Young UPSHIFT teams transform communities in Ukraine
Trained mentors are helping teams of young people to find innovative solutions to problems in their local communities, thanks to a programme run by UNICEF
Teams of young people have come together to transform their local areas in Ukraine, as part of a skills development programme from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Maria, 20, joined UNICEF's UPSHIFT programme in December 2023 together with 3 other people who share a love for animals. Over the course of six months, their ‘Kovchegh’ (Ark) team worked with a mentor to develop a plan, purchasing pet carriers to evacuate animals from dangerous regions, gathering food and medicine kits, building additional enclosures at a shelter in Kropyvnytskyi and rehoming several animals.
"Being an Upshifter was an incredible experience for me. I learned to listen to others more, establish sustainable cooperation with people and respond quickly to any challenges. I think our project appeared when we and our community really needed it”
Usually, 10 groups take part in each wave of the UPSHIFT programme, and each group has its own mentor who supports and guides them. The mentors – described by Maria as “someone who picks you up when you're falling” – receive training based on the Human Centered Design and help the young UPSHIFT participants to find innovative solutions to problems faced in their local communities.
In fact, Maria was so impressed by the mentors she decided to become one. Recently, she and her assigned team took part in a four-day UPSHIFT bootcamp.
"I got really nervous before my first meeting with the team. I've been through this before, but when you are a mentor, everything feels different as you have more responsibility. It's hard to describe the feeling when you see the result of four days of training and how the participants are passionate about the project. Then you realize what a great idea you have developed”
There were many challenges for Maria and her team along the way, as they sought to promote the volunteer movement in the Kirovohradska region.
"The team was going through a difficult stage, passing their final exams,” she recalls. “I was worried whether they would even get to the implementation stage. But we often got together via Zoom. And after all the exams, we managed to outline a project plan. So now the team has already started organizing their first events. I am very proud of them."
"I believe that UPSHIFT is a really important programme, especially when we talk about young people in times of war. This project allows you to develop your skills and get distracted from things that are going on around you. It also helps to overcome self-doubt and fear. The UPSHIFT programme taught me not to be afraid of mistakes and uncertainty, and to support even the craziest ideas. That is something crucial to believe"
The war in Ukraine has caused serious humanitarian challenges across the country. As young people are one of the driving forces of communities, UNICEF has engaged UPSHIFT participants to help address these challenges. Over the past year, 115 teams (464 young people aged 14 to 24) have participated in the UPSHIFT programme and developed their projects, reaching more than 27,000 beneficiaries.