Russia’s invasion of Ukrainian territory, in addition to the significant destruction of infrastructure, has led to a widespread humanitarian crisis. In response to Russian aggression, many countries from various continents are providing financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Also, a wider discussion on the long-term rebuilding of Ukraine on the principles of Build Back Better is happening: at the level of governments, business associations, universities, and non-government organizations. It is very important to use foreign experience and international perspectives to make this process faster and more transparent.
From the first days of the war, a number of Ukrainian universities have demonstrated incredible endurance and solidarity, involving themselves in global advocacy for Ukraine. Volunteering has become part of the daily lives of many Ukrainian students and professors. The sudden and rapid increase in requests from society has given the service learning educational approach new possibilities.
To study, to practice, and to provide something useful for society are the main tasks of service learning, and so more and more often UCU professors are adapting their courses to this approach. On the example of leading world universities, already in 2019, UCU began to introduce the service learning approach. This approach is one of the strategic areas for the university’s development as part of the strategy “University that serves”, and in a time of challenges brought by the war, it has become a necessity.
In the framework for a service learning month, UCU held an English-language panel discussion “Service Learning for the Recovery of Ukraine.” Participants of the discussion shared their own experience of the implementation of projects using service learning methodology, and they answered questions like – How do global interdependence and local issues in various parts of the world have an impact on us? How do local service learning projects help in solving global issues? What can Ukraine learn from the global community for the recovery programs?
“We in Ukraine are now focused on our own problems and needs, for understandable reasons. But it’s also important for us to be part of the world community and assist in the solving of global problems. I want to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who is ready to share their experience and support.” So said Sofiya Opatska, Vice-Rector for Strategic Development of Ukrainian Catholic University, at the beginning of the meeting.
The participants of the discussion gave some examples of the service learning projects successfully implemented in their countries.
Here are some thoughts from the discussion:
Bojana Culum, Ph.D. and MSc in Higher Education at the University of Rijeka, Croatia, shared her experience of implementing an educational project with the introduction of civic education in a city’s primary schools during wartime. The university involved students, who carried out the work in schools. “At first, at the national level, there was a misunderstanding because of a lack of policies in this educational area. After the war, it was very important for us to introduce instruction with civil education. The university was able to be a partner in this process. Step by step, year after year, the city managed to develop its own policy. This whole process took a lot of time. There was much communication with thought leaders and community representatives. This is an example that I’m proud of when students are engaged in social changes,” said Bojana Culum.
Markus Kreikebaum, Lecturer of Ethics and Service Learning at EBS University, explained why, in his opinion, service learning is a key activity. He is convinced that it is important to involve students in community life because learning through a socially oriented methodology encourages people to think about the advantages which service provides and to use these approaches in work with communities: “If you work in the field of education, you reflect on how good it is to have a good education; If you work with food banks, then you think about global hunger problems more often. It’s necessary to reflect on and explain everything that is happening at the local and the global levels.”
He also shared an example of a project implemented by the service learning methodology: “This was an international partnership project which we implemented with Makerere University in Uganda. This year we worked on challenges connected with the water supply in Uganda, installing water supply and filtration systems. Our project is a good example in which a service learning approach in education helps solve local challenges.”
Markus Kreikebaum also expressed his support for Ukraine and Ukrainian Catholic University: “I am convinced that it is now important for Ukrainian students to communicate face to face with other students from European universities. For partners from abroad and our students, it is crucial to understand our situation. We consider it an honor to organize the cooperation of our universities and work together to rebuild Ukraine. It’s a very good idea to build global international partnerships to solve global challenges with joint efforts in the context of service learning.”
Andrew Furco, an American professor and scholar, whose work focuses above all on conducting theoretical research in the area of service learning, shared a story about a service learning project through involvement with which even small children can do important things: “I remember the case of a 10-year-old student from the USA who was studying worldview core subjects in the context of service learning. He started to study the subject of kidnapping and slavery and found out that military groups in Sudan tried to demand money from residents, and when they couldn’t pay, they kidnapped their children and keep them in slavery. And this 10-year-old student felt the need to do something about this. He asked his teacher how the parents could get their children back, and how much it costs. And he received an answer – 50 dollars. The student started a campaign to collect money for the return of kidnapped children, as a result of which he was able to return more than 100 children to their parents. This is a global understanding of the general human good when students are not indifferent to what is happening around them. This is an example of when a local can influence global problems.”
The scholar also stated that many people all over the world empathize with Ukrainians and share their pain and suffering: “We want to do something to influence the establishment of peace and justice. But we have to approach this wisely, reflecting on each step, to create strategies with a long-term perspective. We are now working with our students on sharing their thoughts and feelings about what is happening in Ukraine and recognizing new challenges,” added Andrew Furco.
Fr. Andrii Shestak, Director of the School of Journalism and Communications of Ukrainian Catholic University, talked about a service learning project at UCU in wartime. “Our university is fairly young in the introduction of the service learning approach. However, at the start of the full-scale invasion, we all were filled with emotion and wanted to do something for the good of Ukraine. Some of our students and professors went to the front to defend our country. We remained in the rear guard. During the second week of the invasion, I proposed that the students do what they’re best at, communicating, and shedding light on activities of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. We coordinated journalists, fought fake news, and shared actual information. At this time, the UCU Health Sciences Faculty, in particular the Department of Pedagogy and Social Work, coordinated a temporary shelter for internally displaced persons. The Department of Psychology and Psychotherapy of Ukrainian Catholic University created a psychological counseling center. In the first months of the invasion, the university also became a shelter for many children and people with special needs, who were able to lodge at the university and receive psychological and spiritual support. In fact, the whole university was transformed into a service learning laboratory.”
Fr. Shestak states that UCU students, in addition to professional skills, study leadership and support each other and those in need. “This work and study together have formed us into a real team!”
It’s worth adding that from the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukrainian Catholic University has organized a volunteer center that collected more than 6 million dollars to help Ukraine in wartime, which helped Ukrainian soldiers, refugees, and people still living in areas with military action. The main focus of the volunteer center is to gather medical aid for military hospitals and also purchase medicine and medical items, food, clothes, and hygiene items. In this way, UCU has become a unique center to which benefactors from all over the world send aid.
It’s worth noting that the usage of service learning methodology for Ukraine has never been so relevant. “The challenges of rebuilding territories with many different problems and needs arise daily. Some communities near the border with Russia need rebuilding and the improvement of civil life; in the west, there is a need to integrate internally displaced persons and rebuild economic potential. With this in mind, the need arises to prepare highly-qualified specialists who will be prepared to serve for the good of the community, and the country in general, ” summarized Sofiya Opatska, Vice-Rector for Strategic Development of Ukrainian Catholic University.