Each of us individually has a thousand reasons to quit in the middle of the race, but as a team, we come to the finish line together

Experience of a women’s organization in Truskavets.

Truskavets is a small resort town in Lviv region that has long been attracting tourists with its mineral waters. This town, like many others throughout Ukraine, is home to active women who, at first, consider themselves “ordinary” but then discover their great strength and do incredible things for the betterment of the community.

One of these women is Nataliia Ponomarenko. Once she, a young mother, used to work in a company that had not paid salaries to its employees for several months. Nataliia and her colleagues, who were also young parents, needed to maintain their families, so the team went to the city council and achieved justice, so payments were made. This experience inspired Nataliia to continue her civic work and defend people’s rights, and this ultimately led to her becoming a deputy of the town council. Contrary to the public opinion dominating in Lviv region and stressing the traditional role of a woman who has to primarily take care of the family comfort, Nataliia managed to combine the role of a woman and mother and her public activity, thanks to family support, among other things. Nataliia considered herself just “an ordinary woman like everyone else” and did whatever she could. Her colleagues repeatedly said, “Natalia is a woman with a notebook. She never puts things off until later if she can help people.” And it has always been so because Natalia has been a deputy of already 4 convocations.

With the outbreak of full-scale war in February 2022, Truskavets hosted a large number of IDPs, primarily women with children. The community became united and established a humanitarian center headed by Nataliia. Among the women seeking refuge in Truskavets, there were many pregnant women, and Nataliia’s heart was breaking when she was thinking about all the everyday worries and experiences of expectant mothers who found themselves in an unfamiliar city and had nothing for their soon-to-be-born children. Then Nataliia and her like-minded colleagues decided to create gift sets with all the essentials for babies and distribute them to women in need. Initially, the activists did this on a volunteer basis, but then they agreed to cooperate with a local public organization and applied for the Rapid Response Grant Competition of the Ukrainian Women’s Fund. In this way, the activists were able to provide even more young mothers with the essentials.

At the same time, Nataliia learned about the Women’s Leadership Academy, which was part of the “Women’s Voice and Leadership – Ukraine” Project implemented by the Ukrainian Women’s Fund with the support of the Government of Canada. She had doubts as to whether she should go, whether she could leave her family and job, but eventually she made up her mind.

“When I came to the Academy in September 2022, we were going through the most difficult times of the full-scale invasion. I came to the Academy excited, reproaching myself for leaving my child and the humanitarian center” , – recalls Nataliia. However, on the very first day of the training, Nataliia realized that she was right where she was supposed to be. The information from the trainers and communication with other activists from different parts of Ukraine reminded the women once again – if you doubt that you have some competitive edges, nobody else will definitely see them in you. As Nataliia recalls, the Academy opened her eyes to the fact that women are an extremely powerful force. She returned to Truskavets determined to support other women and share her knowledge with them.

After the training, the Academy alumni had the opportunity to submit a project aimed at the development of the organizational capacity of new women’s feminist organizations provided by the “Women’s Voice and Leadership – Ukraine” Project. At that time, the initiative of Nataliia and like-minded women in Truskavets was very active but lacked structure and strategic vision for its development. The team worked on pure enthusiasm, therefore, to have more opportunities and tools for helping other women, the initiative was transformed into the public organization “DiyTvory” (“Act and Create”). Therefore, the project submitted to the grant competition combined two main areas: reinforcing the organization’s resource base and team capacity strengthening. The resource base was further developed through purchasing of the required equipment and developing branding. The team capacity was strengthened through raising awareness of feminism, gender, and psychological resilience among the NGO’s team members and active women of Truskavets as well as through strategic planning.

Before the training at the Academy, Nataliia and her like-minded colleagues had no plans to set up a non-governmental organization. They believed that the opportunities and format of their informal initiative group were sufficient. However, after registering NGO “DiyTvory”, the activists felt the benefits. Firstly, the representatives of the non-governmental organization started supporting each other’s initiatives on a more systemic basis and the community started listening to them more than when they had been just individual activists. Secondly, the NGO status enabled them to approach international donors with their ideas and attract additional resources. The new status also allowed them to unite with other women’s NGOs, and as of today, “DiyTvory” has already signed two Memoranda of Cooperation. Such officially established cooperation enables sharing of experience and best practices as well as redistributing resources when one NGO has the capacity and the other has the corresponding need. As an NGO, “DiyTvory” also joined the 1325 coalition, and today Truskavets activists are working on a local action plan to implement the “Women. Peace. Security” agenda.

It is important that the NGO “DiyTvory” was registered as a women’s organization. This means that the focus of the NGO’s activities is on the needs of Truskavets women. In practice, as often the case is, response to women’s needs benefits a wider range of residents. For example, “DiyTvory” solved one of the challenges of school education in their town by addressing the needs of women. The activists noticed that many women, no matter where they worked, had a problem in common and were under constant stress worrying about their children’s safety in schools with no adequate shelters. Available shelters could not accommodate all students, and schools switched to several shifts of teaching, which created additional stress for many families and educational process participants most of whom were women and children. The activists began to look for ways to create safe conditions for children to study. They prepared a project to improve shelters under schools and submitted it to a wide list of possible donors. One of the Polish partners supported the initiative with about UAH 1.6 million for equipment for repairs and furnishing of the future renovated spaces. Upon Nataliia’s initiative, the Town Council co-financed the project and ensured the renovation works. The project was run by women, and they divided the work according to the geographical principle, with each of them supervising work in a certain area of the town and specific schools. New like-minded women joined them in the course of the project implementation.

The NGO “DiyTvory” activists are actively engaged in studying, creating new projects, and intend to work on increasing the visibility of active women, implementing common ideas, overcoming stereotypes, and involving women in decision-making. They are also implementing a project to develop rural healthcare so that women in rural areas have better opportunities to take care of their health.

It has been a year and a half since Nataliia completed her training at the Women’s Leadership Academy, but she still recalls the experience with gratitude. Since now she is surrounded by active women who are ready to work for the development and prosperity of their community, women striving for positive changes. But along with that, some women lack confidence and lack a team for the implementation of their ideas, they have an idea, but don’t know what can be done with it so far.

Nataliia characterizes the “DiyTvory” team as follows: “Our main task is to help women believe in themselves, and that’s what we do”.

According to Nataliia, training at the Academy “opened another door in her life”. She saw the direction for further movement and the power of women who were ready to follow her on this path. On her recommendation, new representatives of the Truskavets community joined the Women’s Leadership Academy and were inspired to develop their leadership potential, felt part of women’s movement in Ukraine, and believed in themselves. Each member of the “DiyTvory” team gives her ideas and contributes to the implementation of joint initiatives.

“Society is evolving, and we also have to develop, make the world more comfortable for everyone, apply equality principles in treating each other, and pass decisions each in our place. Since women are a driving engine of change. A woman can do anything. The main thing is to set a goal, have a desire, and reject stereotypes”, — Nataliia concludes.

For Nataliia, every girl or woman is a smart and creative colleague with precious ideas worth supporting.