12-year-old Sumaya from Crimea is back to being ‘herself’ thanks to the psychosocial support she received from UNICEF
12-year-old Crimean Tatar Sumaya is one of almost 500 children who had to flee their homes in Crimea and move to Vinnytsia oblast. Mom, dad and eight of their children are now in a new place and an unusual situation. Her mom is pregnant and is about to give birth; her dad is disabled and cannot provide for his family; and the children have lost their friends and classmates. Displacement has affected all family members. Sumaya also now has to help take care of her youngest brother – 1.5 year old Zacharia.
At home in Crimea, she attended various extracurricular activities such as theatre and needlework. She has always been a great help to her mom, a very attentive older sister and a leader at school. After moving to Vinnytsia, Sumaya still tried to be responsible, open and always ready to help, before the reality of what had happened sink in. But after a while, she became introverted and passive. Her behavior became more negative and in her communication with younger children she used the position of power. Sumaya wanted to strengthen her authority by prohibiting other children to play or participate in activities. “All of this was done to attract the attention of adults and other children, which she heavily lacked from her parents. When she managed to get the attention, she became softer, but still didn’t get involved in the games with other children, she preferred to observe, ” says Victoria, psychologist of Vinnytsia human rights NGO “Dzherelo Nadiyi” who works with the internally displaced children and their families.
The organisation is working with two groups of internally displaced persons (IDP) from Crimea since the first days of their arrival to Vinnytsia. “At some stage, we realised that we do not have enough resources to continue working with the IDPs and looked for support from our partners, ” tells Alla Studilko, “Dzherelo Nadiyi” leader. UNICEF supported the organization and within the framework of this cooperation the support provided to the families was increased. For example, the children of internally displaced families play educational games, participate in psychological training sessions and other activities to help them adapt to the new circumstances and cope with the stress.
Sumaya also received psychosocial support. She started attending one of the Vinnytsia schools. One of the key factors in the change of her behaviour was the psychological training sessions with older children, during which she was able to share her dreams and secrets, and discuss other topics that worry children. The psychologist found that Sumaya became less aggressive and conflicting, as having received the professional psychosocial support she felt her own significance, purpose and became active again. “Sumaya is back to being emotionally stable, she is again open for communication, she started sharing her worries and problems with others, ” says Victoria, psychologist of Dzherelo Nadiyi.
Sumaya became open, happy and positive, as her friends and family are used to seeing her. She is particularly interested in psychological tests which help her open up; she eagerly shares results and asks for advice. Psychological consultations with her mom also helped get ‘old’ Sumaya back. Her mom was given reccomendations on how to divide the time and parental attention among children in a large family to avoid the children’s jealousy, resentment and the feelings of unfairness.
Sumaya’s family, just as other IDP families, are countinously supported by experts support their adaptation to new surroundings. Radical changes in life such as displacement need a lot of time and effort.
The impact of recent events in Ukraine – military operations and changes in Eastern Ukraine has caused displacements of tens of thousands of people. Psychosocial suffering caused by economic constraints, security issues, breakdown of social structures, violence, loss of loved ones, and direct exposure to violent acts affect the psychosocial state of individuals, including children who might not yet have the coping mechanisms or understanding of the situation.
UNICEF is partnering with NGO’s and the local government to provide psychosocial support for children and families that have been displaced there from Crimea or Eastern Ukraine over the last several months. The aim is to reduce IDP children’s and families’ stress levels and to enhance their abilities to integrate into their host communities by providing systematic psychological support. In addition to conducting individual and group counselling sessions, UNICEF is facilitating training sessions in specialized cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques for psychologists, social workers, school counsellors and teachers to work with displaced children and families. The current projects are short-term for 3-5 months, to provide IDP children and their parents with the necessary support for the summer period and transition into the school year.