• Anastasiia Furtas | Senior Communications Assistant

A lawyer, driven by a desire to assist survivors of exploitation, a social worker advocating for women's rights, an economics student turned counter-trafficking activist, and a junior psychologist committed to fostering social change. IOM Winter School gathered youth from various regions of Ukraine, aiming to empower them with the skills and knowledge needed to drive social change and combat exploitation and human trafficking.  

How to write your project? How to establish your organization and develop its capacity? Where to look for resources? What if you are afraid to start? IOM’s Youth School imparts the skills to bring participants’ ideas to life and remains a safe space that unites youth who care.   

During her second year of law school, Anastasiia from Liubotyn, Kharkiv region, sought a part-time job and encountered a situation where she was not paid her salary for two months. This incident sparked her interest in criminal law, particularly countering human trafficking and exploitation.  

Anastasiia, a participant in the IOM Winter Youth School. Photo by IOM Ukraine

“I'm driven to help those impacted by these issues and enhance my organizational skills to share useful information,” says Anastasiia.  

She is currently working on an interactive theatre initiative she came up with during IOM school.  In her play script, she addresses topic of forced begging. During the play, actors intentionally make mistakes that reflect the general people's reactions to witnessing forced begging in real life. After the performance, participants discuss the actors' mistakes and how people should behave to help stop this kind of human exploitation. So far, Anastasia has already organized three similar events for schoolchildren in 8th-11th grades, aimed at reducing the likelihood of them falling into situations of exploitation.  

Training and lectures in a shelter during an air raid. Photo by IOM Ukraine
Kateryna, a participant in the IOM Winter Youth School. Photo by IOM Ukraine

Meet Kateryna, a spirited soul who consistently emerges as one of the most vocal participants in class discussions. She was born and raised in a small village in Poltava region before moving to Kyiv. Balancing a full-time job in social services with her studies in social work, she remains dedicated to her passion for aiding those who have faced violence. Despite her demanding schedule, Kateryna eagerly attends roundtable discussions in the evenings, determined to contribute to the cause of women's rights  protection in Ukraine, a topic close to her heart: 

“Since I was child, my information space has always been filled with discussions about women's rights protection and various feminist communities. I was also inspired by my older sister, who worked as a social worker. She had already formed values and views on the topic of women's rights and violence, which she shared with me.” 

Kateryna harbours a vision of establishing her own feminist organization, "Sisterhood," dedicated to aiding women who have endured violence or exploitation. 

Kateryna during training and discussion on project development. Photo by IOM Ukraine

"Before school, I envisaged my future organization primarily addressing issues of gender equality and violence prevention,” says Kateryna. “Now, I see with crystal clarity how the themes of safe employment, migration, and exploitation dovetail into this narrative. "

"For me, IOM school is a gateway to project activities. I've never had the experience of creating projects from scratch, from an initial idea to financial reporting."  

Bohdan listens to a lecture about combating human trafficking. Photo by IOM Ukraine

Bohdan's passions are his hometown and studying economics, but the war destroyed his life in a native Kherson. After relocating to Mykolaiv, he felt confused and emotionally shattered. A friend shared with him the IOM school application, prompting him to join. The school, with its new knowledge, friendly and supportive environment, helped Bohdan overcome his feelings of loss. He dove into learning process and found a new purpose: to assist others by promoting awareness about safe migration and employment which will help to reduce the risks of human trafficking and exploitation.   

Bohdan volunteered to join a human-rights NGO founded by his friend, who is also a graduate of the IOM school and established his organization with support from IOM and USAID. In Pervomaisk, Mykolaiv region, they organized event to share information about safe employment and human trafficking prevention for students. IOM supported their initiative by offering mentoring assistance and covering the costs of technical equipment.

Bohdan, a participant in the IOM Winter Youth School. Photo by IOM Ukraine

Bohdan is also willing to apply his newfound knowledge and organizational experience to aid his beloved hometown, Kherson.  

"My heart belongs to my city and I determined to organize info sessions on countering human trafficking there. Understanding the gravity of this issue  and the myriad forms it can assume, I believe such information is both pertinent and invaluable for the Kherson people."  

Photo by IOM Ukraine

"We shape the world around us, so we must awaken from indifference," says Pavlo from Lviv who is studying to become a psychologist. 

Pavlo, a participant in the IOM Winter Youth School. Photo by IOM Ukraine

Before studying at the IOM school, Pavlo dedicated all his time to lectures and seminars at his university. Pavlo always wanted to implement his ideas, but as a student, he didn’t have enough resources for this. As the school participants were offered mentoring and grant support from IOM, Pavlo and his friends used this opportunity to bring to life their own initiative. They conducted quests and training on safe migration for internally displaced persons staying at modular towns in Sykhiv, Lviv region.  

Pavlo on the lecture & discussion panel. Photo by IOM Ukraine

Pavlo continues his active social endeavors and nurtures a vision of his own educational programme, "Psychological Courses of Personal Growth," designed to equip youth with valuable communication and analytical skills.  

IOM’s latest Youth School was organized in Kyiv region, gathering 30 participants from across Ukraine. 

By participating in IOM school, youth not only find a supportive and creative environment that helps them blend into new communities but also release their talents and passions, aimed at useful social changes. School offers a variety of activities designed to engage and uplift the participants. Creative master classes provide an outlet for expression and skill development, while sports activities promote physical health and teamwork. Additionally, the availability of individual consultations from professional psychologists offers a vital resource for addressing personal challenges and fostering mental health. This holistic approach ensures that participants receive comprehensive support, personal development, and facilitated integration into society. 

The activity has been made possible with funding fromby the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and was organized in partnership with the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ministry for Social Policy of Ukraine. 

Photo by IOM Ukraine
Photo cards with vivid memories, which were created and hung on the wall during training. Photo by IOM Ukraine
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