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Ukraine Crisis Response: 3-day Workshop in Bulgaria

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I recently had the opportunity to travel to Sofia, where we hosted another three-day workshop focusing on responding to Children and Young People Affected by the War in Ukraine. This event, which took place between 27 February and 1 March, was organized in collaboration with our partners from UNICEF ECARO and UNICEF Bulgaria and was addressed to Bulgaria’s child helplines and frontline workers.

We welcomed 30 participants from three different organizations:

  1. National Telephone Line for Children 116 111
  2. State Agency for Refugees
  3. Agency for Social Assistance

The workshop was opened by:

  • Teodora Ivanova (Ph.D.) Secretary General of the State Agency for Child Protection SACP
  • Carole Vignaud, Deputy Representative UNICEF Bulgaria
  • Diana Yovcheva, Programme Director Refugee and Migrant Children | UNICEF Bulgaria
  • And our own Eva Veldhuizen- Ochodnicanová (Child Protection & GBV Expert) and Laura Holliday (Learning Coordinator) from Child Helpline International

 

During the first day, two sessions were held to increase awareness and knowledge of the most pressing issues affecting Ukrainian children that are emerging from the conflict. Alicia Heys (Ph.D.) from the Wilberforce Institute presented on the phenomenon of Trafficking in Human Beings (THB) in the context of the current crisis, and Eva delivered a training on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) as it relates to children and young people affected by war.

On the second day, we began with a session on standards and guiding principles for child helplines responding to emergencies, which I led together with Diana Yovcheva from UNICEF Bulgaria. After that, Jordan Greenbaum (MD) from ICMEC delivered a practical training to develop skills in providing trauma-informed care and mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) for children and young people. Four of our trainers jointly led a final session on counsellors’ wellbeing, which allowed us to discuss ways of coping with the challenges faced by counsellors and frontline workers. It was amazing to hear participants share their personal stories during this session.

All images © Dobrin Minkov

On the final day, there were two roundtables relating to recent emergencies, which gave our participants many opportunities to exchange their experiences and learnings from past and current crises. It was also a chance to learn from our excellent panellists, who delivered four interventions during the first session:

  • Andrea Pereira (Ph.D.), Head of Data & Research at Child Helpline International, who talked about the challenges of collecting emergency-related data;
  • Kirsty Thomson, Senior Director, Europe at Kids in Need of Defence (KIND), who addressed challenges related to unaccompanied and separated children from Ukraine;
  • Aagje Ieven, Secretary General at Missing Children Europe, who introduced the topic of missing children as well as forced and parental abductions, illegal adoptions and temporary protection in Europe in the context of conflict; and
  • Jordan Greenbaum (MD), Medical Director at the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC), who challenged participants with specific cases addressing cultural differences concerning gender roles in society.

 

During the final participant-led session moderated by Eva, participants discussed short and long-term challenges that organizations are facing due to the war in Ukraine. Three major themes that emerged from this discussion were related to the differences between the Bulgarian and Ukrainian administrative and legal systems, how to address the specific needs of Ukrainian children and young people, and preparedness for future emergencies. Participants also brainstormed possible solutions and approaches for the abovementioned issues with colleagues from different organizations.

All images © Dobrin Minkov

I was incredibly impressed by the dedication and effort that the Bulgarian organizations are putting into their Ukraine response. I appreciated the opportunity to learn about the best practices they had effectively deployed to assist children affected by the war. I’d especially like to thank Carole Vignaud, Dani Koleva and Diana Yovcheva from UNICEF Bulgaria for their excellent contributions to the workshop and their fantastic hospitality!

The last day of our workshop (1st March) coincided with the Bulgarian holiday of “Baba Marta” (Granny March), when the beginning of spring and a new cycle in nature is celebrated. Traditionally, Bulgarians exchange a symbolic white-red bracelet called “martenitsa” on this day, with wishes of good health and fortune. These happy sentiments were very much felt by us all during the last day of our stay in Sofia, and to our delight we all received these colorful gifts from our friends in Bulgaria. My beautiful “martenitsa” bracelets can now always bring me warm memories of my visit to Sofia!

Magda Zimnowoda
Quality, Research & Data Officer