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Navigating New Spaces: Ukrainian Workshops

2022-10-20

After successfully weaving together the ‘Peace in Practice' summer refugee programs, the Lithuanian social services asked our Center for Dialogue and Conflict Transformation at LCC International University to assist in newcomer programming. They requested help to support social impact needs by providing workshops for Ukrainians about trauma, how to cope and ways to remain resilient while navigating change in new communities; especially for those living in the Klaipeda district. Since the Russian-Ukraine war began last February over 49,000 Ukrainians have sought refuge in Lithuania . Klaipeda and its surrounding district have registered close to 10,000 refugees, not including a higher number of university students already enrolled. Lithuania’s social services are experiencing growing concerns as Lithuania’s population has risen by 60% with refugees since July 2022. Now, before winter arrives, Lithuania is expecting a potential of 67,000 more persons. As a vulnerable population, some of the refugees struggle to fit in in new communities where they must navigate change and establish new relationships. They may find themselves grieving silently for their families and friends left in Ukraine while living with painful memories as they try to live well through their displacement. At times, while trying to develop new ways of doing things in a new country , they can feel isolated and uncertain of how to integrate well. The war in Ukraine has placed many in difficult situations - causing them to flee to Lithuania. Similarly, for Ukraine students away from their homes and others who cannot easily go back, they wait constantly for news from home on phones while the situation continues to be traumagenic. They try to remain in contact with family still in Ukraine experiencing war daily- hoping they can remain safe. 30 Ukrainians participated in the workshops; proactively building and strengthening ways to thrive in their changed circumstances. As for the workshop itself, outside of Klaipeda on a magnificent horse ranch, the experience offered Ukrainian students and Klaipeda refugees the opportunity to engage in pet therapy with horses. Watching the horses run and jump gave them a way to gather some positive energy.

Of course, during the workshop the participants talked about the trauma experience being disrupting and a hard part of life as they learned about resiliency practices that would help if they should choose to use in order to cope and thrive in new surroundings with new people. The first workshop on October 6th served new refugee residents in Klaipeda where most did not know each other. During the day, listening to their losses of family and homes, helped to provide an opportunity for meeting needs that refugees often face- their much-needed validation of the traumatization experienced and opportunities to tell their story while relating to others, and naming the realities of continued stressors present in with the difficulties of uncertainty when trying to heal from loss while needing to find ways to live. Yet, by the end of the day they were exchanging phone numbers, beginning new friendships- strengthening resiliency and support for themselves . We witnessed their strength as they named their challenges and discussed issues close to the heart. The second workshop on October 7th provided for LCC's new and returning Ukrainian students. Each one carries their own story filled with pain from the ongoing war. Most were first-year or prime students, new to the university while others were from upper class levels. Exercises that Ukrainian students found engaging were ones defining trauma, especially one that involved listening in a circle, passing a rock among each other as instructed by LCC’s facilitating staff, Naomi DeBoer, and Naomi Enns, and saying aloud what trauma actually meant for us. Group discussions noted that encountering ways to heal division and find safe ways to risk engagement with others of various perspectives, in the midst of ongoing trauma, distrust and fear, is not easy yet critical in order to form new relationships while living in the midst of trauma impacts and to navigate change resiliently. Another engaging and helpful exercise was ‘Fears in a Hat', Led by Douglas Enns.

Students shared their fears by writing down what they feared the most on little pieces of paper. Naming our fears gives us an opportunity to begin to tame them. “It actually takes courage to even think about the fears that live in our heads, but to write it down- that is already bravery”- Veronika Polishuk, an LCC student said. The Center of Dialogue and Conflict Transformation at LCC International University exists to nurture a culture of peace. Trauma healing-centered opportunities that copower resiliency growth in communities for those impacted is a part of our peacebuilding work in strengthening the fabric of war-affected societies.

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