Ukraine: A Hong Kong social worker shares about field capacity building on children protection

The situation in Ukraine remains dire. Persistent air strikes and explosions are destroying buildings and power plants, killing and injuring children, and impacting the mental health of thousands of children and families. Under the big unmet needs in children protection due to the impact of conflict and war, Grace, Child Protection Technical Advisor at Save the Children Hong Kong and an experienced social worker, was seconded to Ukraine in July to September 2022 to improve the capacity of the Save the Children Ukraine team and partner NGOs.  

Protect children by enhancing field capacity   

Save the Children does whatever it takes to help children in crisis, supporting immediate and long-term recovery and resilience. Together with international experts with child protection knowledge to help combat the humanitarian situation, Grace was deployed to Ukraine as Case Management Technical Advisor.   

With over 10 years of child protection experience, Grace has exactly the knowledge that the Ukraine office and partner NGOs needed. During her 5-weeks deployment, she worked in Kyiv, Dnipro and Chernivtsi offices, where she trained over 50 staff of our Save the Children Ukraine office and partner NGOs. She also helped develop guidelines of case management so Ukranian children in turmoil can be taken care of.  

Tension surrounds the cities of Ukraine  

Grace told us that the cities looked normal, but were surrounded by stillness and tension. Soldiers armed with machine guns guarded the government buildings. There were not many commercial activities on the streets except supermarkets and restaurants.  

“We learned from the TV news that many children and their families have been displaced to other places in Ukraine or nearby countries. Yet, you might not ever imagine, some of our new staff and even partner organisations were forced to leave their home towns.” Grace was astonished.  

When Grace checked in at the hotels, she always asked 2 most important questions – the curfew time and shelter location. Growing up in Hong Kong, she never experienced airstrike sirens before, not to mention going into a shelter. This was a new experience. Grace remembered that the first time the air strike siren came at night, she did not react but went back to sleep. Later, another airstrike siren went off, and a colleague told her to run to the shelter for safety. At that time, she did not have time to panic and she grabbed what she could to bring to the shelter. Luckily, she only stayed there for 20 minutes. She dared not tell her family or friends as this would scare them. During her stay in Ukraine, the airstrike sirens, which mostly came at night, became a routine. It was a constant reminder of the realities of war.  

Impressed by the resilience of the Ukrainian people  

Even though cities throughout the country are on the frontlines of a devastating war, Save the Children teams are seeing acts of resilience unfold throughout the country.  

“One of our colleagues stayed in Ukraine with her daughter, and her husband went to the battlefield. Actually, she could have started a new life in Spain with skillsets she possesses but she chose to stay because she loved her country and the children she served. I was very grateful and honored to have a co-worker who are so committed to protecting children at times of crisis.” Grace said. “I am also awed by the bravery of the Ukrainian people choosing to stay in the time of turmoil. They are aware of what is going on in their country, but they try to live well and carry on with their daily lives.”  

“There are many UN agencies providing services in Ukraine and Save the Children is one of the few international NGOs there. When moving to different offices by car with the logo of Save the Children, we were not required in-depth inspection unlike others because our work to support children and families in need is highly recognised and trusted by the local community and Ukraine government.  I’m so proud of being part of Save the Children. I cherish this opportunity and this is an unforgettable memory for me.” Save the Children in Ukraine has reached 219,215 people, including 121,100 children.  

Since her return to Hong Kong, Grace has often told people around her how beautiful Ukraine is. Whenever she looks up at the sky, she cannot stop thinking of the azure sky and sunflower blossom she saw during her trip to Ukraine. She also thinks of the smiling faces of colleagues and children in Ukraine, which lifts her spirits and motivates her to do even more for the most vulnerable children around the world, as the Child Protection Technical Advisor at Save the Children Hong Kong.  

Providing on the ground support since 2014  

 CEO of Save the Children Hong Kong, Carol Szeto, said, “Although children in Ukraine have nothing to do with the causes of the war, they are the ones most affected by it. In addition to the immediate physical and psychological impacts of ongoing attacks, children and their families are dealing with the longer terms impacts from a country already experiencing an economic and humanitarian crisis linked to ongoing conflict over the past 8 years.” She continued, “The needs of support are huge, but so is our determination to reach every last child in crisis. We responded with pride to second our child protection expert in support of the global movement.”  

Save the Children has been operating in Ukraine since 2014, delivering humanitarian aid to children and their families. It is now supporting refugee families across Europe and helping children to get access to the services they need. With the help of local partners, Save the Children is providing shelter, food, cash, fuel, psychological support, and baby and hygiene kits to displaced families. It is on the ground, distributing essential household kits to families affected by the conflict.