Empowering Refugee Integration Through the ‘Stand by Me’ Project

In response to the integration challenges experienced by Ukrainian and Moldovan refugees, the Stand by Me ’buddy up’ programme – powered by UNICEF and The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award – has emerged as a shining example of inclusion and breaking down barriers at The Polytechnical High School Kyjov in Czech Republic. By encouraging friendships and promoting understanding between Czech students and their Ukrainian and Moldovan peers, the programme demonstrates the power of empathy and collaboration in overcoming obstacles to the integration of refugees in a new school environment.  

The Stand by Me (DofE) buddy programme Mentor, Martina Filipová, recognises the programme as a highly valuable tool for integrating foreign students into the school’s already well-established class teams. She said: “After joining the buddy program, the mood in the class has changed positively. I think the students have established really strong friendships among each other, so now it’s not just about mutual respect, but real friendship. Students see each other outside of school activities, they spend free time together and attend local leisure activities and sports.”  

As part of their mini-projects, students created dictionaries of professional terms for compulsory school subjects. These dictionaries aim to help foreign students to overcome the language barrier, comprehend the curriculum more easily, and keep pace with their peers. Additionally, they had the opportunity to repair cars together or take part in other joint activities, such as football, boxing, and fitness activities.  

15-year-old Marian from Ukraine praises his participation in the programme. He said: “The Buddy program helped me to find new friends and to learn a little Czech. I like the football we play with the boys, and I think the buddy program is a very nice idea for us foreigners.”   

The programme helps build meaningful social relationships and connections. It not only fosters these mutually beneficial connections throughout the project, but also helps prevent loneliness and the risk of social isolation. By promoting physical wellbeing, the programme opens individuals up to new ideas, people and experiences, while providing a sense of belonging and support within a broader social environment. 

The Stand By Me programme leverages the Award’s framework, with over 70% of DofE Czech participants in 2022 revealing that the Award assisted them with their mental health and wellbeing.  

Click below to watch the journey of the ‘buddy’ programme at The Polytechnical High School Kyjov (EN subtitles included). 

Further reading: “Stand by Me”: The Award in the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia join forces for youth – Intaward