By: Karin Scott, AfG Program Director
Hi there! I’m so honored to be representing Allowance for Good (AfG) in Lviv, Ukraine over the next two weeks. This partnership between the Society Initiatives Institute (SII) and AfG came about through the Professional Fellows Program at the American Council for International Education. Taras, Founder of SII, came to Chicago in May to work with AfG through this program. You can read more about his experience at AfG here.
As part of this program, AfG had the opportunity to participate in a mutual exchange trip to Lviv. Our program includes presenting to youth, leading conversation with members of the civic space, and working alongside the SII team. I’m excited to share my experience with you all!
Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet
Upon arrival in Lviv, I was greeted by members of the SII team, Taras and Viktor. As well as a Peace Corps volunteer working at SII, Kendra. They as well as another SII member, Vitaliy, gave me a walking tour of the Lviv city centre. The area includes monuments representing the rich history of Lviv, many grand cathedrals dating back to the 14th century, cafes touting the local coffee-centered culture, ornate government offices, and cobblestone streets that are a trap for uncoordinated tourists (like myself).
Part of the group at Oriyana
My first full day in Lviv began in the Sykhiv district, the home district of Taras and where SII runs many of it’s projects. We began at Oriyana, the school where Taras attended elementary and secondary school. Thehalls were filled with children between the ages of 7 and 17 years old. Secondary school students filled the auditorium totaling around eighty. Taras kicked off our presentation by having the students introduce themselves in English. Then I gave a presentation about American culture and Chicago, which included pictures of everything from July 4th fireworks to Chicago hot dogs to American football. I was able to give my presentation in English without translation because Ukrainian students learn English starting when they are seven years old.
After the presentation at the school, Taras led me in a tour of Sykhiv. Surrounded by Soviet-style apartment buildings, Taras explained that Sykhiv was built as a place for working people to live, similar to suburbs in the United States, where people commute into the city. Today, Sykhiv is often referred to as a “sleeping district” where people just sleep because they work in other districts. Thus, there are not many things to do or places to see in the district. SII wants to create a positive civic identity for Sykhiv, rather than the passive “sleeping district” identity that it is known for currently.
Sykhiv recently revitalized their large public park as way to create a space for Sykhiv residents to enjoy and to bring other residents of Lviv to Sykhiv. The park includes a main path as well as open spaces to host community events. SII recently held a festival, Sykhiv Fest To Go, in this area that was very well attended by Sykhiv residents. More activities and festivals have been planned for this space in the spring when outdoor activities can resume. On the edge of this park is a large cathedral deemed Pope John Paul II because of his visit to the cathedral in 2003, a very important moment for the Sykhiv community.
Top: Art piece at the Crimean bakery
Bottom: Mural by SII to represent the community and police working together
After touring the park, we visited the popular Crimean bakery in the area, which was started and operated by Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Crimea. Many of the baked goods are traditional Crimean dishes, which of course we had to taste. One was a pastry filled with sheep meat and onions, which was savory and delicious. Another was a traditional cheesecakes made with marshmallow cream and caramel. The smell of freshly baked bread made me want to stay there all day. On the wall there was an artistic figure of the Crimea region that reads “Crimea is Ukraine.” According to the International Displaced Monitor Centre there are approximately 1.4 million IDPs in Ukraine.
Our final stop was Dzerelo, a rehabilitation center for youth with mental and physical disabilities. The facility was opened in 1993 and is committed to consultation, rehabilitation treatment, education, and counseling of both children with disabilities and their families. SII has partnered with Dzerelo to launch an Inclusive Friendly project. This campaign is to spread awareness about the need for inclusive spaces in Ukraine. Most businesses, restaurants, schools, residences, and other buildings are not accessible for individuals who are differently abled.
At Dzerelo, Taras hosted a conversation about his time as a Professional Fellow in Chicago and the project he launched as a result of this program. The program will occur in three stages, with the goal of creating a strong civic society and positive identity in Sykhiv. Other members of civic society were present, including individuals from Better Sykhiv and Group 100. Taras used the examples of Chicago neighborhoods he visited to explain this concept of civic identity. He explained how Andersonville, Edgewater, Chinatown, and Ukrainian Village utilize their unique identities to make their citizens proud and attract visitors. Taras led the group in a brainstorm about possibilities and weaknesses in Sykhiv. In small groups we brainstormed ways to overcome some of these weaknesses and as a result create a positive Sykhiv identity. I will be continuing this conversation with the SII team by leading a workshop about Asset Based Community Development.
Wall at youth center - "Love what you do, do what you love!"
On the second day I worked in the SII office with the team and met two more members, Anna and Olya.We prepped for the team retreat, which will occur on Thursday. In the afternoon we visited the Lviv Regional Youth Center where I presented about philanthropy and social responsibility. The audience discussed the challenges of achieving social responsibility in Lviv, as this is a new concept for the community. Other topics of discussion included corporate giving, how to educate others about philanthropy, and where to find resources about philanthropy best practices.
As you can see, my days in Lviv will be full of tours, learning, discussion, and connection. I’m looking forward to sharing more in the days to come!