Sports integration project is one of our most important projects, which we started in March 2023 after a 3-month pilot period of testing different sports activities and observing how kids feel. The idea emerged in response to the challenges faced by children who lost their world due to forced relocations, leaving them without friends, familiar surroundings, and sometimes even parents – challenges that only intensify their psychological traumas associated with the war.
While many NGO’s focused on different forms of study and psychological support activities, our attention was focused on setting up the environment where kids could be themselves, meet new friends and integrate with Romanian community. We realized that children who feel stressed and have all kinds of tensions associated with studying do not need another study program. Instead, we focused on supporting them in finding what they really like, observing their emotional state and supporting every kid to become more stable, strong and self-assured.
In Ukraine, not many people, especially kids, are used to turning to psychologists for help. Our project is a way to support kids emotionally. In a casual setup, kids not only take a break from thinking about negative news, but also feel better emotionally and find their new friends and balance again.
Apart from helping the kids to find the best sport activity to their liking, we tried to apply the learnings from the “Hole in the Wall” experiment, made by Professor Mitra, an educator and researcher from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. Mitra noted that kids could develop well on their own if given the right conditions, interesting questions and praise. Encouragement and positive feedback from peers and adults, even in the form of simple verbal praise, could boost the children’s confidence and motivation. For this reason, we introduced the role of a social worker whose task is to be at every training and praise kids for their efforts and progress. The social worker is also helping with identifying situations where kids don’t feel ok, discussing them with trainers and supporting children in overcoming the barriers. The most vulnerable kids are invited to smaller groups or supported individually. When they become stronger and surer of themselves, they are invited to join larger groups with more Romanian kids and higher demands.
At the start of the project, we were moving in the start-up logic, testing ideas and different sports sections, developing further the ones that were of higher demand. The most popular sections so far are sport dance, hockey, jiu-jitsu, and swimming for children, as well as general physical training and physical exercising “beautiful posture” for both children and adults. We learned that competitions and events are good for setting targets and helping kids to be more dedicated.
Since the start of the project in 2023, over 800 individuals took part in the project, with over 1700 training sessions, 10 competitions, two summer sport camps, a dance show and Christmas event, which united most participants.
To assess results at the end of the year and decide if we shall continue the project, we turned to parents for feedback and conducted a survey. The results showed that 92% of parents feel their kids are in better shape now; 97% think their children have become more confident and emotionally stable; 96% mentioned their kids made friends with new Ukrainian peers during the training sessions and various events; and 30% of the kids managed to integrate and make friends with new Romanian peers during the workouts.
It is interesting to observe that many parents are starting to raise expectations and push their kids for better results, while this was not the case at the start of the project. We started noticing more and more cases like this as kids showed some progress. In many cases such behavior of parents is not working in favor of supporting motivation and is rather discouraging for kids. We decided to make a series of group meetings with our psychologist to teach the parents how to support the kids motivation and defend their individual boundaries.
To summarize, the Sport integration project not only promotes healthy physical activity among children but also serves as a tool for addressing the psychological challenges faced by children. It is not only a change in the lives but also a contribution to building a strong and emotionally stable community and helping children to integrate. This project is supported by nine Romanian, five Ukrainian coaches, as well as one social worker, two psychologists, communication person and a project manager from Ukraine. All Ukrainians are part of the Help Ukrainians refugee community whose families are supported by their income.
These achievements wouldn’t have been possible without our partners from Damen Foundation and HIAS organization, who trusted and supported us on our way.
We are grateful for this support and looking forward to continuing in 2024 together!
If you would like to join us, a donation of 20 Euro can help one more displaced kid to participate in one month of trainings and feel normal again.