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One day from the life of refugees

It is a quiet morning at the regular kindergarten building in Trojeshchina, one of the sleeping rayons of Kyiv. As usual, children run joyfully across the rooms, smiling and greeting new faces with a welcoming “Hello!”. Younger ones sit quietly and draw, under the attentive supervision of an adult, while teenagers rush to the computer room, where they can access theirVkontacte account or play online games. Nearby, another group of kids, aged 4 to 10, plays ball games with an adult.  Regular morning of the regular children – yet they are and remain different.

The great majority of these children are of Asian origin, but if you ask them to describe the mountain ranges of their home country, you will find them without a clue. Most of them were born in Ukraine, and Ukraine is their unique horizon, where all their memories belong. Here is their second Fatherland. Of the tragic events that caused their parents to flee their counties of origin, they know only by hearsay. Their daily life and their future lies elsewhere, on the banks of the Dnipro river, in this country that has accepted them, more or less willingly.

These children have been coming to the Center regularly since childhood: this is for them a unique place where they can play, meet their friends, develop various artistic abilities and learn new skills. Although their names sound exotic to our ears, they learn how to speak and write Ukrainian like any other Ukrainian child. In the friendly and tolerant environment of the Center, they children feel at home, and no one is here to remind them of the color of their skin or the place their parents came from.

“Local Integration is one of the preferred durable solutions for persons of concern for United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees ( UNHCR). And this Centre – the only one of this kind – contributed so much to it. We would really like to see the Government paying due attention to these kind of facilities and providing adequate support to keep the Centre operational and sustainable.” - says Vanno Noupech, UNHCR Deputy Regional Representative.

Today is an especially exciting day for the group of teenagers gathered in the sewing room. This is a room where refugee women meet to sew traditional Afghan costumes, embroider beads and create original jewelry items. Teenagers are welcome to join their elders and learn the craft, but many of those who came today are here for the first time. Impressed by the talent of elder women, they are afraid to lack the precision, or the patience necessary to achieve such beautiful patterns. Still, they are eager to learn new skills, and they came today to take part in a master class organized by UNICEF, to learn how to embroider beads on jute bags – traditional and also fashionable craft.

A row of lively faces sit around the table, chattering and staring eagerly atboxes of multicolored beads spread around them. Then, accurately, but still unsure of their gestures, the girls follow the instructions of the master and start embroidering beads around the letters of the name “UNICEF”. Each is shown a different pattern and given a different color, and their own imagination soon leads the way, resulting in original and astonishing productions. Meanwhile, the joyful chatter continues…

Shola is a 12-year-old girl full of energy, who looks older and more mature than many girls of her age. She was born and raised in Ukraine, with her numerous elder brothers and sisters. She has never embroidered beads before, but regularly visits the Center, where she meets her friends, and takes classes in computer science, English and study of the Koran. A girl full of dreams, she still hesitates between becoming an actress or a singer…

Sitting next to Shola is Afshan, a much quieter and more discreet 15-year-old girl. She seems to take at heart every activity that she undertakes, and although she is embroidering beads only for the second or third time, she is already showing talent and dedication for this task. However, when asked whether she would like to learn how to create necklaces and earrings, Afshan exclaims: “No way! It takes way too much time and patience! But embroidering is fine, it’s easier, I can do that.” In school too, Afshan is capable of showing dedication: she gets good grades and likes all subjects, especially languages. She is not without ambitions either: her dream is to become a dentist.

Khandan is older than the other girls: at 22, she has just finished university and is looking for a job in her field of specialization, economics. But she realizes that this is no easy task for her: not only is the economic situation unfavorable, but on the labor market, she is facing discrimination due to her ethnic origin, or simply because she is lacking the indispensable relations, acquaintances and relatives, that locals have. Although she is too modest to take pride in this achievement, Khandan admits that going to university was difficult for her, not from the point of view of grades, but from a financial point of view. But her tight-knit family was here to encourage her: her parents wished her to get a higher education and worked hard to save money to get her into university, and she earned some money on the side as well. Khandan confesses with a confused look on her face that she never learnt the craft of embroidering, because of her visual problems: she cannot concentrate for long on her work without getting headaches. Yet this talented young woman has developed other skills at the Center: an expert at drawing, she even won the second prize in a drawing competition organized in Kiev!

Natalia Gourjii, Chairman of the Board of Rokada Charitable Foundation which coordinates the Center, has the greatest admiration for her talented young protégés. She has no words laudatory enough to praise their accomplishments. She knows how much the Center matters to these children, and cannot envisage without sadness the disappearance of such a unique place. “This Center is a constant need for refugees. In Kyiv, where there is no point of temporary accommodation, this Center is the only place where refugees can meet, celebrate holidays and their birthdays, study languages and learn new skills such as embroiding beads. Yet without further funding, the Center will have to close its doors in one month.”

Hearing that, children react with indignation to this dreadful prospect. Mahwash exclaims: “No way! If the Center closes, we’ll all stay by its doors, until they open it again!”



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