Helping children feel secure and protected
UNICEF is supporting evacuated Afghan children and families in North Macedonia to create a semblance of normalcy
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Leaving home, friends and school, escaping conflict and insecurity in their home country – these are difficult events for a child to go through. It can affect children’s well-being and mental health. Creating a sense of normalcy, especially during stressful time, allows children to have predictability in their day, which can promote feelings of security.
To help children from Afghanistan who are temporarily accommodated in North Macedonia feel secure and protected, UNICEF in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and partners developed services to support their well‐being through daily activities and routines.
The activities are structured to stimulate early childhood development and non-formal education conducted in a safe, child friendly and stimulating environment. UNICEF has also ensured health care and protection support for children and their families and legal aid.
“We came here in October 2021 with my husband and my two-year old daughter. The same year I lost my mum. Other family members are displaced in different countries,” says 27 year old Aisha* from Kabul. “I have University degree and speak English so sometimes in the evening I provide English classes to other older women here. This helps me to focus on the present. And having the kids’ corner here is real relief for me because my daughter truly enjoys playing with other kids and feels happy.”
"Although these children are awaiting to resettle, they are happy children because they were evacuated and started receiving support on time,“ says Svetlana Boteva, educator from UNICEF partner La Strada, teaching children health promotion, healthy habits, personal hygiene and mental health in the Child and Youth Friendly Space. “The goal of our work is not only to help them continue learning, but also to make their lives more enjoyable while they are here.”
Three educators and one interpreter created opportunities for some 78 children to engage in non-formal education, to play, acquire contextually relevant skills, and receive support. In addition to activities for young children, the Child and Youth Friendly Space provides support to adolescents and parents. The programme was designed with children and parents themselves to respond to their needs and provide a safe space for learning and development for all.
“If you as a person are interested, you can enrich the programme. So, for example, I found on the Internet yoga laughter exercises to help reduce stress and promote a greater sense of well-being. Also, I introduced an art workshop led by a painter from the community, with whom children learned to paint using different techniques," says Svetlana.
Throughout the year the Child and Youth Friendly Space grew into a stimulating, participatory, and supportive environment for all children. The educators created bonds with entire families and, as Svetlana says, they continue to maintain contact with those who have left in resettlement countries.
Maksim Jordanoski, English language teacher from the Center for Foreign Languages, one of UNICEF and USAID partners in the programme, teaches English language classes to groups of children aged 7 to 9 and 11 to 13. “Initially the classes were online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We noticed great improvement in March 2022 when we moved to classes with physical presence. Children showed so much more interest and engagement. They were happy to have human contact,” says Maksim.
“We applied different teaching approaches, starting with Total Physical Response technique which uses songs, movements and imitation helping children to acquire new language directly without previous knowledge or assistance from an interpreter,” says Vesna Petrovska, director of the teaching programme in the Center for Foreign Languages. “So far, over 120 children attended the classes. I hope this will help them integrate in their new home countries and at school. “
Among the first group of evacuated Afghans accommodated in this location, there were eight pregnant women. A team of patronage nurses regularly monitored their health and wellbeing and continued to visit after the babies were born. Patronage nurses received adequate training in young and infant child feeding and counselling of mothers. Sanije, who is currently working in the Municipality of Chair, Skopje, is one of the five patronage nurses visiting the Afghan families.
“New mothers listen to me and follow my advice on how to take care for their newborns with absolute confidence. We are lucky all of them are in good health. Only one baby was born premature, she weighed only 1.8 kg, but now, six months later, she develops well. It is overwhelming what they went through…I admire their resilience,” says Sanije.
UNICEF also supports legal aid for Afghan families in partnership with the Macedonian Association of Young Lawyers, including support with necessary documents related to their stay and legal status, birth registrations, resettlement procedures and visa applications. “We managed to simplify the process for obtaining birth registration with the local authorities. This is because some families did not bring with them their entire personal documentation as they left Afghanistan in a rush. It’s great that it worked out. The eight babies born in the last six months are now properly registered,” said Daniel Stanoeski and Ivana Ristovska.
The programme ensured that engaged professionals have adequate training in child protection and child safeguarding principles and professional capacities to identify and refer protection risks for vulnerable children. These professionals include social workers, social pedagogists, child psychologists and cultural mediators.
Afghan Support Activity is funded by the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
*The name has been changed to protect person’s identity.