Yonas (14) is on a Journey Towards Peace of Mind

Yonas and Kidane fled the totalitarian regime in Eritrea together with their brothers and parents. The boys are now settled in the Dutch province of Drenthe - where they find some much needed stability through the TeamUp programme. The brothers share their experiences with us here…
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Yonas with his mom and younger brother Kidane in Drente

Photo: Debra Barraud

Yonas was forced to flee his home at the age of just 14 - escaping oppression and military service in his home country of Eritrea. Yet his family’s journey to safety was far from easy - their travels were punctuated by fear, uncertainty and separation.

“I walked for hours, together with my mother, brothers and sister. I carried my brother on my back. And if someone would have heard us, we would have had to pay."

It was important that the family travelled undetected. “We barely had any stuff with us and we wore black clothes,” Yonas continues. “The authorities weren’t able to see us in the dark like that. We were really quiet and didn’t laugh at all.”

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TeamUp activities provide the children with a space to process their difficult experiences

Photo: Debra Barraud

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Kidane taking part in a TeamUp activity - learning how to control his emotions

Photo: Debra Barraud

A New Life and a New School

Yonas’ elder brother Tesfay (16) was the first member of the family to make it to the Netherlands. Their father made it to the Netherlands via Israel - but it eventually took four difficult years before the family were fully reunited. They applied for family reunification in the Netherlands - and now live in the rural province of Drenthe.

Yonas and his family took some time to get used to their new surroundings - which are very different from the home they left behind. Yonas laughingly recalls: “We had a lot of sheep, donkeys and bulls in Eritrea. I really like taking care of animals.

“We have a lovely house in the Netherlands. It’s a lot better than it was in Eritrea."

Yonas’ teacher Rosan vividly remembers the day he and the other refugee children - some of whom travelled to safety alone - arrived for their first day at school. “I remember when the first bus full of kids arrived,” Rosan recalls. “The other teachers and I were waiting for them outside to welcome them to the school.”

Rosan doesn’t know all of the children’s different stories - but she can easily imagine what they went through on their journeys to the Netherlands. “You know these children went through such a lot,” she comments, “but talking about it is really difficult for them.”

And that’s why Rosan takes part in TeamUp activities with the children in her class - activities that provide them with a space to process their difficult experiences.

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Teacher Rosan vividly remembers the day Yonas arrived for his first day at school

Photo: Debra Barraud

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Rosan noticed the positive effects the TeamUp activities have on Yonas and Kidane

Photo: Debra Barraud

School with a Smile

Rosan has noticed the positive effect the TeamUp activities have had on the children who take part - including Yonas. “Yonas was defiant and could be really volatile,” Rosan remembers. “He could react pretty aggressively towards the other children. The activities help him relax. He learns how to control his emotions and to turn them into positive behaviour in a playful way.”

“I now see a happy and sociable child."
Teacher Rosan

“I remember recently that Yonas walked up to a group and said: ‘Guys don’t fight - we can play together.’ He grabbed the basketball and took charge within the group. It was a really good game. He is in a better place now I’ve had him in my class for a while.

With schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic we have paused our TeamUp at School programme - but we continue to meet the needs of children in asylum reception centres. We are providing structured recreational activities remotely - so children like Yonas can continue to enjoy emotional support.

*All names in this story have been changed to preserve the safety of the children who take part in our programmes.