Young Diversity Ambassadors. The Beginning

In January 2023, STAN NGO launched a Young Diversity Ambassadors program. What is it about, for whom, and what will come out of it, – in this article. 

People and waves

Sometimes we say phrases like “historical wave”, “country’s dynamic growth”, or “democratic transformation”. We often don’t reflect that a wave is an abstraction, and transformations do not happen by themselves. Country means people. And everything that is happening in a society is not done on its own, it is done by people. Those people have their knowledge and beliefs, their education and worldviews. People who are stronger together than one by one, and sometimes they can become a wave. 

That’s why it is so important to develop communities that would be able to take action, that will define the country after the war. And the role of the youth cannot be overestimated since this is often the most inspiring, the most proactive part of society.  

“Young people are powerful agents of change, often acting as first-responders and leaders in vital humanitarian efforts. They are essential stakeholders in promoting medium- and long-

term social cohesion and resilient, peaceful societies. It is crucial to include young people,

particularly young women, and other excluded groups, in the reconstruction and recovery of

Ukraine. Their role in local communities and other humanitarian initiatives is essential at all

stages of the humanitarian life cycle”, – says Matey Nikolov, ActionAid’s Advisor on Young People’s Leadership in Humanitarian Action.

Where to start 

In the fall of 2022, STAN NGO in partnership withAction Aidannounced an open call for participation in the Young Diversity Ambassadors program. The organizers received more than 300 applications. All the applicants are youngsters who care. Some of them are NGO members, others are helping people in shelters, or doing other volunteer work. And many of them are just young people who, being at school or university, realized they want to change the world, but haven’t yet known where to start. 

Around a hundred of the most motivated young people were accepted for the program. Some of them are locals from Zakarpattia, Chernivtsi, Volyn and Ivano-Frankivsk regions, and others are those who had to leave their homes because of the Russia’s full-scale invasion. Participation in this project will enhance cooperation and closer ties between IDPs and their colleagues and their peers in the local communities. They will take part in training modules that will give them basic knowledge and tools for their future work. Ten best initiatives that will be developed during the training modules will receive grant support of 1000 euros. Visits around Ukraine and abroad to share experiences have also been planned.  

A separate part of the program is revitalization of an old building that once served as a Jewish school in Volodymyr, Volyn region. Local Space NGO is working on the school’s revitalisation, with the support of “terre des hommes Deutschland”. The Space’s core, the students of a high school from the local lyceum # 5, have organized many events for the local youth. They also emphasized their work was to compensate for the absence of a youth center in the town. Now they will have a chance to take part in such a center establishment. Such a location will certainly be very important for children and teens of Volodymyr. 

“Children and youth have lots of stress caused by the war, and they carry their traumas. Additionally, they are losing contact with their peers because the schools are closed and because of the evacuation. At this age, for real development a person needs not only support from the peer group, but also a safe space to separate from the parents and for individuality. Youth centers can provide such space as well as space for emergency education when the schools are not operating”, says Małgorzata Biczyk, Humanitarian aid for Ukraine program coordinator in terre des hommes Deutschland.

At Khata Maysternya

Introductory workshops of the program started in late January 2023. At the first of them, a group of 18 teenagers spent four days in Khata Maysternya space in the Carpathian mountains. Beforehand, the STAN team offered them four areas to consider and concentrate on one of them later. 

  1. Decolonization of memory for the sake of the future.
  2. Culture, art and human rights.
  3. Equality, feminism, and LGBTQ+ rights.
  4. Environmental activism and climate justice. 

During the introductory workshops, young people had a chance to dive deep into each of the topics and understand what interests them most to define on which topic they will continue working. 

Despite the diversity of the topics, they are united by one rod. “The main message is understanding human rights, understanding why freedom and everything we are currently fighting for is important. And understanding why every person, no matter of height, skin color, or taste has the same rights as the other”, says Olena Hryhoriak, one of the facilitators. Half of the first workshop was about human rights and understanding how the decolonization of memory, art, and gender equality are deeply connected with human rights. 

Further workshops will take place in spring. By that time, participants will decide what topic they will work on, and the training will offer deeper immersion into it. 

