Posted by: Emma Hutchins, Public Affairs Intern and Major Sven Olson, Bilateral Affairs Officer
While on an official visit to Moscow in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama remarked, “[By] mobilizing and organizing and changing people’s hearts and minds, you then change the political landscape.” On July 17, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv and Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) translated President Obama’s wise words into action, as they celebrated the completion of a Humanitarian Assistance renovation project at a local school in the village of Starychi in the region of Lviv.
This summer’s project builds upon the success of the groundbreaking ceremony at Starychi’s Preschool last July, when the U.S. Military prepared for the upcoming renovations, and ROTC cadets and local Ukrainians worked on joint volunteer projects around the school. Since then, the European Command (EUCOM) Civic Engagement Branch Humanitarian Assistance Program has funded the installation of a new thermal façade, new windows, new entrance steps (including a terrace and canopy), indoor toilets, kitchenettes, and the renovation of six outdoor gazebos. The EUCOM team also brought along a U.S. Embassy photographer, allowing us to capture and share the energy and emotion of the celebration.
When the school’s Director, Lubov Kmilyovska, expressed her gratitude, she referred to her newly renovated school as a “forest fairytale,” and the parents’ community noted that the facility had become a beautiful second home for their children. The completed project dramatically improves energy savings, the winterization of the preschool, and the safety and quality of life for children and teachers, as the persistent danger presented by falling stones from the old façade and deteriorating play areas has now been eliminated.
The Starychi Preschool was a particularly fitting location for a Humanitarian Assistance project, as the village maintains a strong relationship with the International Security and Peacekeeping Center (ISPC), and the school community is a close partner with the locally based Ukrainian military unit. In fact, the school’s ribbon-cutting ceremony was scheduled to coincide with Distinguished Visitor (DV) day at the multinational military exercise Rapid Trident 2013, which is based out of the ISPC. As a result of the concurrent scheduling, U.S. Ambassador John F. Tefft, Major General David Baldwin, ODC Chief LTC Tracey Rueschoff, and ODC staff all attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the beautifully transformed school. The juxtaposition of these two events highlights the many facets of military work, including international partnership, public diplomacy, and civilian stability.
While regional contractors usually carry out these projects, the U.S. government also requires a significant amount of local collaboration to orchestrate these efforts. Many previous project locations – roughly 25 in the past decade – were suggested by USAID and its regional contractors, illustrating how a number of different players are involved in improving the quality of life across Ukraine. For many Military Humanitarian Assistance (MHA) projects, the United States’ commitment to the health, safety, and success of Ukraine’s students does not end after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The U.S. Military is invested in the continuing success of local communities like Starychi, and recently provided a large shipment of school supplies to support Ukrainian students.
Beyond the new building and school supplies, the most rewarding result was the spirit of optimism that residents exuded in the aftermath of the project. The smiling faces of the Ambassador and other Distinguished Visitors, military leaders, ROTC cadets, teachers, parents, and most importantly the school’s students, spoke volumes about the U.S. Military’s commitment to giving back to communities and building global partnerships, even if only one “forest fairytale” preschool at a time.