In March 2022, in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, DeafKidz International looked to determine how best it could use its child protection expertise to ensure deaf children and their families were supported, during the most dangerous conflict to be prosecuted in Europe since the Second World War. We immediately reached out to the Ukrainian Deaf Association, during the initial invasion phase, to offer our support. It became quickly apparent that supporting the Ukrainian Deaf Association was to become a very crowded and confused space, compounded by contradictory social media information that only added to the increasing sense of alarm. The situation was further challenged by a global deaf membership organisation appointing itself as the lead co-ordinating agency, despite having no experience of humanitarian response. All of this whilst dynamic and agile grass roots organisations such as Off the Grid Missions and DeafBridge worked in-country to respond practically to the needs of deaf children and their families dislocated by the conflict.
Consequently, we stepped back from the immediate response and looked for a more tangible and sustainable way to respond to the protection needs of children affected by the nightmare of the war. After discussions with a number of our key partners including War Child UK, Save the Children UK and Hope & Homes for Children, DeafKidz International launched an emergency appeal to specifically support the safe evacuation, alternative family-based care, and placement of the estimated 100,000 children within the orphanage care system in Ukraine, 50% of whom are known to have some form of disability, including deafness.
The appeal raised £55,000 from donated funds and contracts awarded in response to the scheme of works proposed. Thank you to everyone who generously supported our appeal. We are especially grateful to nWise and the Royal Association for Deaf people (RAD) who made signature donations to the appeal. Your support enabled consultants from DeafKidz International to be deployed to Romania and Moldova to review the operations of one of our key partners. This ensured that their work responding to the needs of refugee families, unaccompanied children and children evacuated from orphanages in Ukraine is inclusive of the needs of deaf children – providing their basic needs and offering essential psycho-social support until they can return safely to Ukraine. This project is, clearly, a long term piece of work and DeafKidz International is committed to working with its partners for the duration. Our experience in documenting the protection needs of deaf children caught up in the European refugee crisis showed that deaf children and their families are often overlooked during complex humanitarian events. Indeed, that in situations involving fragile or conflict affected states, rates of deafness in children are high as a result of poor maternal and neo-natal care; and in some instances, because of cultural intricacies such as consanguinity. Yet our evidence shows that humanitarian response fails to be inclusive of the communication needs of deaf children and their rights to protection are often ignored. This creates further issues in that deaf children experiencing psycho-trauma as a result of their exposure to conflict rarely access support. Being left alone to comprehend the events around them, with no dedicated and specific psycho-social provision afforded in the communication mode of choice – sign language, community-ethnic sign or sign supported spoken language. In Ukraine, Romania and Moldova, we will continue our vital work, as we have previously done in Greece and France. No deaf child should have to experience conflict – and we shall continue our mission to ensure no deaf child is left behind.
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