Cases 17:31 25 Apr 2024

Volunteers in Ukraine to rebuild greenhouse for children with special needs. Here's how you can help

Rubryka tells the story of a small but meaningful reconstruction project in Kyiv. A local charity wants to restore a therapeutic space for children with special needs and invites everyone to contribute.

What's the problem?

відбудова теплиці для дітей

Photo from the Rishuchi Charity Fund's archive

The Specialized Education and Rehabilitation Center #21 in the neighborhood of Pushcha Vodytsia, in the northwestern part of the Ukrainian capital, houses and teaches about 200 children with neurological disorders and developmental disabilities. These include 30 orphans displaced from war-affected areas of Bakhmut and Zaporizhzhia. Before Russia's full-scale war began in 2022, the facility's greenhouse was a crucial space for therapy and rehabilitation. However, it is now unusable due to shelling near the boarding school. The structure is unsafe, and continuing therapy sessions inside is impossible.

What's the solution?

The charity fund, called "Rishuchi" (the name translates from Ukrainian to "determined"), decided to help the rehabilitation school. They opened the fundraiser to rebuild the greenhouse for children with special needs. The charity, which plans to start work early this summer, needs the support of people in Ukraine and beyond to make the children's dream a reality.

How does it work?

Why do the children need a greenhouse?

Команда БФ

Rishuchi Fund's team. Photo from the fund's archive

The idea to rebuild the greenhouse came up in February 2023, when volunteers from the charity first visited the children's home. 

"The school's principal, Lidiia Moroz, showed us around and pointed out areas needing reconstruction. Then, she asked us to build a sensory room for rehabilitation. We quickly raised funding for that project and completed the room within a month," Rishuchi Co-Founder Yehor Pohrebniak told Rubryka.

When the rehabilitation school requested help rebuilding the damaged greenhouse, the charity immediately supported the idea and launched another fundraising campaign.

"Working in the greenhouse, caring for plants, helps calm the children and balance their emotional state. When kids see the results of their work, it significantly boosts their emotional and intellectual development. That's why year-round activities of this type are essential for these children," Pohrebniak added.

The charity also created a YouTube video about the boarding school — you can watch it here.

A life-long commitment

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This is how the school's greenhouse looks now. The shelling damaged the building's plumbing and windows. Photo from the charity's archive

The school's greenhouse was damaged by Russian shelling. While the main structure was intact, the windows shattered, and the plumbing was destroyed. The hot water supply was cut off, making the greenhouse impossible to use during the colder months. The metal frames and containers inside rusted and began to deteriorate. The rehabilitation center's staff tried to make the old conservatory usable for a long time. While they could, they reinforced the internal structures using old metal beds as materials. But now, the greenhouse has become entirely unsafe and dangerous for staff and children.

The charity's co-founder, Yehor Pohrebniak, told Rubryka that children used the greenhouse throughout the year before the damage. It was used for after-school activities to calm their emotional state after classes that are often challenging for them. Kids grew various plants, from houseplants to tropical plants, flowers, and vegetables. The students started gardening in February and continued through the spring, using the outdoor garden beds next to the greenhouse.

відбудова теплиці для дітей

The interior of the unsafe greenhouse. Photo from the charity's archive

With the greenhouse now unsafe, the children lost the therapeutic space. Despite these challenges, Ms. Tetiana, who manages it, found creative ways to continue some activities. She grows seedlings in old, rusty containers and brings in supplies from the market to engage the children with what they like the most.

"Ms. Tetiana is an exceptional woman. During the full-scale invasion and occupation of the Kyiv region, she walked [10 km] to work every day from her neighborhood of Akademmistechko to Pushcha Vodytsia to protect the children's home's property from looters," Pohrebniak said. "Later, her family persuaded her to go to the United States for safety, so Tetiana left Ukraine. She could stay in the US, but she returned to work and her greenhouse after the children came back to school."

The charity co-founder also shared a story illustrating how much the greenhouse means to the children. A few years ago, a group of students visited the United States as part of an exchange program. Many brought new shoes, backpacks, and gadgets when they returned to Ukraine. But one student walked out of the airport carrying a brand-new shovel and rake. He said he brought gardening tools from the US because they were better than anything one could find in Ukraine. This young man, who discovered his passion for gardening in the school's greenhouse, later pursued a career in horticulture.

"When we told the children we planned to build them a new greenhouse, they were over the moon"

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A community workday at the education and rehabilitation center in Pushcha Vodytsia. Screenshot from the charity's video

"One of our main goals is to help children socialize and feel valued and know they can also be helpful," the initiative organizers said. "A greenhouse for children with special needs has an important mission — integrate young people with disabilities into various areas of life."

Last year, the Rishuchi Charity Fund and its volunteer friends visited a children's home to clean the area around the damaged greenhouse.

спеціалізований навчально-реабілітаційний заклад 21, Пуща Водиця

Community cleanup around the greenhouse. Photo from the charity's archive.

The fund's staff remembers telling the children they were cleaning to help rebuild the greenhouse. "The kids were over the moon," Yehor Pohrebniak told Rubryka. The children, alongside volunteers, jumped in to help with enthusiasm. Older kids cut down bushes, while younger ones carried branches and pulled weeds.

"Everyone  — children, teachers, volunteers — worked together and with energy. No one waited for someone else to do the work; everyone pitched in and did their part to reach the goal. The entire area was cleaned in record time — just two hours. We knew then we were in the right place, where we're needed," said the charity's co-founder.

Will this work?

Збір БФ Рішучі

"The more people and small-scale collections supporting our campaign we have, the faster we can raise the needed funding," the organizers stressed.

The new greenhouse will be built on the site of the old structure. According to Ihor Pohrebniak, it will be constructed with modern materials designed to last. The layout and equipment will be suitable for children of different ages, with designated spaces for rest and tea breaks, as well as storage for gardening tools. A nearby restroom and hygiene area will be added to avoid forcing children to walk 300 meters to the school's restroom in cold weather.

"In the year since we started collecting donations, we've raised more than ₴900,000 (around $23,000, – ed.). We've had support from many companies, volunteers, restaurants, and organizations, for which we're extremely grateful. We'll definitely thank everyone publicly once the project is complete," said Pohrebniak. "We've been careful with our fundraising approach, avoiding competition with military fundraisers. But now we need to speed up our efforts because the project's budget is much higher than what we've collected, and warm weather is approaching. We need to start building and finish before it gets cold." 

The charity asks Ukrainians to open small-scale collections to help reach the overall target. If you live in Ukraine, have an account at Monobank, and want to create your own micro-fundraiser to support the initiative, you can contact the organizers. As an option, you can donate to the greenhouse rebuilding fund through this link. The charity also invites businesses and companies to collaborate and channel their social responsibility to help rebuild Ukraine after the war.

Even more helpful solutions!

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Along with the greenhouse, the Rishuchi Charity Foundation plans to renovate the children's sports field. Photo from the charity's archive

The Rishuchi Charity Foundation is not stopping with the greenhouse rebuild. Next to the children's home is a large area that used to be a sports field, but the equipment needs to be updated, and the space has overgrown with bushes.

The charity fund plans to install new exercise equipment and set up a children's playground so kids can spend more time outdoors in a modern area designed for physical and sensory activities.

Activists also aim to renovate the park, add walking paths, install shaded areas with seating, and add sculptures. The goal is to make the park comfortable and safe for children.

We created this content as part of the Recovery Window Network. On the unified platform recovery.win, you can learn more about rebuilding efforts in Ukraine's war-affected regions. 


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