AMURTEL Romania provides psychological first aid to refugee children and parents
Didi Devapriya, president of the Neohumanist Education Association (NEA) and its mother organization, AMURTEL Romania, is working in a town called Siret, which sits on the border of Romania and Ukraine. They work to fill the gaps that other organizations are not prepared to handle. As organizations are clamoring to provide for physical needs, there is a clear need for skilled, responsive support to ensure the well-being of children and their families. The organization maintains that this support must be part of the emergency response.
Didi set up a small team, including herself, a psychologist trained in emergency response, and a disaster relief coordinator. Their initial assessment found that most relief efforts deliver food and other material items, provide medical attention, or supply transportation and shelter. However, there is a lack of appropriately trained support for the psychological needs of refugees fleeing Ukraine.
AMURTEL focuses on capacity building for non-governmental organizations working with refugees, equipping staff and volunteers to provide "psychological first aid" (PFA). Individuals who are not specialized in psychology can learn PFA to offer a warm, meaningful empathic response to refugees. Unfortunately, emergency response is not yet a recognized specialization for psychologists in Romania. As part of their work, AMURTEL and NEA aim to raise awareness about the need for such professionals.
Melinda Endefrey, the trained emergency psychologist who works with the team, is well-equipped to handle the more complex cases at the border. Melinda shares that warm, positive volunteers are a central factor in creating a feeling of safety for refugees. She identifies psychological and community support among parents' most crucial needs, while recreational activities, drawing, and music are essential for children.
"People coming across the border into Romania have just really been through traumatic experiences. There are people who are addressing the material needs, but there is not enough psychological support. That's where we can make the most impact."
– Didi Devapriya, President, Neohumanist Education Association
There is also a strong need to support the staff and volunteers working directly with refugees. Through the NEA, Didi Devapriya provides NGO staff and volunteers with simple tools for increasing resilience and avoiding burnout. In addition, she is currently adapting a package of therapeutic stories she developed for refugees in Lebanon, which will be translated into Ukrainian and distributed to refugee parents.
In the meantime, fundraising, an ever-existent burden for non-profit organizations, will be even more essential now. Raising sufficient funds will be a challenge and constant demand for organizations working to respond to the war in Ukraine.