DVV International has been working with local partners to promote lifelong learning and strengthen adult learning and education (ALE) in Ukraine for over twelve years. The Institute started in 2010 with a regional office in Kiev to improve adults’ access to quality and affordable education. The sudden outbreak of war brings terrible suffering to the Ukrainian people and poses massive challenges to the global community. The focus must now, of course, be on the safety of the people and all diplomatic efforts to end the war as quickly as possible. Therefore, our thoughts are with our colleagues, the staff of our partner organisations, project participants and all people in Ukraine.
It is currently uncertain whether and how we will be able to continue our activities in Ukraine. But until the outbreak of the war we had done our work with a lot of passion and professionalism. We would therefore like to provide an insight into the work that our colleagues and civil society partners have done in recent years. The focus has always been on building an ALE system with the involvement of civil society actors – in order to give disadvantaged people in particular better prospects in life and more opportunities to participate, and to strengthen democracy in the country.
Our work to establish ALE structures is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and further projects are supported by the Federal Foreign Office. A qualified and motivated team consisting of one seconded specialist and ten local staff from the regional office in Kiev manage the diverse projects and activities.
Since the beginning of its activities, DVV International has been able to build a solid adult education network in Ukraine. At the heart of the project activities are the local partners: currently nine civil society organisations driven by the will to promote democratic values and the rule of law, conflict prevention and resolution, tolerance and diversity, equal opportunities and participation for all people through education. In the past years, we have reached over 22,000 people with innovative education programmes, qualified over 4,000 teachers and education managers, and inspired and accompanied numerous local civil society initiatives. We work with our partners on a long-term basis and involve them in the European and global expert exchange on adult learning and education – and in the meantime they feel like “small Volkshochschulen” and part of a worldwide ALE movement.
The partner organisations offer educational programmes that are particularly attractive to socially disadvantaged and low-income people. The programme spectrum ranges from handicraft, IT and language courses to the teaching of soft skills and social and civic education. We support the partners in identifying the educational needs of the population, creating a motivating learning environment, recruiting qualified trainers for the educational work and networking locally with key actors. This also includes convincing decision-makers in politics and administration that investments in ALE are important for the social and economic development of the people. Therefore, we also advise state actors and connect them with our civil society partners in order to sustainably improve the framework conditions for ALE. Shortly before the outbreak of the war, the country’s first adult education law was handed over by the government to parliament for adoption.
We have also used the structures we have built up in recent years to implement international cooperation projects. In the past, we implemented numerous projects in Ukraine with funding from the Federal Foreign Office. The activities have strengthened understanding between the countries of the former Soviet Union (especially Armenia, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova) across national borders and at the same time built bridges to the German Volkshochschule landscape and civil society. We have also been contributing to this recently with a project to promote city and civic diplomacy.
Over the past two months, the city partners Celle and Sumy as well as Leipzig and Kiev have been highly motivated in working on joint ideas and action plans. The four cities, with their adult education centres, are part of the newly initiated Urban X-Change Network, which promotes cross-border cooperation and dialogue between cities with the active participation of civil society on cultural and educational issues. The next dates for both city partners were already marked in the calendars. However, with the outbreak of war on 24 February 2022, a new reality emerged. Instead of exchanging ideas about the design of educational festivals in Celle and Sumy or a joint bilingual multimedia platform for citizens from Kiev and Leipzig, it is now suddenly a question of existence and possible support.
Parallel to the partnerships with Ukraine, two other German-British town partnerships (Kiel-Coventry and Aachen-Rochdale) are currently working on joint projects. The mood here is also saddened and thoughts are with the people in Ukraine who have also become colleagues through the project. Even if they did not know each other personally yet, the project has already created a community that stands up even in difficult times. For example, the adult education centre in Celle has committed itself to host family members of the partner from Sumy.
Cross-border communities of solidarity have also been created within the framework of the “History Competitions” project funded by the Federal Foreign Office. In the project, which is being carried out in cooperation with the Körber Foundation, since 2017 more than 3,500 schoolchildren from Ukraine have been searching for traces of their ancestors. They were supported in the process by more than 750 teachers in researching their own local history and taking a closer look at the often centrally prescribed historiography on the basis of their research. The teachers also looked at history lessons with different eyes after participating in the training organised by DVV International and its partner.
As a result, impressive presentations, exhibitions, podcasts and many other products were created that show history in all its facets. The winners of the competitions meet students from Armenia, Georgia and Moldova at a history camp and experience humanity and togetherness across national borders. In the current project year, the competition motto in Ukraine is “Soviet past: rethinking history”. All participants had to painfully experience that history suddenly became the present when the Russian regime invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022.
What we have built together in eight locations in Ukraine is now acutely threatened by destruction in the war: in the heavily contested cities of Sumy in the north-east of the country not far from the border with Russia, as well as in Melitopol and Mykolayiv in the south-east, in Poltava, Nikopol, Vinnytsia, Lviv and Kiev. There is some hope that our educational activities have brought about lasting changes in the people who are now fighting for freedom and democracy in Ukraine.