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St. Martin's Festival in Odessa 2023

News ,  Ukraine ,  Emergency pedagogy

An experience report from our Ukraine Coordinator Jessica Prentice

A bitterly cold east wind swept over the Black Sea the evening  I was invited to the St. Martin's Festival at our partner organization, the centre ‘Consonance’, in Odessa. Despite being bundled up, I arrived frozen, but the warm glow of candles in the windows adorned with Christmas stars and St. Martin's lanterns immediately warmed at least my soul. Inside, it was warm and smelled of beeswax, cinnamon, warm apple juice, and star anise—familiar scents that evoked cozy childhood memories of the pre-Christmas season.

The centre for Arts and Encounters, ‘Consonance’, has been working with internally displaced families in Odessa since the beginning of the major invasion. Most families come from Mariupol, Mykolaiv, the Donbass, and Kharkiv Region, and the centre provides Trauma-Pedagogical psychosocial support for children, adolescents, and adults. Activities include fine arts (painting and sculpting), music, handicrafts, and woodworking (crocheting, carving, and knitting). They particularly emphasize working Trauma-Pædagogically with children and their parents together. A psychotherapist at the centre offers individual support and care if needed. Additionally, the centre serves as a referral point for other services such as rental support, food stamps, and legal assistance.

Children and parents sang together, the story of St. Martin was told, music was played, and recitations were performed. Then, the children crafted lanterns while the parents  twisted wicks, waxed them, and then rolled beeswax candles. In a very moving little ceremony, the children showed their lanterns to the parents, who gave them their candles. The parents lit the candles, bringing children's eyes and lanterns to life.

Just as all parents and children had gathered outside with glowing lanterns to begin the lantern walk in the nearby park, a familiar sound, the sirens of the airspace alarm, started to wail. It was quickly decided not to go to the park. With communal singing in the courtyard, the wailing of the sirens was dampened, conveying a sense of security and safety to the children. It was like wrapping them in St. Martin's emotional cloak before blowing out the candles and going to the shelter. Despite artificial candlelight, we continued to sing and tell stories, and enjoyed homemade sweet bread. The sense of community and joy outweighed the moment of fear. The evening was both so familiar from my own childhood and simultaneously so under so fundamentally different circumstances.

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