The educational center in Uzhgorod/Ukraine is a bustling place. Over the past year hundreds of people have found comfort and rest here. Children’s laughter fills the air. Early May Elke Feld (project manager) traveled to Uzghorod accompanied by Claudia Köhler (teacher) and Volker Moschkau (cameraman).
During their stay the three visitors shared a roof with numerous internally displaced persons from the war zones. In 2022 the neemia center was converted into an emergency shelter for refugees and has houses up to 400 people at a time. Countless aid supplies – many of which came from Germany – were distributed to refugees or brought to the people in the areas liberated from the Russian military. A great variety of humanitarian goods are stored in the newly built warehouse for further refugee movements. Every day people come and continue to ask for help.
During their visit Elke, Claudia and Volker shared not only a bathroom but also everyday life with the refugees living in the center and were allowed to hear some of their stories. One story was Larissa’s: Larissa is from Odessa, she fled when the bombs fell. “Everything we didn’t need, we took with us, and what we would have needed, we left behind.” As she fled with her two daughters (ages 13 and 17) she left behind her disabled husband, who died soon after. After a few months the older daughter went back to studying, yet the younger daughter has become depressed, misses her friends and desperately wants to return to her home. Larissa wonders what to do and tears up as she shares her story. She is afraid of how the war will continue, panics at every siren alarm, but all the while thanks the neemia team for providing the shelter. At least she is safe here. This is only one of many fates. The center in Uzhgorod has become an oasis of hope for many who hardly have any hope left.
The German nehemia team has been supporting the work of the NGO neemia for 30 years with the aim of giving hope and future prospects to disadvantaged children on the margins of society, including children with physical impairments and developmental disorders, internally displaced persons and children from Roma families. Currently 40 children attend the Montessori kindergarten, consisting of several small groups. An inclusive elementary school offers adequate support for children with and without impairments. Teachers, social workers and foster parents are being trained to meet each student’s individual needs. Numerous seminars on dealing with trauma, the practical use of Montessori materials and conferences on child-centered education and inclusion have been held again since the beginning of 2023 (funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation). Neemia continues to partner with authorities and three local universities. Since early 2023 Neemia Ukraine has also been training children’s assistants to conduct inclusion classes and cooperating with the leader of a support group for parents of children with impairments. The local government even intends to provide funds to pay 50 children’s assistants. For over a decade now children have found homes in foster families, as their new parents receive support from the neemia team. Every summer camps are offered for the children, as well as educational seminars for the parents. Thanks to the support of Sternstunden (a charitable foundation) and the commitment of the neemia team, children in Roma communities receive leisure activities and homework help several times a week, and young people can learn to read and write there. Yes, that’s right, many Roma can neither read nor write!
The challenges and projects in the Ukraine have become very diverse, while sirens and air raid alarms are a constant reminder that the war continues.