Children of Ukraine to school: “Comfort, structure, safety”

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Vigil | Ukrainian children of primary school age who are cared for with their mothers at the Franciscan monastery in Wegel have now been to school at the monastery for more than three weeks. The request for children’s education came from the municipality to the school boards of the umbrella organizations of the school SAAM, Verdi and secondary education. Together they set out to make this a reality. SAAM’s Marion Lumen explains: “Our priority is peace, structure and safety.” Beautiful classrooms have been created for two groups of children, Ukrainian support is also available.

On Saturday 12 March, the first Ukrainian refugee arrived at the Franciscan monastery in the center of Wegel. On this site there is room for about 124 people. Among them were a large number of children who fled with their mothers from the Russian invasion. Marion explains: “There are about thirty or forty children here, of course they have the right to an education. Fifteen of them go on to secondary education in Fiority.” These kids, ages 12 to 17, started there on April 4. Young children learn at the monastery from that same day. Primary education there is coordinated through cooperation between the municipality and the university organizations of Verdi and SAAM. There is daily contact between the various organizations and there is a great deal of coordination. It’s a good example of collaboration in Vigil’s education,” Marion says proudly.

The school in the monastery
Marion explains this choice: “We wanted to start primary school here. They are young children and so they are close to their mothers. There was also space for this. The space still had to be created in schools, and there would also be a question of how to take them to school.” So teaching in the monastery was the best option. Two groups have been created. Toddler group with children aged 4-6 and a larger group with children aged 7-11. The numbers vary slightly due to the influx and outflow of people, but each group currently consists of about a dozen children.

Nursery room in a Franciscan monastery. – Quinn de Fischer

cat from tree
“Initially, the kids were a little bit out of the loop, but that always happens when the kids are new somewhere,” Marion says. “It’s also a big change, in Ukraine they are used to working a lot, while here there is a greater disparity between work and play.” The kids should get used to it but they seem to be having a good time. In the classroom, math assignments are done and in the monastery’s courtyard people are swinging and rambling on plastic tractors. Marion explains: “The children are now also taking some Dutch lessons. They love to learn the language.” “They speak a lot of Dutch, but it is also about hands and feet. We use a lot of pictures to indicate, for example, that we need to do the cleaning,” says one teacher in the yard with the kindergarten class. But of course there are less pleasant aspects. “What you notice is that the graphics they make are sometimes a little different,” Marion says. “For example, one of the children drew a tank and a house on fire.” Nevertheless, delightful drawings of people and animals are hung on the walls of the kindergarten. But if necessary, care is never far away. The monastery also houses the office of ONS Welzijn. Marion: “It’s so close, so that’s nice. And all the kids had one-on-one conversations about what they’ve been through so we’d be well aware of this.”

education formation
It is difficult to create a school from scratch. This is why peace, structure and safety are the number one priority. Also contributing to this is the fact that the classrooms are in the monastery and the children are close to their mothers. Marion: “Once we achieve these priorities, education will be established, which is what we are working on now. We are still trying to figure out how to shape it and how we can provide the right level for children, but there are a number of organizations we can turn to and the lines are short. Plus, parents are involved Also. They are happy with the facility that has been set up. But only when the education is ready can we look to the long term. We will do it together, with heart and love.”

Ukrainian teacher
In order to realize the elementary school lessons in the monastery, besides the site, of course, something else was needed: people and the interior. “The call has been made for people with educational experience and volunteers who want to help,” Marion explains. There was a lot of feedback on that. We now have two Dutch teachers instructing a group each morning. In addition, there is also a Ukrainian teacher who is here as a refugee and offered to help her. Divide her time between the two groups. There is also a Ukrainian student “Babo” who can help sometimes.”

Various organizations supplied the items. The kindergarten is cheerfully decorated and located in a bright room. Drawings, crafts and cards with simple Ukrainian-Dutch translations hang on the walls. There is a puzzle, and games such as dollhouse and car track are also provided. Older children’s room looks like a classroom. The children sit together at three tables as they do math tasks. In the foreground there is a large screen on which lessons from Ukraine can be followed in the future.

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