When I asked a group of boys aged eight to twelve what made them sad, I did not expect their answers. We were in Ukraine, where Novi hosted a camp for children from the frontlines. These boys were from areas under attack by the Russian Army.
I anticipated they would mention the sadness of losing their homes, missing their friends, living as refugees (IDPs), and hearing of loved ones getting hurt or killed. But their responses were different. They said things like:
It makes me sad when my friends won’t play with me.
It makes me sad when my mom and dad are at work, and I am at home alone.
It makes me sad when it rains, and I cannot go outside.
It makes me sad when I cannot use my mobile phone.

The boys and girls enagaged in many different activities. Here they are playing with The Novi Life Kit.

Any child in any country could have given these responses. Why didn't they mention their real issues?
Because I was still not a safe person to talk to. They didn’t know me, and I didn’t speak their language (only through an interpreter). They were with new friends they had just gotten to know and didn’t know if sharing their real fears and sadness was safe. Instead, they shared something safe—something every child feels at times.
These boys and another ninety children stayed at the camp for a week. They were divided into groups and stayed in small cabins with several vetted and safe adults. These were the adults with whom they could share their real issues, which many did. They talked about their home situation, their fear of losing their fathers, and the stress of not having a home. Some children expressed a lot of anger, and others were filled with insecurity. A couple threatened to run away, and some talked about hate and revenge.
Giving these children the opportunity to spend a week in the mountains, in a peaceful environment where they could be vulnerable, will have a lasting impact on them. For many children in Ukraine, adults are not safe people—not even their parents.
Filling the days with activities such as soccer, art, music, swimming, and climbing was tons of fun. But more importantly, it allowed the children to disconnect from life's day-to-day worries and be carefree. It also helped them learn to trust the adults so they felt safe sharing their deepest fears when night came.
In a way, I was relieved when the boys I talked to gave such ordinary answers. It made me realize how similar children in Ukraine are to our children. We must never forget that. Like our children, the children of Ukraine don’t like it when their friends ditch them, and they also have dreams for the future. The most significant difference is that their country is at war, and ours is not. No matter where they live, every child deserves to be seen, heard, and feel safe. The way we achieve this varies depending on the circumstances. What we did at camp in Ukraine was a step in the right direction. Through our attitudes and actions, we showed the children we could be trusted and that we believed in them. They were important enough for us to travel the world to be with them. I think it mattered.

Oddny Gumaer


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