One Year of War in Ukraine: Global Art Challenge Finds New Ways to Support Refugees
Artivism continues to make a lasting impact as the need for creative approaches to support Ukrainian refugees remains high.
One year after Russia first invaded Ukraine, millions of children have been displaced, their lives upended by war. Altogether, UNICEF USA reports 27.3 million people – including 7.1 million children– have required assistance in Ukraine and across 19 European countries due to ongoing war efforts. As we approach one year of grappling with the impact of the invasion, the need to help displaced children and their families journey to safety remains urgent, and stories of families who have found support and stability in starting over reveals the impact any one of us can have in assisting our neighbors.
The desire to help families affected by the war prompted Students Rebuild to focus our 2022-2023 programming on connecting teachers and students around the world with organizations that are providing help to refugees, like those in fleeing Ukraine. The Welcoming Refugees Project has provided an outlet for K12 classrooms to use their artistic talents to supply funding and aid to displaced peoples worldwide.
Through the program, students create works of art as art activists – or "artivists" – that unlock donations from the foundation to partner organizations like UNICEF USA, World Savvy, and ChooseLove. These organizations are working worldwide to raise awareness (World Savvy) and on the ground supporting Ukrainian refugees amid new and unforeseen challenges (UNICEF USA and ChooseLove). Their help includes providing safe drinking water and health care, nutrition, and educational support.
This year, the Students Rebuild is committed to creating and distributing lesson plans to design art that prompts reflections between students across the world with their refugee neighbors, recognizing the difficulties that come with being displaced while embracing their common humanity - an approach with a lasting impact on the hearts and minds of students.
That last component - presenting information about global events, is a focus of Students Rebuild partner World Savvy, which works with communities to support globally competent educational instruction, empowering students to be global changemakers. Their Ukraine and Russia Case Study is helping educators address essential yet sensitive classroom topics worldwide.
According to UNICEF USA President and CEO Michael J. Nyenhuis, youth involvement is paramount. "Beyond raising awareness of the needs of refugees, students can influence their classmates, friends, and family to advocate for the needs of refugees. The Welcoming Refugees Project empowers students to make practical contributions to refugees, both in their community and through refugee resettlement agencies, and participate in programs that will deliver resources to refugees worldwide."
Shortly after the war began, Nyenhuis landed in Romania to work with a team supporting Ukrainian refugees entering Romania. Through this work, he came across a group of orphaned children who had fled an orphanage in Ukraine.
"Their caregivers had found a way out of a city bombing to get to the border and cross into Romania to try to find someplace safe for the young orphaned children to be cared for," said Nyenhuis. UNICEF supported their arrival in partnership with the Romanian government. "To hear their traumatic stories of what happened in their community, their traumas of working their way through the country and across the border, and then to be able to meet them in safety, made such an impression on me about the importance of refugee services."
For children living through war, every day is one less day of childhood lost due to extreme trauma and conflict outside of a family's control. Children fleeing unsafe communities experience a loss of education, networks (family, friends, community), activities, and access to personalized care and experience a loss of direction and opportunities until they can be settled.
Partner Choose Love raises global funds for high-impact grassroots and community-based organizations supporting refugees and displaced people worldwide. The organization has an ongoing fundraiser specifically for those impacted by the Ukraine war. Funds go toward organizations led by the communities – providing legal support, emergency medical care, search and rescue distribution, tents encampments, sleeping bags, warm clothes, diapers, and hygiene essentials to displaced families.
"We always say that the journey doesn't end when someone reaches their destination country; often, that's when the journey begins," said Josie Naughton, CEO and co-founder of Choose Love. "So legal support is really important to reunite families, support to help people get housing, to help people get jobs, to make sure that the kids get into school."
"There's nothing more important than giving children in a refugee setting a semblance of stability, so they have a chance to move forward," said Nyenhuis. "The donations from artivists go toward UNICEF's work providing that stability."