When Safia Dockter began writing and speaking about the atrocities of the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, it helped her process what was happening to the country where her mother was born and where she still has relatives. What she didn’t know then was how quickly her words would turn into action for one little girl.
Dockter, a University of Minnesota psychology student, wrote an article for Impact, the Institute on Community Integration’s long-running publication about issues important to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The article, “Transition in Times of Crisis,” discussed inequities in the way youth with disabilities come of age around the world, and how war and other crises exacerbate those disparities. A few months earlier, Dockter spoke about the war in Ukraine at a College of Education and Human Development event on campus organized by Renáta Tichá, co-director of ICI’s Global Resource Center for Inclusive Education, who was co-teaching a class Dockter was taking at the time. Together, Tichá and Dockter wrote the article for Impact.
Shortly after the article was published this fall, Menolly Pier, a Carlson School of Management student who had seen the article, contacted Safia via social media, asking if she might connect with Pier’s mother, Kelly, a kindergarten teacher at Lake Harriet Community School. Kelly Pier has a young student in her class this fall, Solomiia Kuchma, who fled Ukraine with her mother, Nataliia, landing in Minneapolis. They are living with a host family through a program for refugee families.
Solomiia doesn’t have IDD, but learning a new language, culture, and school environment after having fled the homeland where her father is still fighting has been understandably traumatic. For the past several weeks, Dockter has been coming to Solomiia’s school two to three times per week to help her better understand the school customs here and to simply be a friendly face she can speak to in her own language.