Ukrainian Student Educates His Peers on the Dangers of Human Trafficking

Oleh and his friends discuss human trafficking prevention at IOM youth summer school.
Oleh and his friends discuss human trafficking prevention at the International Organization for Migration’s youth summer school.
Dmytro Kunytskyi
From aimlessness to leadership: Summer school training makes its mark
“My story shows that a wrong decision does not end with a period; it can often simply be a comma!”

July 2018 — Oleh* lives in a small town in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia oblast and studies at a local vocational school. He comes across as a regular guy, but he is far from ordinary.

Oleh’s life changed last year when he came into conflict with law enforcement soon after entering vocational school, stealing a phone left unattended at a supermarket cashier desk.

“It was my first year in college [vocational school]. I was with new friends, and I wanted to show that I was not afraid to take risks,” explained Oleh, 15.

But everything went wrong, and instead of a free phone, he received a year of probation, a stained reputation, and weekly visits to the Ministry of Justice juvenile probation department.

At that time, Oleh lacked confidence, was unable to withstand peer pressure, had no goals or dreams, and lived without purpose or ambition. His probation involved individual meetings with a psychologist to work on his personal qualities, which helped him to better express himself and convinced him he could be a leader.

He also learned about the International Organization for Migration’s youth summer school program, Together for Success, conducted in cooperation with the probation project office at the Ministry of Justice for children in conflict with law. Oleh attended the USAID-supported training and became acquainted with people interested in making the world better, including singers, athletes and opinion leaders.

“Most importantly, I learned about the terrible social phenomenon of human trafficking and that children in conflict with the law are most vulnerable, as we often accept risky proposals without thinking about the consequences,” said Oleh.

Inspired by the summer school training, Oleh and three other participants from his hometown, along with probation center teachers who had also attended the training, shared their knowledge with others. Together they contacted local vocational schools, centers of psychosocial rehabilitation for children, and the juvenile detention center with an offer to raise awareness about safe travel abroad and how not to become a victim of trafficking. They received overwhelmingly positive responses.

At first Oleh was afraid that nothing would come out of it as there was very little time and a lot of work. Moreover, he had always found it difficult to speak in front of a large audience, especially his peers. But Oleh’s fear dissipated after the first session, and he began to enjoy what he was doing.

“I saw that human trafficking was an extremely important issue, and the guys trusted us because we were their peers,” he explained. “They were not ashamed to ask us awkward questions.”

Within a month, Oleh conducted 13 counter-trafficking sessions for a total of 243 students at secondary and vocational schools, mostly children in conflict with the law or living at social and rehabilitation centers. For his efforts, last December, Oleh and his team received the Award for Leadership and Civic Activism at the International Organization for Migration’s Seventh Combating Human Trafficking Awards ceremony supported by USAID.

“My story shows that every young person has the freedom to choose their own path and the ability to change direction, to correct the mistakes he makes,” said Oleh. “My story shows that a wrong decision does not end with a period; it can often simply be a comma!”

*Name changed to protect privacy.

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Last updated: July 31, 2018

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