Several hundred people gathered at the presentation of the participants of UPSHIFT programme – a joint project of the European Union and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) – UPSHIFT Ukraine to watch the opening, but after a few laconic introductory speeches and briefing the hall turned into a huge buzzing hive: visitors crowded around the demonstration booths, where participants confidently, without a hint of modesty, described their initiatives. Now and then there were heard promises to make the world better and surprised shouts. Someone demonstrated robots and innovative skateboards, the others limited themselves to placards and flyers, and right in front of the entrance stood a medical dummy depicting the torso of a man with removable internal organs. It was one of the first ones that attracted our attention.
The medical dummy was brought by the girls from the project “We are not shy” Daryna, Liza and Yasia. They intend to disseminate information about menstruation among schoolchildren: explain the mechanisms of the female body work, dispel the myths associated with this condition, and at the same time distribute hygiene kits. The mentor, who specializes in such enlightenment, helps the girls in preparing the lectures.
“We will hold lectures on what is menstruation, why you should not be shy, why you should go to the doctor, why you cannot snub those who already has menstruation. A health fair will be held at our school, where we plan to tell how to cope with pain at this time,” – Daryna explained to us.
“The initiator of this project was our classmate, who has now gone to study in Poland. She herself faced this problem – her parents didn’t tell her about menstruation and the first time she was very scared, she thought she was dying,” – Liza explained.
The project starts in Novobavarskyi district of Kharkiv, but the girls are determined to hold similar lessons at all schools of the city, and then scale the project to other cities. Although for each lecture they will need prior consent from the parents of pupils.
3D printers for people with disabilities
A small robot is wiggling on the next table, next to which the girl turns on and off a white fan that looks like a wind turbine of a power station. This team makes 3D printers for people with disabilities. The idea is that they will print parts for construction sets, using which children will be able to assemble robots.
“Our friend met with accident four years ago, and now he is confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk, and when we asked him what he wanted to do, he said he wanted to help people and work with his hands. We recalled that there are guys who make 3D printers, with which you can do anything, so we came up with the idea to print construction sets for children. So thanks to Bohdan, an idea leaped into our minds to continue working with people with disabilities and help them” – team member Alina told us.
To create the proprietary model of a 3D printer, the participants studied a lot of theoretical materials and ordered a small printer in China to sort through it and understand how it works.
Opposite the printing engineers, there were two teams creating public spaces. The first team wants to arrange a rest room in their dormitory so that the neighbors can meet there and spend their time together productively.
“We will divide the room into two parts: in the first one there will be a rest zone, and in the other one a self-development and study zone, where we will be able to hold master classes, some lessons, trainings, simply come to there to do homework. Now everyone simply sit in their rooms on the Internet, and this room will become the new center of our dormitory” – the team explains its vision vying with each other.
Others have already created a similar place in their school, where now they play twister, watch movies or listen to trainings in their free time.
“We had master classes on dog training, robotics, a policeman came to us. We also play with younger students, look for contact with them” – co-authors Anastasiia and Danylo told us.
The teams also attended to the psychological condition of Kharkiv residents and in order to improve it they plan to organize an anti-stress festival. Its visitors will be able to “take off” the accumulated negative stuff and recharge themselves.
“There will be about 30 different locations for stress relief: from smashing plates and throwing paint to yoga and musical art therapies. The main event will take place at the end of March, and now we are at the planning stage and want to attract sponsors from the outside” – student Sonia Shcherbachuk told us.
Fight by art
While we were getting acquainted with the teams, a master class began in the hall from the project “Theater Against Bulling”. Young actors played the scene from their own play “Your classmate”: a class, standing in a circle, pushes a girl standing in its center. Having explained that the physical incarnation of harassment was shown in this way, the actors suggested that the audience take a seat in the center.
“This is incredible! There were too many of them, and I was too helpless” – one of the volunteers shared his impressions after the scene.
A similar project won at the very start of the UPSHIFT programme, namely, the troupe Watchmen put up a series of performances in playback technique (a form of improvisation, when the actors play the stories told by the audience – author’s note): “It is difficult to say”, “When we” and “(Dis)agreement”.
“The playback technique is very well suited for social problems and for us the problem of violence turned out to be the most urgent, not only physical and sexual violence, but also psychological, and even territorial. Just when the performances began, martial law was declared, and although the performance was about family problems, there was a lot about territorial violence, the topic of space was a common thread in the story of people” – Anna Serhienko, a theater participant, told us.
Trends and organizations
The main topics of concern to modern youth are inclusiveness, public spaces and career-guidance – Hervé Maurey, Programme Coordinator of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in Ukraine shared with us his observations.
“We consider each application separately by a number of criteria. First, how well the project is formulated, whether the team has understanding of the goals and how to achieve them. The second aspect is the social impact of the project, our programme focuses on social projects that are aimed at solving the social problems of young people – he told us.
Almost all participants of today’s “Demo Day” have passed a hard competitive selection, have already received the support of their social projects. Since the beginning of the school year, five “waves” of UPSHIFT have passed, and each time the organizers received about two hundred applications from inspired children. Then, a few dozen teams were invited for interviews, after which the top 10 received training in social entrepreneurship, and half of them received funding for their ideas.
“The average grant amount is about UAH 80,000. The teams recommended for funding, and these are five out of ten in each wave of the project, receive a three-month incubation support from the mentor, during which they think over the budget, estimate, plan activities, and all this is monitored by the mentor and accountant. The funds are spent only on a cashless basis and only for those items that have been budgeted” – Maryna Ladyzhenska, UPSHIFT Ukraine Project Manager, told us.
In the future, we hope to scale the programme to other cities of Ukraine, while in Kharkiv, in the meantime, the sixth, the last one in this academic year project wave is being prepared.
By Polina Mordynska