Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing
Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing

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Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing

1.3 The Second World War in Europe

In Europe, the Second World War meant that many children were displaced from their home country and consequently suffered physical and emotional trauma. These accounts about children and war from Western Europe are historical, but it is important to remember that children in the present day are experiencing similar challenges in conflict zones around the world. In the next activity, you’ll look at another child’s experience of the war.

Activity 2 Irja’s story

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

This video recounts the experience of Irja, who as a child had to leave her home in Finland during the war. As you watch this short video, consider the factors that may have helped her to survive this experience.

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Transcript: Video 1

We knew the war was coming closer to our home. My mother threw some clothes into a bag. My father took his army bicycle. We also had a grey blanket with us. We left in such a hurry that this was all we managed to take. Many people had to leave in the middle of baking, others had to leave their cattle behind in the barn. We had no idea where we were going. No idea at all … That’s what I remember.
We travelled the whole day. We had nothing to eat and it was cold sitting at the back of the truck. People, even adults, were crying. None of us children could understand what was going on, why we had to leave. Everyone was talking about ‘evacuation’. I didn’t understand the word. I was six years old.
For many years we didn’t have enough to eat. We were malnourished because of scarce and unvarying food. We always felt hungry. I have often wondered how we survived through those years.
UNICEF - Friend of Finnish Children
An official came to our house and told us about an organisation that was helping people. We were told that my brother and I would get shoes.
During and after the war Finnish children haven’t had enough food and clothes. UNICEF has distributed food supplements to our children in hospitals, children’s homes, nurseries and summer camps. In schools, children have received milk powder and lard in addition to school meals. UNICEF has also provided clothes and shoes to our children. In the spring of 1949, over 60,000 children received three metres of flannel fabric for underwear.
Someone drove into our yard and gave packages to my brother and me. In my package there was a pair of beautiful brown shoes. For a while I was just caressing them and finally put them on. They were a bit too big, but mother said I shouldn’t worry because we could put on extra socks. I could wear them for many years to come. She said that now that I had shows I could go to school in the autumn. The first nights I kept the shoes next to my bed. They were so precious to me. My own shoes. Beautiful brown shoes. I understand refugees and it’s easy for me to relate to them. They are living through exactly the same experiences as we were back then. There’s a war in their home country. Nobody leaves their home unless it’s absolutely necessary. There’s no place like home.
End transcript: Video 1
Video 1
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Irja highlights the harshness of living as a displaced person; however, what is evident in her story is the importance of remaining part of a family. The video also illustrates the importance of having a person’s physical needs met; for example, having enough to eat. The video also makes a link between the importance of having the basic physical need of clothing supplied as a factor that can contribute to positive mental health and wellbeing. The gift of the brown shoes meant that Irja was able to attend school, where she would have had the opportunity to develop emotionally, socially and intellectually.


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