Peace Through Play: Ukrainian Children Find Joy in Moldova Playrooms

This article is presented in partnership with Project HOPE

Project HOPE is a global health and humanitarian organization, working side-by-side with local health workers and communities to save lives and improve the health and well-being of people around the world.

Learn more about Project HOPE

Children run around beneath a colorful parachute
This article is presented in partnership with Project HOPE

When you’re a kid fleeing war and conflict in your home country, you don’t usually have a lot of time to play.

Between the trauma of suddenly becoming displaced from your home, seeking essential support and resources, and building a new life with — or sometimes, unfortunately, without — your family, sometimes books, music, and building blocks don’t always remain a priority.

But experts know that play is still a fundamental part of healing and development in refugee children. 

In fact, the “Right to Play” is a universal right recognized by the United Nations, in its Convention on the Rights of the Child

“Providing access to play in a safe, stimulating, nurturing, and reliable environment helps shield against the adverse experiences of displaced children’s unsettled lives and gives them a chance to reclaim their childhood,” Freya White, a children’s humanitarian worker, wrote for the Othering & Belonging Institute

“Play helps develop the skills needed to access education, integrate into new schools and communities, and ultimately, to function in society.” 

Children work on a craft project with clay and paint
Children work on an art project at The Moldova Project. Photo courtesy of Marie Arago/Project HOPE

As the war in Ukraine continues and children displaced by war continue to navigate new and uncertain terrain, organizations like The Moldova Project are ensuring the prioritization of play. 

The Moldova Project is a non-governmental organization in Moldova that helps socially vulnerable families build long-term self-sufficiency, so children can have a safer and happier childhood. 

The organization, in collaboration with global health and humanitarian nonprofit Project HOPE, have built nine playrooms for Ukrainian and Moldovan children across Moldova, acting as safe spaces in refugee communities. These playrooms include mental health activities like art and music therapy, games, and social cohesion exercises. 

Two adults lean over three children working on an art project at a table
The Moldova Project provides activities for children in the community. Photo courtesy of Marie Arago/Project HOPE

The Moldova Project team also travels via bus to various centers each week to organize activities for the children in the community. 

Reaching around 700 refugee children from Ukraine, the organization has filled its new playrooms with new furniture, board games, craft materials, toys, TVs, books (in Ukrainian, Russian, and Romanian), and more. 

It’s also a place for Ukrainian children to connect with Moldovans and share cultures and experiences among their communities. Sometimes, families even get together to cook traditional food. 

“We decided, let’s give them a space where they can feel good, happy, socialize with other children, learn new things, have activities, and just enjoy their childhood,” Victoria Morozov, founder of The Moldova Project, said in an interview. “The playroom is the best solution for us.” 

A door to a classroom is ajar
New playrooms provide community members with the resources they need for education and play. Photo courtesy of Marie Arago/Project HOPE

Moldovan community members also benefit from the program, as it specifically reaches rural areas that have been greatly impacted by the influx of displaced Ukrainians. 

“It’s a community project that is going to last for a long time in our society. We created them, yes, right now for the refugees, but also for the Moldovans, too, after this war is hopefully gone from our lives,” Morozov said. “It’s a sustainable project that is going to make lots of great things in the future, as well.” 

In the meantime, the space exists to assist in the immediate development of Moldova’s newest community members, who can finally attempt to find peace — and maybe even joy — away from war.

Along with the childhood development services, the project also provides at least 500 parents and caregivers with parental education and psychological counseling support.

A children's art project includes a drawing of Earth and hands cut out of construction paper
Photo courtesy of Marie Arago/Project HOPE

“Safety is very important for everyone,” Morozov said. “Feeling safe is the most important because they want to feel like there is a space where no one is going to kick them out. They want to feel that they have a space where they can eat and provide their children with a safe space where there is no war.” 

“There’s nothing we can change about the world right now, me and you, but they can change their thoughts about their situation, their feelings about what they can do with their lives. This is going to make a change for them.”

Header image courtesy of Marie Arago/Project HOPE

Article Details

August 24, 2023 7:10 AM
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