Svetlana clasps her hands together nervously and motions to a colleague to start the music. “Remember,” she calls to the six Afghan boys on stage. “Maintain your distance!”

The traditional Afghan dance the youngsters are practising is one of Svetlana’s proudest achievements. She taught herself 18 years ago by studying videos.

Now, she is passing on her knowledge and passion to children at this community centre in Minsk, Belarus, where she teaches dance. The centre, called Evrika (‘Eureka’), offers after-school activities to about 7,000 children in Minsk, from kickboxing and ballet, to sewing and ceramics.

Thanks to a partnership with UNHCR, refugee and asylum-seeker children can attend for free, improving their language skills, integrating into the community and meeting new friends.

Four of the boys dancing on stage are brothers who fled conflict and persecution with their family in 2016.

“On that first day, when they came home after a dance class, I asked them, ‘How was it?’” recalls their father, Farman. “They were so happy.”
A boy in blue leads a traditional Afghan dance | A House of Happiness

Sixteen-year-old Waqas (in blue) leads the rehearsal of a traditional Afghan dance at Evirka community centre. © UNHCR/E. Dubrovsky

For decades, Belarus has welcomed hundreds of people from Georgia, Syria, Afghanistan and beyond. Currently around 2,200 people who fled war and persecution call Belarus their new home alongside some 6,000 stateless people living in the country. Together with UNHCR and partners, they are offered education and legal support.

Evrika works to reduce the sense of isolation that refugees and asylum-seekers can feel by bringing some happiness into their lives.

Every Saturday, former refugee Nahid, now a Belarusian citizen, teaches the Dari language and the history of Afghanistan to 35 young students, ensuring they are able to integrate without losing their own sense of identity.

“School is tough in Afghanistan, the teachers are very strict,” says Nahid. “Here, we’re just like friends. The children feel very comfortable at Evrika, I see it in their eyes. This is a house of happiness.”

International Day of Happiness on 20 March recognises the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world. For vulnerable refugees and displaced people, mental wellbeing is especially important.
Afghan history and language teacher Nahid (front row, second from left) is surrounded by local and refugee children | A House of Happiness

Afghan history and language teacher Nahid (front row, second from left) is surrounded by local and refugee children at Evrika community centre. © UNHCR/E. Dubrovsky

Most refugees are remarkably resilient and are able to move on despite their distressing experiences. For those who need help, UNHCR provides counselling and other psychosocial support services. Community centres like Evrika empower people to cope with the challenges of displacement.

Angiza, a university student originally from Afghanistan, remembers how transformative Nahid’s classes were. “The way she teaches makes you remember,” she says.

“If you didn’t do your assignment, next time you’d get two. Now there are people who ask me to teach them Dari. I’m very thankful.”

Angiza hopes Evrika will continue to open its doors to children. Recently married, she plans to bring her own children one day.

“I came here when I was small because it’s a shame when children forget their own language,” she says.

“Now every Saturday I come back because of the sense of the community. My childhood is somewhere in these walls.”

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Portrait of student and refugee Angiza | A House of Happiness

University student and refugee Angiza learns about the Afghan history, language and culture she left behind, at Evrika community centre. © UNHCR/E. Dubrovsky

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