We established our shelter for IDPs at the beginning of June. Right away we realized that it is not enough to provide women and children affected by war with accommodation. To overcome their traumatic experiences and be able to lead a full life they need complex assistance.
We believe that spaces providing long-term accommodation need to offer more than food and a roof over one’s head. People that were forced to flee far from home require safety, support, communication, leisure, self-actualization, and self-development. These, too, belong to the basic needs crucial for people’s lives.
There are Ukrainian shelters that provide comfortable living conditions. However, people also want to work, be independent of social benefits, and engage in various recreational activities. In other words, they want to return to normal life as much as possible. Deprived of opportunities to do it, they may want to return to their regions which for now are dangerous war zones.
The civil sector and volunteers are indeed doing a tremendous amount of job providing people with essentials. In this article, however, we’d like to focus on a more complex approach to helping the Ukrainians that lost their home due to the war on the example of our shelter.
How does it work?
Our crisis team set the house rules of our shelter. They are based on the three cornerstones we adhere to, these being Trust, Protection, and Community.
Our goal is to create a safe space that will encourage building trust in the collective, improve team cohesion, and help IDPs to engage in the community’s life.
Our shelter managers Tetyana and Natalya are mostly responsible for implementing this idea. As we were developing the idea of the shelter, we understood that the workers’ duties won’t be limited to managing the house. They will also need to mediate conflicts, identify needs, and organize leisure activities and learning process for the shelter residents. Crucial for these processes will be the daily practice of non-violent communication (NVC) and non-toxic coliving.
If you’ve ever tried to practice NVC, you understand how hard it is. Even harder, however, is to create a non-violent, safe space for twenty people of diverse age groups, beliefs, needs, and backgrounds.
After several months of our team’s work, we see that our effort brings its fruit.
Our community consists of two collectives: adults and children.
We also have Tanya who’s a community manager and Ivanka who’s a nanny. 🙂
Tanya organizes leisure activities, housecleaning and holidays, residents’ meetings and sessions with a psychologist. Residents and their children are not confined within the four walls of the shelter. Tanya also organizes picnics, trips to exhibitions, museums, and theatres.
Social worker Maria also provides individual support for adult residents that need it due to their medical condition etc.
Thanks to the regular psychological sessions with the supervisor Natalia Shcherbina, co-organized with the Maltese aid service, and time spent together, we managed to reduce the level of the intra-collective conflicts by 70% and completely eradicate violent way of managing the conflicts.
Our high-qualified nanny Ivanka takes care of the children. Together they visit the Ecocenter, clay work and drawing workshops. Often Ivanka invites experts that can teach children something new and interesting, and most of the time they spend outdoors. Ivanka utilizes a non-violent approach in the children’s upbringing, explains what consent culture in communication is, and tells them about the perks of constructive leisure.
We have children of diverse age groups, and it’s not easy to organize their pastime. It was a challenge even for Ivanka – a nanny with many years of experience working with children individually. Here she shares insights about her first experience of working with a group that large.
Mothers are the most reliable allies in working with children. Together with the Maltese aid service and Red Cross, we organized a lecture for mothers about modern methods of upbringing. There are a lot of people that help children to adapt to the new environment and navigate through war-induced stress. These are art therapists from the Maltese aid service Iryna and Kateryna, volunteer Taras that teaches children to play chess, Oleksandr from the clay work initiative “Lipka-Zdybka” and trainers from the workshop “Soma” that organized morning exercises for our children.
We helped the children to find spaces for learning so they can continue studying online in their schools. City libraries, Leoteka and Lviv regional library for youth named after R.Ivanychuk are now the places where our children go to study. After their lessons they visit daily groups organized by the NGO “Care in action”.
After three months of working, we realized that the rules of our shelter are flexible. We were improving them together with the residents, as they needed to respond to the challenges we couldn’t predict at the planning stage. Our main rule, however, allows no exceptions: we don’t tolerate violence in any form.
It’s exactly due to the violation of this rule that we had to ask several women to look for another place to stay. Obviously, at first we try to help. We offer therapy sessions and support women that are moving toward change. However, if a person isn’t ready to take help, we can’t neglect the safety of other residents. In addition, when needed, we can get involved social policy services and police.
Safety issues are not limited to what happens within the shelter. Job seeking is also fraught with risk, especially when it comes to people that belong to vulnerable groups such as IDPs. That’s why we cooperated with the career hub “Break the circle” to help our residents to find a job where they will have their labor rights protected.
Shelter providing long-term accommodation simply can’t work like a hostel. It’s not that kind of place with a constant turnover of people that come for the night. We want the residents to call our shelter home, albeit temporary.
That’s why we also aspire to strengthen trust in the collective. Our residents participate in organizing the work of the shelter. They can submit their suggestions anonymously or tell them to the shelter manager right away. Since September three residents became part-time shelter managers themselves.
This way not only do we give them opportunities for additional income, but also provide room for their initiatives. Residents feel even more involved in the shelter’s work and have a say in household issues. That approach also helps to improve relations in the collective.
Say, at the beginning of our work there were conflicts regarding the distribution of the resources – food, groceries, and other things that are not given individually, but to all residents as a batch. Now women distribute these resources on their own and look for ways to share them equally without getting the shelter workers involved. Since then, the amount of everyday conflicts has halved.
We also have a common space in the attic which serves as a children’s play zone. In the evening every resident can “book” the space for their personal needs. This, too, requires communication and common discussion.
Nowadays comfort and welfare of people that were forced to flee their homes depend on the community and local initiatives. It’s important that in addition to providing people with food and accommodation, we can lay the foundation for dialogue, integration, and development.
Text: Kateryna Dovbnia - coordinator of work with IDPs of "Feminist Workshop" Anastasiia Yurchenko - media coordinator of "Feminist Workshop" Translate (Ukrainian-English): Kira Leonova