Students pave the way for eco-friendly future in Ukraine
Four students from Hlukhiv, in northeastern Ukraine, have spent last year providing free environmental lessons for 600 school children.
A large abandoned hangar, covered with more than one layer of rust, can be found near the city of Hlukhiv, in northeastern Ukraine. You would be forgiven for thinking it has no use. But people from all over the city bring their household waste here, for it to be pressed, packed and sent for recycling.
The hangar is just one of many eco-friendly initiatives that the locals in Hlukhiv have set in motion in recent years. One of the most active eco-champions is 16-year-old Angelina, a student who has been implementing environmental projects in the city for almost five years.
The largest and most important is Eco Hlukhiv, which Angelina created together with her friends as part of the UPSHIFT programme run by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and supported by ING Bank. Through Eco Hlukhiv, the friends teach schoolchildren from grades 3-6 about the impact of waste on the environment and human health, and about how to sort garbage properly.
Angelina first noticed her love for nature, while studying biology in the fifth grade. Her teacher invited Angelina and friends Masha, Nastia and Melanie to join a research group. Their first task was to plant trees on the site of a local monument to reduce soil erosion.
“Sometimes we come there and watch the trees grow after us, and it inspires us to do even more to protect nature,” says Angelina.
Since then, thanks to the UPSHIFT programme, which aims to empower young people, the friends have been busy creating eco-projects and spreading the word. They have taught preschoolers how harmful batteries are for the environment, devised fun quests, held contests, written research papers, and created games, fairy tales and interactive tasks to help people understand environmental protection and household waste sorting.
“Before we came to UPSHIFT, we really did a lot of activities and initiatives,” says Angelina. “We have implemented various formats and activities to find what will be most useful and bring tangible results. And that’s how we came to create a big project called Eco Hlukhiv”.
“Together, we begin to change the city”
When Angelina visits a local school, the young children throw their arms around her. Here, she is well known – it is not her first visit. Today, she is here to talk about the impact of waste on the environment and to help the children to develop an interest in the environment.
Angelina’s notebook contains tasks, practical exercises and activities that will help her to explain how much household waste a person produces, why it is harmful to the environment, what has to be done to save the planet, and the alternatives to plastic. During these classes, children are taught to sort waste, develop eco-skills and understand why it is important to save resources.
Her lessons are designed around a superhero named Sasha, who becomes a guide for children in an eco-friendly world. This hero is based on a real character – a local activist called Oleksandr, who works hard to improve the environment in Hlukhiv.
“Children know and love him, because Oleksandr works as an animator, conducts guided tours and tells students about environment,” explains Angelina. “Therefore, when he came to life in the pages of our notebook, the children were delighted. In fact, children are very interested in both the format and the content of the lessons. Then they come and ask if such lessons will be mandatory in their schools. And they are very upset to find out they are not.”
In total, Angelina and her friends have successfully conducted 50 environment lessons and 25 eco-quests for almost 600 students in Hlukhiv.
“We will definitely never be able to abandon this cause,” says Angelina. “Because the spirit of volunteerism and activism stays with us and moves on. Not just us, but other people. Together, we begin to change the city and become an example of positive change. Whoever we girls become in the future, we need to continue what we do – promote environment awareness among children and adolescents. Because this is one of the competencies that should become mandatory for everyone.”
“We are definitely ready to become an ocean”
The friends believe that their Eco Hlukhiv project could be replicated in other cities or contexts, and were recently invited to a nearby village to meet with students there. The key, they say, is to use the same principle and approach.
“We will soon enter universities and go to different cities,” says Angelina. “But this is another step towards new opportunities. Everyone can find like-minded people and continue their environment activities. And our work is something that remains in any case and that can be used in schools and organizations, and adapted to other formats and audiences.”
In the future, they dream of their lessons becoming part of the school curriculum and informing generations of environmentally-conscious youth.
“We want to create the best possible conditions for people to have an opportunity to give our planet a chance,” says Angelina. “And we are already seeing the first results of our work. Currently, Hlukhiv sends more than 40 tons of garbage per month for recycling. This is a lot, because two years ago we could not even dream that environmental culture would develop in Hlukhiv at all, that battery collection would be organized, containers would be installed, and waste collection and sorting stations would be opened. We cannot say that this is all our merit. Maybe we are just a drop in all this, but we are definitely ready to become an ocean.”