World Link alumna Maryna Tuzhanska (2010; Ukraine/CA) is currently leading the largest branch of the All-Ukrainian Youth NGO “Foundation of Regional Initiatives” (FRI). Her branch unites over 50 active young people, who volunteer in various educational, charitable, ecological, and advocacy projects.
Maryna and FRI coordinated the 2nd Annual “Connection Camp”, which took place this past summer, in partnership with the Vinnytsia-based NGO, Harmoniya; an NGO lead by people with disabilities.
“Connection Camp” is the first non-formal educational inclusive camp for youth in Ukraine. The four day program united 40 participants with diverse geographical backgrounds. Out of the 40 participants, half of them have a physical disability. The camp aims to bring them together in a safe space in order to break stereotypes, foster dialogue, and encourage future cooperation.
The camp was inclusive in all possible ways. From exercises and team building activities to workshops and training sessions on topics such as inclusive etiquette, gesture language, breaking stereotypes in the society, human rights for all, and project management. Participants also brainstormed best practices for inclusion and created new project ideas for development of an inclusive society in Ukraine.
Speakers at the camp told many personal stories. One speaker spoke about how he inspired his best friend, who has cerebral palsy, to follow his dream and see the highest mountain peak in the country. Another spoke about what it takes to become a multiple Paralympic champion in fencing.
One activity gave participants with no disabilities an experience they’ll never forget. Whether the participant was blind folded so they could not see or put into a wheel chair to navigate through a field, these participants realized the challenges people with disabilities face on a daily basis.
The camp was successful in many ways. Participants with disabilities left with more confidence and realized it is possible for them to become more involved in society. Stereotypes were broken and strong friendships between all participants were made. Multiple local social action projects have been implemented, causing a ripple effect to further promote inclusion. Maryna’s NGO FRI has been challenged to create year-round activities and encourage more youth with disabilities to join. Some participants joined the NGOs which organized the camp and those participants who did not join, were still seen taking part in projects related to the field of inclusion in their home cities such as Festival “InclusiON” in Kharkiv or monitoring a campaign to create inclusive maps in partnership with Google in Vinnytsia.
Learn more about the Ukrainian Foundation of Regional Initiatives Branch here.