Written by Marina Radushynska (2017; Ukraine/CA)
Finding My Passion
Before my exchange, I did not have much interest in the issue of domestic violence, but that changed this past Christmas break when my host mom, Anna Balbina, told me that every year, before Christmas, she and her co-workers would buy presents for children at the women’s shelter. She asked if I would like to help and wrap them and of course I was honored! This is where my passion for this issue was born.
It was amazing seeing how much she and her co-workers care about those children, and I realized that this issue must be very important in our community. I started learning more about it and it made me really emotional. I understood that I take many things for granted, because I was born in a wonderful family and had a happy childhood, while other kids have been abused by the people they loved.
Domestic violence is not something far away, it is something that is very close to us. Closer than we think. But it is not something you would post on social media or tell your friends about. If you start paying attention, you will notice how many kids around you are silent and sad at school, how many women and girls are scared and heartbroken. If you start paying attention, you will notice that some of your friends do not want to go home, that their eyes are full of tears and loneliness. Just start paying attention. It lives on school campus, at our friends’ homes, in big cities and small towns, in every corner of the world.
Of course, we can’t stop violence everywhere, but we can do at least something – no matter how big or small. Just something, that will make our planet a better place to live. That is why, I chose to fight against domestic violence for my main goal of my Global Youth Service Day Project. And it was one of the best and life-changing experiences in my life.
Fighting Against Domestic Violence
I was happy and proud to be a World Link student in Hanford, California. I met so many wonderful people during my exchange year like these young powerful females and my best friends – Avery, Peyton, and Trinity. Together, we created a new club on the Hanford West School campus called “Women Against Domestic Violence”.
Our main goal was to raise awareness and help those who have already been abused. In less than a month, we raised awareness for 490 students by giving presentations in 23 different classes. While giving presentations, I noticed many of my peers also felt the same way I did when I first learned of the issue. They took for granted the happiness that comes with growing up in a safe and loving environment. It put their lives in perspective and made them more grateful for what they have and I hope made them want to help these victims in some small way.
Our club also collected clothes, shoes, and books for the shelter and further involved more peers, the FCA club, in making purple ribbons (the symbol of domestic violence awareness). The best thing of the whole project was visiting the children at the women’s shelter and doing fun activities with them, like organizing an Easter party.
Unfortunately, the children at the women’s shelter have not been shown enough love. They don’t have the opportunity to celebrate special holidays such as Easter like other kids do. That is why, we decided to make the whole party for them.
Me, Peyton, and Trinity went to the shelter on the Easter Eve to make fun activities for them. We created Easter crafts, held an Easter egg hunt, drew posters, danced, played games and American football, made airplanes the children flew to their ‘Dreamland’, and in the end, every child got a balloon and made a wish. We tried to encourage kids that they shouldn’t be embarrassed of their past as a victim and try to be a better person than their abuser. Seeing smiles on their faces and tears of happiness in their eyes was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced. Knowing that you made somebody’s day better and brighter, makes you feel grateful and blessed.
The Hanford community was impressed by our club, so we were honored to be invited to unveil the 2017 Victims Memorial Quilt at the event dedicated to the Victims’ Rights Week. Our club also was selected as a Top Ten Global Youth Service Day project in World Link’s GYSD 2017 Competition. These awards showed us that we are on the right path to making a difference in the lives of abuse victims, and we are not going to stop.
My Project Reflection and Future Plans
We all learned to be organized and responsible not only for ourselves, but also for people on our team. I was impressed by how passionate they were to give presentations and working on the activities for the children. I have a lot of volunteering and leadership experience, thanks to World Link PAL activities such as IEW, Melting Pot, and now GYSD, that I felt really happy to share it with girls on my team.
My GYSD project is so special for me, because I know that even if I’m not in Hanford anymore, there is something meaningful and important for its community that I started; that my girls will continue. I have stayed connected to my team and we are currently planning activities for the upcoming year. We are organizing fun event days for the children at the shelter each month, coming up with different drives and fundraisers we can hold, and brainstorming ideas on how to get more and more students involved, especially future World Link foreign exchange students on the Hanford West campus.
We will continue our fight against domestic violence, ensure every student on our campus will know about it, and make sure the children in the women’s shelter knows we love and support them. We want them to know that they will grow up and create happy families, where love won’t hurt.
By making my peers aware that domestic violence is an issue in their own community, it is my hope I have lit a passion in them to help these victims, just as my host mom did for me.