A few Ukrainian children play war in the first half in their Dutch primary school

The girl wears blond tails and a mint green sports jacket. She eats a white sandwich with cheese. nine She, she says with a serious look. Her brother is eleven years old. He neatly combed his hair, parting it to the right. They came by car with their mother. The girl wrote from “Chervonograd”. Imagine driving a car with her hands.

Today I started at De Wilgen public primary school in Slriedcht, southern Holland, with nineteen other Ukrainian children.

“Sit at the table Maxim,” says teacher Jenny Joyce Dom. She speaks clearly and points to the table. Maxim (11 years old) climbs onto the table. He understands. “Point to the ground,” Miss Jenny says. Eleven Ukrainian children point to the ground. Throw the ball to Miss Lina, Micah. A boy throws a ball to Miss Lina. “This way they learn Dutch while playing,” Jennie Guis-Duim later explains. “This goes quickly.”

Jenny Joyce immediately canceled her two-day vacation last week to teach Ukrainian refugee children. The remaining three days were in group 6. The municipality asked de Wilgen if they had a place for fifteen Ukrainian children; I became twenty.

Of course, said director Rene de Kuiper. We save space. Four teachers immediately reported that they wanted to work on vacation days. Retired teachers also volunteer.

Joyce has been a teacher for 27 years – the first refugee children she taught came from the former Yugoslavia. Much later, Syrian children, Afghanis, Eritreans followed.

Ukrainian children are happy that they can go to school, says teacher Lena Vijverberg, who also started at De Wilgen this morning. There is white bread on the table, cheese, sprinkles of chocolate, milk and apples. They go to lunch. “The school in Ukraine is strict,” says Vigverberg. “You can play outside once a day at most. The rules are strict. Kids play here and go out twice a day.” As Rene de Kuiper notes, the school is much stricter there. The first thing he asked his parents on Friday at the meeting was: Should they wear a uniform?

Photo by Merlin Dallman


De Kuiper says the most important thing in the first weeks is rest, hygiene and regularity. “Create a safe environment. That is what we do. In the morning the children learn Dutch in a playful way, and in the afternoon we play sports and games.” Few of the children actually played war during the first break, says Wegverberg. “But that’s normal, they’re kids.” Translate between children and school staff. She is Ukrainian and has been living in the neighboring town of Papendrecht for nine years.

Lena Vijverberg (married to a Dutchman) is “a needle in a haystack,” says director De Kuiper, because she speaks Russian, Ukrainian, German, Dutch and English. I started translating as a volunteer at the reception center in Slydrecht two weeks ago. “Suddenly I got a job here through someone else.”

Six days ago, the first Ukrainian student also started at Tragellijn Primary School in Lobith, Gelderland, 92 kilometers away while the crow flies: Lina (6). The girl ran away with her mother and older sister from her hometown of western Lviv. Her mom’s boyfriend is Dutch, that’s how they ended up here. Lena is the only Ukrainian girl in this school, but Tragellijn has a lot of experience with language lessons for children who come from abroad. About 20 percent of the kids here take those classes.

Photo by Merlin Dallman

in Russian

Teaching assistant Armin Khachaturian intervenes with Lena. She is a rather shy girl and her hair is in two wires. She sits at one of the colorful tables and puts her head on her hands. Khachatryan speaks calmly to her in Russian. Translates “She feels good today, she has contact with other children.” Lena shows how she can count to ten in Dutch. It says “one, two, three…”. Gently at first, then harder. She smiles widely when her teacher completes her.

Lina gets additional language lessons three times a week. But you let those kids get used to it first, says room manager Marion. “Just sit back and watch the cat come out of the tree. The moment you feel free – you can see it in the freedom to play outside, or when you dare to raise a finger in class, speaking Dutch comes naturally.”

Van de Kamer believes that Lena is still the only Ukrainian child in school, which is not a bad thing. The director even prefers it to several Ukrainian children in one fell swoop. This does not help with language learning, she saw from her experience at the Asylum Seekers Center school in Dauphin. Van de Camere thinks a school with many children of non-Dutch descent, as here, is nice. “It gives Lina a sense of security.” “Oh, you don’t know the language very well either.”

Anita Klompsma, who has run the International School for Children of Asylum Seekers in Ter Abel for thirty years, says children from war zones should get used to a new school for the first six weeks. “They have been through a lot and everything is new. You shouldn’t really rush them. For example, most of these Ukrainian children left their father behind.” Parents often spend the whole day on their cell phones at the orphanage to catch up on the news from their home country as much as possible, says a teacher in Slydrecht. So school is primarily a nice distraction.

According to Klumbsma, lessons in a group with children from the same country are initially pleasant and fruitful. “I always say to young teachers: What do you want if you suddenly end up in China? You met a Dutchman who understood you! Well, that’s what all refugees want.”

Lena in Lobeth heard the sirens of airstrikes in Ukraine, says Marion from the room. So we won’t be doing a fire drill anytime soon.” Upon her arrival, the girl was given two “buddies” to hold in her hand. “The kids score by themselves, they love it.”

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