“We want to prove that young people can make a difference”
Participants of the UPSHIFT programme are bringing young people together in spaces where influential ideas are born.
Young people in Ukraine’s Zhytomyrska region have been working towards a new goal – to unite like-minded people and inspire community improvements.
The youngsters, who applied for the UPSHIFT programme run by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), form two teams – ’Defenders of the Word’ and ‘Svitlo-Dvizh’. Together, they were trained and provided with the tools to implement their plan to create new spaces for young people to meet.
"I was looking for people who would be willing to make something great and needed a tool to implement their ideas,” says 18-year-old Artem, a member of the Defenders of the Word team from Korostyshiv. “A youth space became this tool. It's not just about putting furniture in the room, it's about working with children and youth regularly.”
Together with his teammates, Artem created a space where young people can study, work and find new friends with the same interests. There, youngsters can join a debate club, movie screenings and lectures, as well as learning about volunteering, sexual education and Ukrainian culture. Art therapy is another popular activity. Each event is attended by about 20 young people, mostly high school students.
"Youth spaces are the foundation, the place where ideas are born," explains Artem, "Later, these ideas go beyond the space. And this is very cool, because it brings impact and changes to the community that are global and affect the lives of everyone in Korostyshiv."
Seventeen-year-old Roman, who is from the village of Kurne, is part of the Svitlo-Dvizh team. He also created a space with friends. Even though his village has less than 1,000 inhabitants, more than 30 young people visit the space, which has also inspired others to take action.
"Before, no-one thought that anything could be changed in our village,” says Roman. “But now, we can immediately think about how to implement any idea that our people have. For example, shortly, we will create a volleyball court together with the villagers. People are not waiting for someone else to do it, but are ready to act on their own."
The youth space offers games, movie screenings, table tennis competitions and educational events. The team also introduced a regular meet-up event called "Information Pizza”, where young people can discuss their needs and ideas in a safe, informal setting – and then make them happen.
"The last meeting turned into a formalised initiative to set up a park in our village, so that people could have a place to relax," says Roman. "We have already chosen an area with trees. Now we need to clean it up, put benches and lights there. With our own example, we want to prove that young people can make a difference.
UPSHIFT is an innovative youth programme implemented by UNICEF. Its participants have the opportunity to be trained in the Human Centered Design methodology, receive funding and subsequently turn their ideas into effective projects that benefit communities.
The full-scale war in Ukraine in 2022 has caused serious humanitarian challenges in all regions of the country. As young people are an important driving force in communities, UNICEF has engaged UPSHIFT participants in addressing these challenges. Over the past year, 115 teams consisting of 464 young people aged 14-24 participated in the UPSHIFT programme and developed their projects, reaching more than 27,000 beneficiaries.