David and Pilar are a happy marriage from Madrid. They are married and have four children. They live in a small chalet with a very large kitchen in Torrelodones. Alejandro, Pilar, Pedro and Daniel play in the garden throwing balls. They are 11, nine, four and three years old, respectively and, between coconut cookies and coffee, Pilar, the mother, rushes to tell the experience they have been living since they welcomed Natalia and her son Daniel, two Ukrainian refugees, into their home .
The adoption was carried out after signing up for the initiative promoted through the Family needs a family program of the Ministry of the Interior in collaboration with the ‘laCaixa’ Foundation. Both claim to be “very happy” to have done so.
At the end of February, when the invasion began in Ukraine and the bombs were falling in the country, David remembered an old Ukrainian friend who shared with him the classes of the international master’s degree that he studied in his youth. “He is still in the chat group and maybe you feel closer to him than other times,” he explains. The family offered to take him into his home, but he “said thank you and declined the offer,” David said. Still, both wanted to help alleviate the suffering of the Ukrainians.
David and Pilar’s family were among the first to sign up for the program. Before applying, they gave it a lot of thought. “You don’t know how many people there are going to be, at what age, if it’s not going to work…”. The couple also did not know anyone who had previously hosted refugees. “When we began to consider the possibility of welcoming someone, it was because we refused to send help there. We did not conceive that in the 21st century the option would be a refugee camp in Europe. Now it is summer, but winter will come and that It is not a place for children to be, for them to be elderly or sick,” says Pilar.
But if there is something that gave them the certainty that they were doing the right thing, it was seeing how the children fit in perfectly from the beginning. “The first day when they arrived, they greeted each other, took the ball and started playing soccer,” Pilar recalled, pointing to the grass in the garden. “The good thing is that the children are more or less the same age and that they are enough for Daniel to play, to be with the others and to integrate here,” says David.
Daniel, the six-year-old Ukrainian boy, during the first days he arrived in Madrid was afraid of the noise of the planes, but now, his mother has noticed a change in him. “He misses his father. But I see how he communicates with the children and, even though he doesn’t understand everything they say to him, they play together. I see that he knows how to treat each one of them and that they know how to treat him, that calms me down.”
Natalia, David and Pilar get excited. “In the last two weeks I notice that she has adapted,” says Daniel’s mother. “I am very surprised because he really wanted to go to school and was sad when it finished.” Pilar insisted that Daniel go to the same school as her children. “One of the reasons was because they are his reference people. Everyone else knows that Daniel lives with us and if something happens to him and he sees Pilar or Alejandro, he will calm down and he will be calm until we arrive.”
During the bus ride that the children take each morning from home to school, they even fight to sit next to Daniel. “They want to go together on the bus, they even take turns. If one has gone next to him in the morning, then another goes in the afternoon. They consider him as ‘their Ukrainian’ and proudly go to school with him”. In addition, when the little one still did not have the papers ready to go to school, the children told their classmates that everyone was waiting for him, Pilar said.
In what is probably the largest reception program for Ukrainian refugees, “in 95% of cases, the match is perfect,” says Natalia. “I recently had a meeting with other foster families in the program and they all say they are very comfortable and that they match their interests.”
“When we had the first interview with the family and I heard Pilar say that she wanted us all to prepare dinner and sit down to dinner together, that’s when I realized that I was going to be comfortable in this family.”
Natalia claims to be very well in all cases and not have too many difficulties. “I notice how David and Pilar are making an effort to support me, so that I and my son are calm. I have had the best family in Spain.” However, she says that there are still things about the Spaniards that, although they are normal and commonplace for them, she still finds it difficult. “My son and I realize that everyone here is smiling. Everyone is happy, in Ukraine it’s a little different, it’s a different mentality, we’re more self-absorbed.”
It is true that there are still difficulties that they have to face, such as the language impediment. “I’m sure they don’t know me as I really am because of that difficulty in expressing myself.” But everyone tries to remedy it by using a translator on the mobile phone to understand each other. “Even so, here we are all Spanish teachers,” says Pilar. “And the children teach me some words on the blackboard,” adds Natalia.
The program manages requests from Spanish families who wish to welcome Ukrainian refugees in a short period of time that ranges between six months and one year. There are already 58 families living with Ukrainian families and another 124 are about to start hosting.
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