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Teacher Uprooted by War in Ukraine Helps Displaced Children Find Healing in Nature

Published 10/23/2023 by Global Communities

Ukraine_CLEAR Program_Ukrainian People's House_Nature Class

By Tania Dudnyk

In March 2022, Anna was heading from Kharkiv, Ukraine, to the western part of the country, fleeing the war with no idea where she and her family would find shelter. Today, she is a volunteer with the Ukrainian People’s House (UND) in Chernivtsi, one of seven civil society organizations in the region that has partnered with Global Communities under the Community-Led Emergency Action and Response (CLEAR) program.

Funded by the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID/BHA), CLEAR is addressing the urgent protection, shelter & settlements, and water, sanitation and hygiene needs of 22,580 people who have been affected by the war in Ukraine. As part of the program, UND handles distribution and psychosocial support sessions for individuals who have been displaced by the war in four communities of the Chernivtsi region: Velykokuchurivska, Nedoboivska, Storozhynetska and Chernivetska.

When Anna and her husband, son and in-laws first arrived in the Storozhynetska community in Chernivtsi, local residents provided them with a house, food and other essentials they had been forced to leave behind. After some time, Anna then learned about the CLEAR program and received bed linens, kitchen supplies and cash to buy firewood, a heating system and other items to support her family through winter.

During the registration process to collect this assistance, the UND team learned about Anna’s background as a middle school math teacher, passion for biology and working with plants.

“I love plants. Before the war started, I always brought sprouts of new plants from my trips,” she says. “Unfortunately, my home collection died when we were forced to leave our home.”

To help Anna feel more connected to her new community, UND invited her to provide a series of psychosocial support classes focused on nature for children who had been displaced by the war.

“It was a pleasure to join that activity with children, share my knowledge with them and dip my hands into soil again,” Anna says of the volunteer experience.

During the class, children learned about plants that were native to the region and their life cycles. Then, they had the opportunity to plant seeds of different garden greens and flowers and eagerly wait for them to sprout.

“All of us face difficulties, but like a sprout makes its way through the pavement, we must be strong.”

Anna, CLEAR program participant & UND volunteer

According to UND, classes like these help distract children from their worries and inner tension and, as a a result, reduce their anxiety. As they work with their hands, they tend to become more comfortable communicating and sharing their experiences. The activities also help them integrate into the communities where they now find themselves living.

Although Anna is currently focused on completing her Ph.D. thesis, she says she is considering the possibility of working as a schoolteacher again because of her volunteer work with the CLEAR program and UND. This is the first time she has visited the western part of Ukraine, and she is eager to learn more about the local people and nature. And while she is unsure of when she will be able to return to Kharkiv, she hopes to make the best of her time in Chernivtsi.

“My family is safe and sound. My husband and I have jobs. Our son studies online. We learn to live, work and make friends all over again, in a new reality,” she says. “The most important is not to isolate yourself. All of us face difficulties, but like a sprout makes its way through the pavement, we must be strong.”