December 17, 2020

Support kits help vulnerable children deal with stress of pandemic

Children collect their Theirworld/Maya Vakfı support kits from their school

Photo credit: Maya Vakfı

A Theirworld-funded project in Turkey means refugee and local primary students are coping better with isolation and uncertainty as their schools remain closed. 

The pandemic has been a stressful time for everyone. Children especially can be anxious - about their schools being closed, not seeing their friends and uncertainty over the future.

Addressing these stresses through art and creativity can be hugely helpful. A Theirworld-funded Covid-19 project has helped 1,000 vulnerable children in Turkey to deal with the psychological effects of being isolated at home - often without computers or internet access for distance learning.

With Turkish schools closed until January, the project involved the Maya Vakfı (Foundation) distributing specially-designed support kits with art materials to students. Turkey hosts more refugees than any other country - so more than 400 of the recipients are Syrian refugees, with the rest being vulnerable children from local communities.

The children, who are mainly in third and fourth grades, can use the kits to do activities while being encouraged to think about difficult subjects. This helps to regulate their emotions and stress.

The kits contain art materials that help children to express their feelings

Photo credit: Maya Vakfı

“Our main purpose was to provide support to children who have limited access to education services. With Covid, there was a sudden need for children to be able to continue their education through distance learning materials,” said Bediz Büke İren Yıldızca, Program Coordinator at Maya Vakfı. 

“Especially In the southeast of Turkey, fewer children have access to distance learning materials because of lack of phones, computers and internet connections. We wanted to provide supportive kits to the children so that at least they have guidance in their homes and enough materials to support their psychosocial wellbeing.”

Working with the Ministry of National Education, school principals and teachers, the foundation identified 1,000 children - 300 of them in two primary schools in Istanbul and 700 in the city of Şanlıurfa in the southeast, near the Syrian border.

Some of the children had already experienced the trauma of fleeing the Syrian conflict. Some were alone while their parents were at work, or their parents were working from home and could not help with school-related activities.

“It is hard for a child to grasp the uncertainty and how long it will last,” said İren Yıldızca.

The teachers and school principals told us that during the lockdown and not being in school and with their friends, the children have difficulty in focusing and are really stressed out.

Bediz Büke İren Yıldızca, Program Coordinator at Maya Vakfı

The support kits included paints, coloured crayons, felt markers, a drawing book, a pencil case, play dough and stickers. They were sent to the schools, who then distributed them to the children.

“The feedback from the schools is that the children were really happy and so were the parents to get the materials,” said Güneş Merve Akyol, Grants and Communications Coordinator at Maya Vakfı. 

Theirworld’s project with Maya Vakfı - which is possible thanks to players of the People’s Postcode Lottery - also involves making a video in which a story read by a professional performer will focus on the ways in which children can cope with their fears.

Theirworld has supported the foundation previously with its Trauma Informed Schools programme, which provides trauma training to teachers, counsellors, families and school staff.

The training includes how to identify troubled children in the classroom and provide them with crucial psychosocial support. The programme has reached more than 1,300 teachers and over 9,000 students. Theirworld is now helping Maya Vakfı to scale up Trauma Informed Schools to reach even more children.

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