Child Spaces: Entertaining and Safe

STAN Youth NGO is creating five child-friendly spaces – four in the Ivano-Frankivsk region (Kolomyya, Vorokhta, Burshtyn and Nadvirna) and one in Lukavtsi of the Chernivtsi region. Those are places where kids and teenagers can make good use of their time with pleasure. Why are these spaces needed now, what is their specificity and what will help them to function in the following years?

Tetiana’s Story

‘I am from Kherson. I used to teach yoga in a community center. But everything stopped on February 24th. There was no job for me anymore. It was a humanitarian catastrophe in the city. At that moment, we understood, though not completely yet, that there was no delivery from Ukraine, and the local storages were getting more empty day by day.

I had my windows on Chornobayivka, that’s famous now. There were explosions, shelling. It was about six or seven kilometers from my house, and from the 9th floor I could see it very well. 

We left in April. As they say, we jumped in the last carriage. Our friends took us along, they told us: ‘There will be no space in the car, so take as little as you can’. And so we left Kherson with a small bag. We went through Snihurivka, crossed villages, fields, forests. At the first checkpoint we were asked: ‘Where are you going?’. We said: ‘Mykolayiv’. – ‘Why Mykolayiv?’. – ‘Because it is shelling here’. And they told us there was also shelling in Mykolayiv and that it was the Ukrainian army who shelled itself. We had no idea what to tell a man with an assault rifle. 

There were many checkpoints, but we managed to cross them easily. It happened to other people that men were told to undress, their bodies were examined for tattoos. My friends’ trip from Kherson lasted seven days. 

I have relatives in Nadvirna, they invited us here, told us they would help with a flat. My family and my sister’s family left, and also we took our parents with us. 

My daughter is six. In May, I started looking for a place in Nadvirna where she could go. At that moment kindergartens did not work, but a child needs to be busy with something. Then I found a Center for extracurricular education. They had some kind of child space: the children were engaged with some activities, while mothers were making masking nets. 

This is how I met Ms. Ruslana, the Center’s chief. She is a kind person, and she wanted to help. She heard I was a yoga teacher. ‘Could you do a class for us?’, she asked. I did it in the beginning of June, and later many people left (there were many people from Kyiv there). And after that, holidays came, and the Center was closed for summer’. 

Now, Tetiana Solovyova is working as a yoga facilitator at the child space opened by STAN that is next to the Center for extracurricular education of Nadvirna City Council. Tetiana is a mother who was looking for some activities for her child, and now she is herself helping to create such activities. 

‘This is a place where you can come and leave your kid for 3 or 4 hours. There are various activities here. There are English lessons, as well as financial literacy lessons and activities with psychologists, yoga. Children are busy and have fun. 

The start

There are renovation works undergoing in the rooms of the future child-friendly spaces. They will be finished in February or March, but the teams of psychologists and facilitators are not waiting. They are already working with children, mostly in the same spaces where the child-friendly centers will be opened. For instance, CFS in Nadvirna will be operating in the municipal Center for extracurricular education. And for the time of renovations, the Center invited psychologists and facilitators to work in their rooms. Tetiana has yoga class in the dance room. They have just adjusted their schedules. 

This hospitality is very handy, since parents don’t know yet about the CFS that will soon be opened next door. Its community is shaping right now. ‘What is particularly pleasant and surprising, that 80 people came to our first event in Vorokhta. There were many adults and many kids. It was a shock for me. I was walking along the dark street because of the electricity cut, talking to the space’s administrator, and I was overwhelmed with a wave of joy and gratefulness. People are at the right place. We are doing something that is really needed, even more needed than we have thought’, says Olha Symchych, CFS coordinator in the project ‘Ukraine crisis response – 2022’ implemented by STAN. 

For studying

Many families left almost without anything, and some even without their documents. They just ran out of the houses saving their lives. It’s hard for them now to find a budget for a laptop or a tablet. Not everyone has a job, and not always it is well paid. And the expenses are big. That’s why there will be all necessary equipment in the CFSs, like laptops, tablets, projectors, so kids will be able to study online and do their hometask, organize movie screenings and events with multimedia presentations. 

