The war in Ukraine has affected every stratum of society, but children are the most vulnerable. Outside of physical and emotional dangers to a child’s wellbeing, countless studies examining wars across the world demonstrate that a loss of educational opportunities is another tragedy of armed conflicts. The harm is very real but is often overlooked as the world’s attention focuses on physical safety. The lack of attention and schooling is particularly damaging for Ukrainian orphans, who are some of the most vulnerable children.
Since the Russian invasion February 24th, thousands of Ukrainian children have been safely evacuated but they remain in dire need of developmental and educational programs.
Child Adoption Associates, Inc., a Hague-accredited non-profit agency licensed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is working with various companies, most notably EPAM Systems, to provide laptops, educational material and accessories to schools that have been damaged by the war. Founded in 2001, Child Adoption Associates, Inc. has over two decades of experience of working with Ukrainian orphanages. Most of the orphans the organization supports were orphans before the war, but there are also children who recently lost parents in the war.
In the early weeks of the war, Child Adoption Associates worked closely with its contacts at orphanages across Ukraine to deliver emergency aid in the form of food, water, warm clothes and medicine. In March, the orphans were safely evacuated to other countries. The children now live there in hotels or church shelters. These children cannot attend school as they do not speak the local language of the hosting country. Even for the children still in their homeland, there are few available educational resources.
The orphans have nothing to occupy themselves with during their long days. In addition to the trauma of fleeing a warzone, the lack of schooling puts orphans at risk of a significant developmental delay and negatively affects their psychological health. The war enormously impacts the life trajectory of children, impacting their safety, health and disrupting their education, which is the best defense against poverty later in life. For orphans, the risk is grave: without education, they might not be able to adapt to life outside of orphanage, find a qualified job, and become equal members of the society. This danger, and the future of this generation of kids, must be addressed today.
Recognizing the unaddressed needs of orphans, Child Adoption Associates launched its educational project to supply the children with laptops and online classes and activities. The first online course took place on April 19 and had only 30 children. Over the past 6 months, 18 Ukrainian orphanages were provided with computers. The program assisted with internet connectivity and lined up a dozen of volunteer teachers from around the globe who log in and teach the kids. Thanks to the computers and internet, the orphans can now also access Ukrainian school programming available online.
There still are challenges. Additional technology is necessary to ensure consistent access to online educational materials for current participants. The orphanages need more classroom setups, require mobile internet access and portable devices like laptops and micro-desktops, microphones, and speakers. At this time, more than five students have to share one laptop – the hope is to engage more children but also to reduce the number of kids that have to share a tablet.
While Child Adoption Associates has amazing volunteers, they cannot indefinitely continue to work for free. The plan is to hire Ukrainian teachers who speak the language, know Ukrainian school curriculum.
As a non-profit agency, Child Adoption Associates relies on donations and financial grants to support its education program. They are grateful to companies, like EPAM, for donating, receiving a total of 768 computers, 618 of these coming from EPAM. For example, the digital transformation company donated 298 laptops and 120 desktops for computer classes in the schools that were completely destroyed during the occupation. Another 200 desktops are scheduled to arrive in the next two months – half expected by November 10, the other half by December 10 – to help equip four schools that were destroyed in one Ukrainian region. More is needed to provide support. It is unclear when it will be safe for the orphans to return to Ukraine, as many cities and schools have been destroyed; with the hopes of reopening in the coming months, EPAM has continued to provide further resources to these schools. As the children impatiently wait for the war to end, Child Adoption Associates seeks to help with children’s educational needs.
The children are eager to learn, but such aspirations are only possible if they have reliable access to essential tools and resources. Fortunately, there are countless ways to help the children and continue their studies. Something as simple as a laptop or a mobile internet access can make an enormous difference – actually, it will simply change the destiny of the whole generation.