On a cold winter morning in the city of Bender in the Transnistria region, a group of children aged six to ten were surprised – and initially resistant – when they were handed pencils and invited to draw.
“I will not draw anything!” a boy named L. announced.
Slowly but surely, however, the children warmed up to the idea. By the end of the day, L. had outdrawn everyone else. After that first session, word spread among the children that these ICRC people weren’t so bad… and the mood in later sessions was much more enthusiastic.
Ten psychosocial support sessions were organized in the Transnistria region over three months, starting in February 2023, with the support of the Bender branch of the Moldova Red Cross Society. Around 80 children – from both the host communities and families who had fled the international armed conflict in Ukraine – took part in the sessions.
Dreaming of the future
The children vividly described the happiest and saddest moments in their lives. When they were asked to write letters to their future selves, a wide range of emotions and concerns came out: from the importance of family to material comforts, fear of enemies and missing a friend far away. Some hoped to do better in school, improve a skill or start a business with 100 lei. Others dreamed simply of returning home. Some of the letters ran to several sentences; others were barely a line.
Many children did not want to read their letters to the group at first.
Despite their initial scepticism, however, most ended up sharing. Those with more anxiety and fear needed more attention before they could share.
As the children themselves said, it was important for them “to tell the secrets they had never told anyone”.
Once conversation got easier, the roles reversed, and it was the children giving the ICRC team advice! Reading the letter aloud was a bad omen, they said: “If you say your wish out loud, it won’t come true!”
Training volunteers to increase support
The sessions were such a success that the ICRC mental health and psychosocial support team in Chisinau decided to support capacity-building for the Moldova Red Cross Society branches in Balti (northern Moldova) and Bender. Two facilitators from each branch were chosen to plan, organize and monitor volunteer-led psychosocial support activities for the local community, including people who had fled Ukraine.
Volunteers were trained to know the factors impacting psychosocial well-being among people affected by conflict, how to identify psychological symptoms, when and where to refer people to services, how to lead a group discussion, and how to organize outreach activities and psychosocial education for children and adults. A total of 33 volunteers – psychologists, social workers, psychology professors, students and local government officials – took part in the two training sessions.
After the training, the ICRC convened a focus group to hear directly from people who had fled to Moldova from Ukraine. Participants were asked what they needed and whether they had access to mental health services.
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