Priyanka Chopra Jonas visits Blue Dot Centre in Poland to meet Ukraine's refugee children
Chopra Jonas visited a “Blue Dot” space at the Refugee Accommodation Centre in Warsaw, meeting with mothers and children from Ukraine who are now staying at the centre, the largest in the country.
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Priyanka Chopra Jonas travelled to Poland this week to meet refugee children and families who fled the war in Ukraine.
"All the children I met ache to be home," said Chopra Jonas. "The invisible wounds of war are often the least talked about but the most devastating for a child. It was incredibly heartening to see UNICEF's quick response and their work in partnership with the Polish people and government to provide children and their families with a sense of safety, catch up learning, awareness of their rights, and mental health support. All children everywhere have the right to this kind of help, no matter who they are or where they're from."
Over two days, Chopra Jonas visited several programmes of UNICEF's new response office in Poland, set up in the wake of the Ukraine war. She spent time at a UNICEF-supported Education Hub, which, in partnership with the Warsaw Municipality, is supporting Ukrainian children with catch-up learning, language classes, soft skills and other activities ahead of the start of the new school year. At a 'Spynka' Early Childhood Development centre, which provides support and childcare provision for Ukrainian refugees, Chopra Jonas met younger children and mothers, hearing directly about the challenges facing families.
Nearly two-thirds of children are displaced either inside Ukraine or in neighbouring countries, with the largest number of these in Poland. Over 90 per cent are women and children.
"This is a women's and children's crisis," said Chopra Jonas. "The women I met deeply touched and inspired me. Not only are they the mothers who had to flee war leaving their husbands and loved ones behind, they're now the sole caregivers. They're the psychologists helping children and soothing their nightmares of war. They're the teachers. The volunteers at the Blue Dots. They are putting their own trauma aside, to nurture and protect children."
Finally, at a summer camp, organized by a UNICEF partner organization, Chopra Jonas spent time with enrolled children between the ages of 5-16 as they did catch-up learning, educational games, skills development activities, Polish language classes, as well as outdoor sports activities.
"Many of the children fleeing war in Ukraine have left everything behind," said Rashed Mustafa, UNICEF Country Coordinator in Poland, responsible for emergency response. "Their homes, their friends, even their pets and favourite toys. Our response in Poland has been to protect them, provide access to education and give them mental health support. In just 21 weeks we've established strong programmes and partnerships across education, health, protection, mental health, early childhood development and youth engagement and we're very thankful to Priyanka Chopra Jonas, as the first UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador to visit us, for shining a light on this vital work. With the colder months just around the corner and a potential increase in the number of refugees, we're scaling up our response and strengthening our partnerships with central and local governments and civil society partners so we can continue to support these most vulnerable children."
Access to education is a critical part of UNICEF's response inside Ukraine and in the region as the war – and the destruction wrought on the education system – is having a dramatic impact on the lives and futures of the country's 5.7 million school-aged children. For the roughly 2.2 million Ukrainian children who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, every opportunity to continue their education is critical. UNICEF is supporting multiple pathways, including in schools, through distance learning and through catch-up or language classes, to help children catch up with missed learning, and integrate into the national education systems of host countries.
To ensure that all Ukrainian refugee students are supported to integrate into local school systems ahead of the new school year, UNICEF is calling on:
Host country governments, humanitarian organizations and donors to continue support for remedial and catch-up learning programs including in the lead-up to the new school year.
Donors to support host country governments in scaling up mental health and psychosocial support programs and recreational activities including through schools.
Host country governments to ensure Ukrainian children and their families, as well as Ukrainian refugee teachers, have access to language and cultural support; and continue to prioritise integrating children into mainstream education systems as soon as possible, with qualified teachers to support learning and wellbeing.
Host country governments to ensure their teachers are equipped with skills to support newly integrated Ukrainian students in their classrooms, through training opportunities on mental health and psycho-social support (MHPSS), inclusive education and bullying/violence prevention in the classroom.
Host country governments to support the integration of Ukrainian teachers into the national system as teachers, teaching assistants, or cultural mediators to facilitate the integration of Ukrainian children.