additional tutoring and Polish lessons, the center caters to their unique needs. In addition, the children also participate in the regular activities, working and playing together with their Polish peers. Ognisko Marymont also offers them access to music and TV studios and even a woodworking workshop, allowing the children to explore their interests and strengthen their talents.
Thanks to UNICEF’s help we could offer even more to these children and now we see the results. The children are excited to come here, to meet new friends and have fun together, in the same space.
The feeling of belonging the center fosters helps the children feel more integrated in the community outside of the center’s walls. “We have noticed that the Ukrainian children who come to the center often speak better Polish than their parents and can help them with simple translations,” Katarzyna adds. The center thus becomes a crucial link between the efforts made by the schools and the children’s families to ensure the smoothest transition possible.