To ensure education in Ukraine, provide flexible funding to grassroots groups

By Ashani Ratnayake | April 10, 2024 | Europe & Eurasia | Education

This article was originally published in the Alliance Magazine blog.

Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine has had devastating impacts on children’s access to education. Many schools were unable to reopen for in-person classes this fall, and some students struggled to access online classes due to frequent power outages caused by air strikes. UNICEF has reported a deterioration in language, reading, and mathematics abilities among Ukrainian schoolchildren.

Access to education doesn’t just mean a child’s ability to access a physical or virtual school. It also means ensuring children are supported mentally and emotionally to learn, that their surroundings are made conducive for education to be able to focus on their studies – UNESCO’s definition of access to education includes a learning environment that is safe enough to allow learning – and that they feel the knowledge they gain promises a better future.

Amid the war in Ukraine, grassroots groups are the best placed to address all aspects of access to education and ensure children can continue learning. When supported with flexible funding – funding that isn’t restricted to a particular program, but that instead allows grantees to determine the best use of their resources – grassroots groups can respond quickly to changes in wartime conditions. This includes finding solutions and creating new models to ensure their programs meet the evolving needs of children and youth. They have a deep-seated understanding of their own communities and the challenges facing children, as well as culturally relevant strategies that can help children and young people re-focus on education.

The grassroots organizations with which Global Fund for Children partners in Ukraine and the young people they serve have shown tremendous resilience and innovation, doing whatever it takes to keep children safe and ensure they can continue to learn. Grassroots groups have converted unused or broken-down spaces into classrooms; employed the latest technology to connect Ukrainian students in different parts of Ukraine and the world through virtual classrooms; and provided much-needed psychological and wellbeing support.

A painting from a child in Ukraine

A picture drawn by a child supported by a GFC partner in Ukraine.

After the war started in February 2022, for example, the grassroots organization Ukrainian Womanity switched from offering general road safety and accident training to something completely different – landmine safety trainings for young people. Ukrainian Womanity has to date reached over 1,000 youth and adults, teaching them how to look out for landmines and other explosives, and how to react when in danger.

Grassroots groups are also uniquely positioned to understand and address the emotional and psychological distress children and youth face and how this greatly affects their ability to learn.

ServeNow­ Ukraine, a grassroots organization based in Irpin, has found creative ways to redirect children’s focus from the war to their studies. The organization focuses on learning through play using robotics and art therapy and offers pool-time in a safe location to promote health and physical activity.

The feedback from parents is proof of ServeNow Ukraine’s contribution to children’s education.

“We had spent a lot of time in occupation,’ said Inna Tarasenko. As a result, our son lost his sleep and became very anxious. Now he is smiling again. After attending the swimming lessons his sleeping got better! He now talks less about the war and what he has been through.”

NGO Education 360 in Kyiv, Ukraine, works online to educate young people and provides psychological support for both children and parents. Teachers have incorporated relaxation and reflection techniques into lessons on all subjects and they have taken a personalized approach, monitoring the condition of each child individually. They have also encouraged children to believe in the power of education to help them secure a better future.

“The most challenging aspect of our work is dealing with children’s disillusionment,’ said Mykola Hoshovskyi, a geography teacher and project manager at NGO Education 360. ‘When there is no motivation, we have to spend up to 80 percent of our time just trying to restore their faith in education.”

Olha Pavych, a Ukrainian language teacher and volunteer at NGO Education 360, shared similar worries. ‘I am most concerned about the safety of the children and their psychological wellbeing,’ she said. ‘However, I also emphasize the importance of education to the children in every class. I remind them that they are heroes too, and their front line is their education. Their future depends on it, and to rebuild our country, they need to be educated, know their roots, and carry their culture into the world.’

“Thanks to the generosity of our donors, Global Fund for Children has been able to provide more than $3 million in flexible funding to grassroots organizations in Ukraine and neighboring countries that are supporting children and youth. But as the war stretches on well past the 18-month mark, our partners’ immediate and long-term needs continue to grow. Grassroots groups need more flexible funding to curb learning loss and to ensure children can continue to access education.”

In the midst of so much conflict and instability around the world, it is often children who suffer the most. By offering flexible funding to grassroots organizations on the frontlines so they can adapt and provide the best possible help for the children and youth in their communities, we all can play a role in encouraging children to hold onto their dreams of a better future. Flexible funding also fosters trust-based relationships, helping grassroots groups to feel supported amid incredibly challenging circumstances.

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Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.

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