Healing hearts: nurturing mental well-being among Ukrainian refugee youth
With a heart full of compassion and a willingness to make a difference, Iryna stands at the forefront of supporting Ukrainian refugee children who have experienced the traumas of war and displacement.
In the midst of adversity, the journey towards healing and well-being takes shape through the unwavering dedication of experts like Iryna, a Ukrainian psychologist at the Youth Hub in Timisoara, Romania. With a heart full of compassion and a willingness to make a difference, Iryna stands at the forefront of supporting Ukrainian refugee children who have experienced the traumas of war and displacement.
"I didn't work too much with adolescents and children before the war," says Iryna, reflecting on her transition from working with adults to addressing the unique emotional needs of children and youth. Her experience, however, equipped her with the skills needed to guide the young people through the labyrinth of anxiety, fear, and complex emotions that war has left in its wake.
For Iryna, the path to helping these children commenced with overcoming challenges. "The first struggle was that I didn't have any instruments to work with the children. So, I had to buy them one by one and try different methods," she shares. Gradually, she developed a toolkit that included visual cards with different storylines. Through this method, she could explore the emotional states of the children, inviting them to express their feelings through the selection of these cards. This technique paved the way for them to open up step by step, creating a safe space for communication.
The children arriving at the Ukrainian Youth Hub often carry the heavy burden of anxiety linked to the war. Many have experienced the loss of loved ones and bear the scars of trauma.
Communication struggles and longing for their homeland also exacerbate the challenges faced by the Ukrainian young refugees. "Here, at the Ukrainian Youth Hub, we are doing our best to support them, to make them feel included, and reach another level of communication," she affirms. With patience, therapy sessions, and creative activities, these children have grown more sociable, demonstrating the power of a supportive community.
"We are trying to create a very comfortable ambient for the children here, because we want to help them adapt easier and integrate into Romanian society," Iryna explains. The Ukrainian Youth Hub has not only become a space of healing but also an arena for parents to receive guidance. Workshops and training sessions are organized to offer parents insights into effective communication, especially during times of crisis. By strengthening the parent-child bond, Iryna strives to enhance the overall well-being of these young minds.
"When you have a teenager at home, it is important to learn how to listen to him, do not yell at him, do not judge or punish him," Iryna advises, emphasizing the significance of parental understanding and support.
Adolescents, in particular, find solace in Iryna's presence, seeking counsel on matters they might hesitate to share with their own parents. As she explains, "They asked me recently if we can organize at the Ukrainian Youth Hub some meetings with Romanian adolescents, so they can make new friends in Timisoara, and integrate better in the Romanian society.”
"I recommend parents to talk to their children, and try to make them open about their emotions," Iryna advises. For those who struggle to communicate, she extends her guidance through play-based therapy techniques. Small dolls become tools for creating shared stories, aiding her in understanding the complexities of their minds. These techniques, she emphasizes, can even be applied at home by parents.
Looking ahead, Iryna plans to incorporate sand therapy to further alleviate stress and anxiety, using play to bridge the gap between herself and the children. Through her innovative and compassionate approach, Iryna is sowing the seeds of healing and resilience in the hearts and minds of these young Ukrainian refugees.
Through the unwavering dedication of individuals like Iryna, the Ukrainian Youth Hub, founded by the County Youth Foundation and supported by UNICEF, stands as a testament to the power of inclusion, understanding, and mental health support. In this corner of Romania, young Ukrainians are finding their way back to hope, joy, and a sense of belonging.