Grants for Ukrainian students spark bright ideas and better futures

Three stories of teenagers who implement their own initiatives and participate in social entrepreneurship.

Yulia Silina, Kate Bond
12 September 2019

The idea of developing an ‘alphabet of gestures’ first occurred to Vova Charushyn when he found he couldn’t communicate with waiters at a restaurant.

Now the 16-year-old Ukrainian student, who lost his hearing in childhood, has finally created his alphabet, thanks to support from UNICEF’s UPSHIFT project.

“It is very frustrating when people who hear well shut themselves off the deaf,” says Vova’s mother, Halyna. “They are scared when a deaf person is waving their hands to them. But Vova decided to fight it.”


A project close to heart

The teen created the ‘Hear by Heart’ alphabet with four friends and funding from UNICEF and European Union (EU), which aims to empower a generation of change-makers with small grants.

“It was joyful,” exclaims Vova, about receiving the grant. “It was a victory!”

The alphabet cubes are now on display around Kharkhiv, Ukraine, highlighting different gestures and the corresponding words. Some private schools have even ordered sets.

“We currently have few translators, little translation in television and in the education system,” explains Halyna. “That is why Vova wants that at least waiters and transport workers know the basics of the sign language.”


Bringing theater to life

Sasha Murashko, 22, is another recipient of an UPSHIFT project grant.

Thanks to the programme, this young student is preparing to perform the classic Shakespeare play ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ this autumn – in sign language.

It will mark the 100th anniversary of the Ariadne National Theater in Kharkiv, a unique theater for people with hearing impairments.

“The theater is beautiful, it has a long history, but as you see, it was never repaired since Soviet times,” says Sasha. “Some part of the roof is missing, the equipment has to be replaced.”

In order to perform on the stage of this unusual theater, Sasha and his friends bought a large new background setting, scenery, costumes and a laptop to control light and sound.

"We were able to buy it all because our team won an award from UPSHIFT project,” says the teen, who uses a hearing aid to communicate.

Sasha and his friends were also able to hire a choreographer twice a week for several months.

“We didn’t even hope it would work out. We were extremely happy to win.”

Sasha is currently studying at a teaching university and works as a cashier. Due to a hearing impairment, he gave up on the job of his dreams.

“I always wanted to be a train conductor, I dreamed about it,” he says. “But I cannot work on the railroad, they do not employ people with hearing impairments. I even once bought a ticket as a passenger and I helped the conductor.”

For now, he is happy that his second dream, of performing, is being realized.

“For me, performing on stage is a joy, I enjoy sharing my emotions with the audience and giving my joy to them. I try to convey facial expressions and gestures.”


Reaching the summit

Artem Serdechnyi, 19, throws his head back to view the top of a steep wall of rock.

“Some routes are easy, some are difficult,” says the young rock climber, who studies at Kharkiv Aviation University. “But it is a really good, entertaining sport.”

Artem, who learns to design airplanes and helicopters, believes his city could better accomodate people with disabilities.

"I once took a trolleybus and saw people trying to get on it in wheelchairs,” he says. “How uncomfortable they felt. It took a driver a lot of time to lower the ramp. It is a kind of pre-historic technology in our public transport. And I started thinking, what would I do in their shoes?”

He immediately began work on a project to make rock-climbing accessible for children with physical disabilities.

Together with several other students, Artem joined the fifth wave of UPSHIFT project and won.

“Our goal was to show that rock-climbing is accessible for children with physical disabilities. These workouts are good for health. We can deal with children with scoliosis, with hearing problems and other disabilities.”

Four groups, each composed of 10 children with disabilities, have already visited the rock-climbing school and given climbing a try.

“Thanks to UPSHIFT, we bought equipment, safety wires and ropes for children,” says Artem. “All safety systems are certified and pretty expensive. It is unlikely that children could find another place in Kharkiv to take free classes of rock-climbing.”

UPSHIFT was created by UNICEF and the European Union to develop entrepreneurial skills in teenagers and young people, as well as to empower teenagers to implement their own initiatives and participate in social entrepreneurship.

UPSHIFT Ukraine collected a total of 282 team applications, and more than one thousand young people contributed to them. As a result, 60 teams were selected for participation in 2018-2019 academic year. A total of six waves of UPSHIFT with 244 participants were conducted. Thirty teams received funding and three-month support during the incubation period. The total amount of grants received by the teams under the project amounted to UAH 2,980,000.