This article was brought on the Danish website hojskolerne.dk in April. It has now been translated.
By Mette Skov Hansen
On the 27th of February the Danish folk high school Egmont Højskolen received a rather different call on its main number. A couple from the area had driven to the Polish border with supplies and here they had met a mother with a son aged 19.
We didn’t give it much thought. It just felt like a hopeless situation where it was wonderful that we could do something.
Søren Møllegaard Kristensen, principal at Egmont Højskolen.
The boy had cerebral palsy, difficulty walking and weak communicative abilities, and the Polish border guards didn’t think that they could send him to a normal refugee camp. So now the Danish couple phoned home to hear if the folk high school was able to help.
“At the office we looked at each other and said “yes, get them in the car and hurry home”. We didn’t give it much thought. It just felt like a hopeless situation where it was wonderful that we could do something”, principal at Egmont Højskolen Søren Møllegaard Kristiensen says.
Danish folk high schools helping refugees
Egmont Højskolen is just one of the examples of how Danish folk high schools have reacted to the refugees that have arrived in the country.
These last weeks both teachers and to a high degree also students have been receiving those who have arrived in the area, and in many areas they have also been shopping for welcome packages and offered food, guided tours, events or stays at the folk high school.
At Egmont Højskolen, the Ukrainian mother, Alla, and her son, Kristian, was installed in one of the summer cottages situated at the grounds of folk high school in March. The house is owned by the Foundation Hou Søsportcenter that also covers the expenses.
According to the law of folk high schools, the schools are not allowed to offer accommodation and lodging without payment and therefore all other expenses are covered by donations from parents and friends of Egmont Højskolen.
Easter morning the folk high school received a further five Ukrainians – among those a man aged 29 with cerebral palsy. Meanwhile, Kristian has now begun as a day student at the school while Alla is beginning as an employee at the school’s cleaning department.
Folk high school of physical education got four Ukrainian students
Another folk high school that has also been able to offer accommodation for Ukrainian refugees is Idrætshøjskolen Aarhus. Four women in their early twenties moved in on the second Saturday in March.
They all fled from Kyiv when the war began – first to Lviv, then to Poland, and then again to Denmark. The last mentioned destination was a bit of a coincidence.
When we were sitting in the bus on our way to Aarhus, it was the first time since the beginning of the war that we could breathe.
Anna Khlobas, student at Idrætshøjskolen Aarhus
One of them, Anna Khlobas, had earlier been CouchSurfing with a woman from Skanderborg, and it was her who contacted Idrætshøjskolen Aarhus. Hereafter the folk high school sent off four students in a bus to pick up the women at the Polish border.
“When we were sitting in the bus on our way to Aarhus, it was the first time since the beginning of the war that we could breathe. We had been so busy all the time trying to figure out what was going to happen to us, so there had been no time to stop and think about what had happened. So, we just sat there quietly in the bus listening to music and crying. There were so many emotions inside that we wre finally able to take in,” says Anna Khlobas.
The four Ukrainian women didn’t know in advance what a folk high school was, Anna Khlobas says.
We did not know the concept of folk high schools. It was difficult to imagine a school in this way.
Anna Khlobas, student at Idrætshøjskolen Aarhus
“We had tried to look at the homepage to better understand it but our conclusion was that it had to be some kind of a school for sports. We did not know the concept of folk high schools. It was difficult to imagine a school in this way,” she says.
Students and lessons ease the everyday life
The first day, when the four Ukrainian women arrived, they were overwhelmed by the many new impressions. Marina Zhukovska remembers the students as being very curious.
In the beginning we were mostly busy following the news from Ukraine. Now I read less every day and mostly about the town where my family stays. And then we have lessons all the time.
Marina Zhukovska, student at Idrætshøjskolen Aarhus.
According to Marina Zhukovska it has also become easier to accept life at the folk high school over time.
“In the beginning we were mostly busy following the news from Ukraine. Now I read less every day and mostly about the town where my family stays. And then we have lessons all the time. We attend Danish, fitness, swimming and other things just like the other students,” she says, and Alisa Malysheva adds that it has been nice with the many subjects.
“The first four days it felt like everybody looked at us and wanted to talk to us. They were asking the same questions – where are you from, do you live together, do you have a plan? It was a bit hard but eventually we just became ordinary students,” she says.
Being close to other students and having lessons and activities all day help us to switch off the brain.
Alisa Malysheva, student at Idrætshøjskolen Aarhus.
“Being close to other students and having lessons and activities all day help us to switch off the brain. When you are occupied, daily life is easier,” she says.
The students have also been speaking at the morning assembly at the school and contributed to the school’s fundraising show where around 170.000 Danish kroner were collected. Some of the money covers the students’ accommodation.