Thriving Beyond Conflict: “The most precious thing you have is your life!”
A refugee mother from Ukraine - employed as an educator at a Play and Learning Hub in Chisinau
Meet Raisa Sacaliuc, a refugee mother from Ukraine who has found solace and purpose in her new life as an educator at a Play and Learning Hub in Chisinau. At 36 years old, Raisa reflects on the profound transformation the war has brought upon her, instilling a newfound appreciation for life and a commitment to embracing every moment.
"The war changed me. Only now have I learned to truly appreciate life and to live intensely every moment". Raisa arrived to Moldova with her 14-year-old son, Nicolae, a few days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine started.
Everything changed abruptly on the morning of February 24, 2022, when the sound of sirens replaced her usual alarm clock. While there were rumors of an impending invasion, Raisa initially brushed them off, choosing to remain hopeful. However, as the war unfolded, the cold nights in bomb shelters, the fear, and the cacophony of heavy bombings gradually wore her down, pushing her towards the decision to leave her homeland.
"There were rumors about a potential invasion, but I didn't really pay attention to the news, even though I had my suitcases packed with essentials,” remembers Raisa.
The final push came in the form of a phone call from her relatives in the Republic of Moldova, assuring her that she and her son would be warmly welcomed into their family. With suitcases packed and determination in their hearts, Raisa and her son embarked on a journey that would leave behind loved ones, friends, cherished memories, and shattered dreams. Guided by the kindness of strangers, they navigated trains until they reached the Otaci border customs point, where their arduous journey found solace.
"When I crossed the border, my life started to take on color again. I thank UNICEF and other organizations, volunteers, who welcomed me with warm tea and food, a place to sleep and encouragement", says Raisa.
It was through her relatives in Ialoveni that she discovered the existence of Play and Learning Hubs for refugee children from Ukraine. Without hesitation, Raisa pursued an opportunity to join the staff, eager to contribute her skills and experiences to the center.
Cezara Cornienco, the director of the "Green Gate" Play and Learning Hub, vividly recalls Raisa's arrival and her unwavering determination to make a difference. Despite no immediate openings at the center, Raisa's impressive credentials, including her teaching degree and ten years of experience, convinced the team that she was a valuable addition. This decision has proven fruitful, as both the work team and the children's parents now wholeheartedly appreciate Raisa's contributions.
"It was one of the best decisions ever made,” sustains Mrs. Cornienco.
Gradually, Raisa and her son began reconstructing their lives in Moldova. Her son enrolled in a school in Chisinau and spent time at the "Green Gate" center, where Raisa's colleague volunteered to teach him guitar chords. Additionally, Raisa received much-needed psychotherapeutic support, equipping her and her son with effective emotional management tools.
"Nicolae matured way too early, but I'm very proud of the man he's turning into. A backpack full of responsibilities has been placed on his shoulders, which he carries with dignity," says Raisa.
The Play and Learning Hub provides a sanctuary where children can dance, play sports, engage in creative activities, and alleviate the burdensome stress they have experienced. Raisa actively facilitates their integration into this new environment, avoiding discussions about the war unless initiated by the children themselves, assuring them of her willingness to listen.
“I try to explain to both children and parents that there are no good or bad emotions. We need all kinds of feelings in our lives, and we also learn to deal with them", she explains.
34 Ukrainian children are attending the "Green Gate" center daily and another 20 occasionally. The children have grown accustomed to their new routine and place of residence.
Maria, a 7-year-old, enjoys drawing at the center and cherishes weekend walks with her mother through the beautiful streets of Chisinau.
"I like to come to the center and draw. During the weekends, I walk with my mother on the streets of Chisinau, which are very beautiful. However, I miss the friends I left behind in Kiev", 7-year-old Maria tells us.
"The food from Moldova is absolutely delicious. I have made wonderful new friends here, and I enjoy playing with them so much. I really wish I could bring my cat from Odessa to Chisinau," shares 6-year-old Sofia, expressing her affection for her newfound home.
Ever since the onset of the war in Ukraine, Moldova has extended its embrace to hundreds of thousands of refugees, providing them with a second home. Raisa Sacaliuc, deeply touched by the warmth and generosity of the Moldovan people, has found comfort and a sense of belonging in the country. She takes pleasure in exploring the picturesque places, immersing herself in the beauty of nature, architecture, and savoring the delightful local cuisine. Raisa has relinquished long-term plans, focusing instead on inspiring and motivating others who are still enduring similar hardships.
"A year ago, sleep eluded me, but now I'm grateful to have overcome those restless nights. Along the way, I have learned to love and care for myself more. When faced with a crisis, one must reflect on whether it can be changed. If the answer is no, then we must let things unfold as they will. I want to remind everyone that the most valuable possession we have is our life. Money can always be earned again, but time lost is irretrievable. So, let us cherish only the things that truly matter," shares Raisa.
Through a collaboration between UNICEF Moldova and the National Center for Early Education and Family Information at the local level, 15 Play and Learning Hubs have been established to support refugee children from Ukraine.
Equipped with educational materials and engaging toys, these centers provide an interactive and safe environment for children to play and learn. To date, 4,784 Ukrainian refugee children have benefited from non-formal education and received learning supplies at these hubs, while an additional 2,908 have received vital mental health services and psychosocial support.
UNICEF thanks donors like Sweeden and Italian Governments for the support in establishing Play and Learning Hubs.