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Voices of Empathy: Inspiring Stories of Counsellors from La Strada Ukraine 

It is an honour to interview eight devoted counsellors from La Strada Ukraine. Despite their hectic schedules supporting Ukrainian children and young people, as well as the current situation in Ukraine, they are eager to share their stories with us. La Strada Ukraine is one of the child helplines that participate in Child Helpline International’s Ukraine Project, which is funded by UNICEF Europe and Central Asia. In this blog post, I will tell the stories of eight dedicated counsellors who have shared their passion, challenges, and experiences assisting Ukrainian children and young people.

La Strada Ukraine is a national toll-free hotline dedicated to helping Ukrainian children in need. The counsellors who work there are unsung heroes who support and guide those who need it the most. “Being a consultant for helping children and youth is not just a job. It’s a calling”, says Alona, the head of the National Toll-Free Hot Lines and Social Assistance Department, La Strada Ukraine.

Inna, Tanya, Alona, Kate, Daryna, Andry, Valeria, and Tetiana have been working at La Strada Ukraine for years, and their stories are genuinely inspiring. They are all devoted to helping children and young people. Although it may be impossible to solve every problem immediately, these counsellors make every effort to listen and support those who reach out to them.

All of these counsellors received a high volume of calls and text consultations from Ukrainian children, young people, and parents. According to Alona, La Strada Ukraine received close to 180,000 consultations in 2022. “This was a significant number, and we were surprised by the number of Ukrainian children who contacted us, including those in occupied territories, neighbouring countries, war zones, and safer areas,” she explains.

Alona also mentioned that the number of calls and messages from children, young people, and their caregivers increased significantly during the full-scale war in Ukraine. The majority of calls and messages received were related to the war, and children often suffer from mental health issues, family problems, bullying, loneliness, depression, suicidal ideation, and grief and loss during wartime. Domestic violence is also a significant issue for Ukrainian children, and statistics from the hotline indicate an alarming increase in sexual violence cases in 2022.

Kate’s work at the child helpline has taught her many lessons, including the importance of honesty with children and the necessity of listening to and respecting their feelings. Her ability to connect deeply with children and young people has allowed her to make a significant impact on their lives. For Tetiana, kindness, care, and patience are the main things that matter when working with children. Additionally, Andry believes that every call is meaningful and memorable. He has learned that the issue of suicide ideation has become more acute due to the war in Ukraine.

These counsellors listen to the stories of grief, loss, and struggle shared by children. Their strength and fortitude, hope for the future, and desire for a contented and prosperous life inspire and motivate counsellors to keep working hard every single day.

"Even if I change one person's life for the better, it will be a significant achievement"

Working as a counsellor on a child helpline can be challenging. Counsellors face many challenges in their line of work, including feeling pain when they hear about cases of child abuse and finding a sense of security with a child or young person when the war continues in their country. Valeria has learned to trust the children and listen to their stories, no matter how difficult it is. She understands that sometimes children may call and joke, but behind that joke may be a serious situation that the child is not ready to discuss.

Despite all the difficulties, these counsellors listen attentively and with compassion to the stories of the children and young people who call them. They believe it is essential to be an attentive and empathetic listener and to believe the children’s stories. Tanya believes there is always hope in every situation and that every child’s voice should be heard. Alona also believes that children should be protected and provided with the appropriate assistance and support.

The work of these counsellors is crucial to protecting the rights and interests of children. Their work as child helpline counsellors is evidence of their unwavering dedication to positively impacting the lives of those in need. Their inspiring stories remind us that no matter our challenges, we can always find hope, strength, and courage to make a difference. We can all learn from their empathy and their belief in the power of listening to children’s stories.

All La Strada counsellors encourage Ukrainian children, young people, and caregivers to contact La Strada whenever they need assistance. They advised, “Don’t give up! If you are in trouble, you are welcome to contact us anytime! We will support and encourage you to make positive changes in your life!”

Arista Kusumastuti 
Communications Officer – Ukrainian Crisis Response Team