How Plan’s play bus is bringing joy to Ukraine’s children

October 26, 2022
By Sirena Cordova
October 26, 2022

As Daria slams the door shut on a brightly decorated van, she turns and tells Plan staff that our task for the day is to bring joy to refugee children and the surrounding communities. Adorned with red and yellow balloons, the van has space for an incredible team of young women like Daria who are bringing the party to children in Moldova.

The Ludobus, which translates to “play bus,” is the ultimate traveling toy library. Filled with educational games, books and puzzles, the bus and its team of educators and psychologists like Daria visit different villages and refugee centers throughout Moldova to spread joy and keep kids learning.

Picture of the Ludobus’ window decals.
The Ludobus is full of educational games and toys to help children cope with the impacts of the war while promoting their psychological development.

After following the Ludobus, we arrive at a local library where refugees from Ukraine and local Moldovan children can come to play, be safe and forget about the horrors of the conflict. Ultimately, it’s a space where children can be children. They can laugh, get to know one another and get lost in a world of toys.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, fighting has damaged 1 in 5 schools — particularly in Kyiv’s suburbs, where many towns were occupied. Some teachers are returning to the classroom, but due to safety concerns, not every student is going back.

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A few children who were able to return to school in Ukraine gifted flowers to their teacher, as is tradition on the first day of school in the country.
A few children who were able to return to school in Ukraine gifted flowers to their teacher, as is tradition on the first day of school in the country.

Back in May, Ukraine’s deputy minister of education declared that only schools with bomb shelters could reopen. Since then, the race has been on to build the shelters in time or organize suitable alternatives. Despite extreme efforts, nearly 60% of schools and universities weren’t ready to resume in-person classes in September.

Plan International is working to support the refurbishment of schools and bomb shelters in Ukraine and assisting with the creation of digital learning centers to help children catch up with their classes and enjoy extracurricular activities. We’re also distributing school supplies and digital technology to support online education in areas where students can’t return to their schools.

To date, we have reached at least 154,929 people with critical support in Poland, Romania and Moldova, including:
Distributing 8,427 food kits to refugees and host families in Moldova, reaching 31,378 individuals.
— Training 2,769 teachers in Poland to teach Ukrainian children Polish as a foreign language.
— Providing mental health, psychosocial and legal support to 191 children and 112 adults in Poland.
— Providing 450 women with information on their rights, legal aid, documentation or support to find housing in Poland.
— Running summer camps for 120 children in Romania and supporting another 200 children with day trips during the summer holidays.
— Reaching more than 1,200 children in Romania with education in emergencies programs.
— Recruiting 53 refugee teachers, helping them to return to work in Romania by providing training in catchup and remedial classes, including language courses and extracurricular activities.

One of the digital learning centers, which has been renovated to help children catch up with their classes.
One of the digital learning centers, which has been renovated to help children catch up with their classes.

Even in relatively safe Lviv, where most schools have adequate safety measures, parents are in favor of online learning over in-person classes. Ongoing missile attacks on civilian infrastructure have also increased families’ anxieties about letting children leave their homes.

“Many of them have seen and witnessed things which no child should ever witness in their life, such as death, destruction and bombing and missiles,” Dr. Unni Krishnan, Plan International’s global humanitarian director, says.

In Moldova, the Ludobus is helping mitigate the war’s psychological and emotional impacts on children and their families. One psychologist on the team, Sylvia, tells us that the activities are designed to promote children’s development and emotional well-being.

“It helps children to improve their abilities in socializing,” Sylvia says. “It helps them to use their energy, and this is a good way to have new experiences and to be in the community, especially for Ukrainian children who need to socialize with children from Moldova.”

A girl runs through bubbles created by one of the toys brough by the Ludobus team.
The highlight of the play session with the Ludobus is the bubble machine, which creates a magical moment as children laugh and get lost in the shimmering bubbles.

Not only does the Ludobus create a joyful atmosphere for children, but it also offers parents a chance to rest and watch their children have fun. They even have the option to leave their children with the Ludobus team and attend a voluntary session with Sylvia to discuss their own needs and talk through any issues they might be facing.

Plan International is working with local partners to implement the Ludobus for Peace program, which uses play to help children learn and overcome trauma. The six-month project is operating in three districts in Moldova and aims to reach around 1,800 refugee children, as well as children from the Moldovan communities that have taken them in.

As the day’s session draws to an end, the Ludobus team starts to pack up the van and hand out treats to the children, including lollipops, cartons of juice and biscuits. The happy smiles on the children’s faces are clear for everyone to see.

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