Based on your experience

The workshops are designed to be as close to the participants’ experience as possible. This is not the case when a group is loaded with lectures. On the contrary, trainers and facilitators appealed to the issues the youth faces in their everyday life and in their activism. 

For instance, during the session about the decolonization of memory, teenagers together with the facilitator Yana Malyha were looking at the images of diverse places of memory around the world and analyzing them. Later, they discussed what these places of memory could be. Or, whether our decision to remember certain events does not mean that we forget other events. These are the issues many are concerned about now. 

Oleksandra Slyvka from Dovhe village ar Zakarpattya region has told about a palace-fortress of Teleki count in the center of Dovhe village, build in the Austro-Hungarian times. During the Soviet times, the tuberculosis clinic was established in the former palace. It is not operating at full capacity nowadays. 

Oleksandra is convinced this is not the best way to use an object of national heritage. Much better would be to make it a tourist attraction that would take into account all the periods of the palace’s history.  

“We need to keep all the previous eras of the palace visible, Austro-Hungarian and the Soviet one, in order to preserve memories about sad pages of history but also not to leave a blank spot at this place. We need to keep a corner there that would remind us about the tuberculosis clinic too. So that we don’t repeat the same mistakes in the future. If we make a palace a tourist attraction, the village’s economy would be growing. Cafes, restaurants, and a hotel or hostel could be built nearby. People interested in the past would arrive, and the public would know about the village of Dovhe”, says Oleksandra.      

The diversity of ways and methods

Participation in the “Young Diversity Ambassadors” project could become a strong impulse for young people. The program is aimed at encouraging beginner activists to work in a way they want to and can work, not in a way that some established models dictate them. 

“I remember myself being an activist at school and in my early university years. I understand now how important is your first experience, what you face first. If it is about organizing parties, you will be doing parties. That’s why it is so important to me that our training would widen the borders and give a chance for young people to be involved not only in the things adults are pushing them to. It’s important that participants would have space to think what triggers them, would see the diversity of the things they can do in activism. That’s why it is crucial to support the youth in their eagerness to change the world, not only in activism for activism”, says Yulia Liubych, a trainer and facilitator. 

What is also valuable is that the program will become a communication ground for peers, colleagues and like-minded people. Trips to share experience are planned in the framework of the project. Activists from Zakarpattia could visit their colleagues from Bukovyna or Volyn. And the most motivated young people will have an opportunity to go to Bosnia and Herzegovina to study the practices of the civil society that rebuilt the country after the war in the 1990s. There is a big request for such opportunities. 

“I want to learn how to realize my initiatives because I feel I don’t know how to do it. I also want to find partners to work with in the future, or people I would be able to seek advice from”, says Irutza Slepeniuk, project’s participant. 

With whom and for whom

We started from an idea that everything is held up by people, by their ideas, values and eagerness for changes. On their ability to accept and understand others, to work in teams, after all. Despite the fact we often use the word “diversity”, another key word here is “together”. 

“We were offered some tasks to do in groups. Those people in the groups were strangers to me, I saw them for the first time in my life. To cooperate with strangers and, at first glance, weird people, to brainstorm ideas, to solve some problems together – this was very important”, says Oleksandra Slyvka. 

One more thing to highlight is a focus on ability to work with a community, to keep in mind for whom and for what your work and your projects are needed. When asked about some memorable moments from the workshop, Irutza Slepeniuk says:

“It’s our trainer Sasha’s phrase that sounded like, ‘Aren’t we turning activism into some kind of dancing for ourselves?’ We talked about implementing our initiatives, about their relevance to community life. Sometimes people were carried away and started talking only about their organization and the project implementation, and they forgot for whom they were doing them. Sasha aimed to explain it was great to have a chance to do what you like to do. But the idea of activism is to do it for someone”.  

The project “Young Diversity Ambassadors” is implemented by STAN NGO in partnership with the “Action Aid” alliance for rights, equality and international solidarity with the support of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). Revitalization and insulation of the safe spaces for youth is implemented with the support of Global Fund for Children (USA) та terre des hommes (Germany).