‘Another aim is to organize a space that will always be open, even if a child has just to stay there for a while. And the kids will have fun there. They will be able to work with a facilitator, play some games, or read books’, says Olha Symchych. 

That’s why it is important the spaces would be open not only after school, but during the whole day, so that children who study online could use these spaces. 

‘I go there almost every day, not after lessons, but before. I have lessons at school in the afternoon, and here I spend time from 9 AM until 12 PM. It’s good for me, I always wanted to attend some classes but could not because of the school lessons in the afternoon. Now I can do it and I like it’, says Kateryna, a student of the lyceum # 5 in Kolomyya. 

Child-friendly spaces are important to help internally displaced children integrate into the new community, to communicate with their peers. However, it would be a mistake to call CFSs the spaces for IDPs. They are open for all children and teenagers, and that’s why they have a potential to become places to meet others and have common activities. 

Safety and the future

When the team was looking for spaces for CFSs, it considered how safe they are. First of all, there should be access to shelter. They took into consideration other factors, such as the proximity to strategic objects. 

‘The safety criteria is important, and our partners and donors paid much attention to it. Considering the safety conditions, the location was approved or discarded. For instance, we had a look at one private location not far from the train station in Kolomyya, and we had to refuse it’, says Yuliia Menshakova, the coordinator of the project ‘Ukraine crisis response – 2022’.

СFSs will operate mostly in the buildings of municipal centers for extracurricular education or culture and community centers. They have equipped shelters, and they pass the safety standards. 

‘When there is an air alert, the space has a break and everyone goes to the shelter’, says Olha Symchych. ‘The teams try to make this experience as less traumatic for kids as possible. Same with the electricity cuts. Candles are lit, and they play mafia in the candle light, also battery-powered decoration lights are used so that children will feel more cozy. They dance not to freeze. Even having the electricity and heating cut, children don’t want to leave the space. Not only because they also don’t have electricity at home, but the reason is that teams are working hard to create a warm atmosphere in CFSs, which we need today more than ever’.

After all, the municipal buildings were chosen by purpose. ‘Ukraine crisis response – 2022’ project ends in February. Until that time, the renovations must be finished, and the necessary equipment must be bought, and the work of CFSs should be tested out and get on track. STAN is aspiring to support those spaces for the two following years. But if something happens and this won’t be possible, all the equipment, all the resources put in renovation works will be in communal property anyway. Child-friendly spaces will belong to the public. And from the start, the team closely cooperates with the local authorities.

Only in Lukavtsi village in the Chernivtsi region, CFS will be located in the same space as the shelter. It is a private property, but the NGO “Community in action” which is responsible for opening CFS in Lukavtsi made an agreement for long-time lease of the space. It plans to buy it out and after the victory to develop a rehabilitation center for people who suffered from the Russian aggression. ‘The civic sector is very strong there. That’s why the fact it is a private property did not become an obstacle. We are sure the CFS will be functioning alike’, says Symchych. 

Bringing the idea to life

It makes no sense to open a nice space and fill it with everything without thinking of creating a team of professionals. It would be difficult for the specialists, too, if they have no place to work. That’s why STAN tries to have a comprehensive approach in every branch of the project. The renovation works are done not only in the child spaces, but in five shelters in the same towns: in Kolomyya, Nadvirna, Vorokhta, Burshtyn and Lukavtsi. The psychologists from the CFSs work also in the shelters, they help parents and guardians – everyone who needs them. We will tell more about this in the following publications. 

Meanwhile, child-friendly spaces are doing their first but firm steps. ‘It’s been three weeks, and children are coming. Both kids and parents like the place, and we hope we will be able to implement the idea. We hope this will be really a space to come and make good use of time, for children to develop themselves. We hope there will be a warm and friendly atmosphere, and children will feel they are protected, that we care and love them’, says Tetiana Solovyova.