‘These children escaped physical harm but but we need to protect their mental health’

Image: Save the Children

In a surprise visit to meet his home country children who’ve been forced to flee war, Ukrainian football Andriy Shevchenko has made an impassioned plea for more mental health support for young refugees.

He visited a summer school in the Polish capital, Warsaw, a city that is leading the international response to the war by helping children from Ukraine catch-up on missed learning and play

Since the war escalated five months ago, at least 5.8 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded across Europe, half of whom are estimated to be children with many having no access to education for weeks, reports Save the Children.

Save the Children’s summer schools for children from Ukraine in Poland are providing a safe haven where young refugees can boost their education and mental health and psychosocial wellbeing.

‘A safe haven where young refugees can boost their mental health’

Shevchenko, 45, former captain and coach of the Ukraine national team and striker for AC Milan and Chelsea, spent time at the school where he visited TeamUp, an intervention designed to improve children’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing through play. TeamUp was developed and delivered by War Child and Save the Children and is supported by Laureus Sport for Good, for which he is an ambassador.

“Nearly three million children from Ukraine have been forced to flee their homes in the past five months as a result of the conflict,” he said. “The physical impact of the war is clear to see, but we cannot forget about the psychological impact on these young people. It is not enough to take a child out of the war. We need to take the war out of children.

Many of the children Shevchenko met are experiencing uncertainty, fear and distress on a daily basis. Even when finding safety in another country, they are often silent and withdrawn or brazen and overbearing. Summer schools give these children the opportunity to explore and process their emotional experiences with sports and play, while ensuring they  don’t fall behind in their learning.

TeamUp is an innovative, scientifically proven method of movement, play and sports, that helps conflict-affected children, aged six to 18, to deal with their emotions and relieve the stress in their bodies. TeamUp sessions are also fun, encouraging children to move, play and laugh together so they  make new friends and find a more positive outlook.

‘Sport has an incredible power to break down barriers’

Every TeamUp session consists of activities that have a specific goal related to a theme such as dealing with anger or stress and interacting with peers. The sessions are implemented according to a set of fixed principles: ‘same place, same face, same time’ and take place at least once a week.

“Sport has an incredible power to break down barriers and create hope in times of despair,” added Shevchenko. “Today in Warsaw, we saw the best of sport and play in action during the fun and uplifting TeamUp activities. I’m proud and thankful that Laureus is supporting initiatives like this, working in partnership with War Child and Save the Children, to help these children and their families. We must continue to work together for the future of these children.”

Basile Ema Ebede, Save the Children’s Response Team Leader in Poland, added: “Children from Ukraine have experienced so much in just five months. Being forced to flee your home is a life-changing event that often results in negative consequences that can persist for years. Our teams continue to witness the psychological and emotional impacts this war is having on the children.

“The most important thing is offering children a safe and secure space where they can express their fears and worries. Our summer school programmes in Poland and across Europe, provide a supportive and nurturing environment where children from Ukraine can maintain a sense of normalcy while engaging in supportive play and learning activities. Activities like sports and play can help children release their stress and anxiety. Children in Ukraine are seeing things that no child should ever have to see.”

Author: Simon Weedy

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