Iryna Lysenko ‘03
Mykolaiv, Ukraine / Fruitland, Idaho
Education:  Bachelor’s in Teaching German and English from the Mykolaiv State University, Master’s in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Marburg (Germany), graduating in 2015

Iryna Lysenko smallBelow are words from an outstanding FLEX alumna who made her idea to create international volunteer opportunities available for youth across Ukraine, become a reality.  In 2008 Iryna founded the Youth NGO Iskra in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, an organization that focuses on intercultural and interreligious dialogue and promotes volunteering on local and international levels. Iskra runs civic education & leadership summer camps and a long-term orphanage program in Ukraine, co-organizes international youth exchanges in Europe and acts as a Sending Organization for European Voluntary Service (EVS), the only organization of this kind in the Southern Ukraine helping young people to spend a year volunteering abroad on a program funded by the European Commission. Iryna expressed her own commitment to volunteering while serving 9 months as an EVS volunteer in Luxembourg in 2007-2008.

Message to FLEX Alumni: Use the unique chance given to you by our exchange program well. As a FLEX student, you have an advantage over your peers. Use this advantage to look deep inside yourself, find your true passion and go change the world from there. And remember, if the project, business, or organization you really want to work for doesn’t exist – maybe it is time to create it.

FLEX Importance:  For me, the FLEX Program was far more than an exchange year. It fundamentally changed my view of the world and of myself. Being active in my community, fighting injustice wherever possible, helping people as a volunteer, donating my time and money for a variety of good causes, working hard on building democracy in my home country – these are some of the most important values I brought back from America and kept over the years.

FLEX Lessons:  I was also a FLEX alumni city coordinator from 2004 until 2007. During those years our FLEX alumni group organised a lot of events – workshops on project implementation, city clean-ups and alumni reunions.  Apart from that experience, I was involved in organising English language summer camps together with the International Outreach Coalition (IOC) and Peace Corps volunteers for four years. In 2005 we started with only one summer camp and expanded to other parts of Ukraine over the years.

Current Work: After completing my Bachelor’s Degree I moved to Luxembourg to participate in the European Voluntary Service program for a year. It is a program which is fully funded by the European Commission and allows young people to work in an NGO or social facility in a foreign European country, while developing skills through service-learning or the method of ‘learning-by-doing’. When I came back to Ukraine, I realized that many of my friends would have happily joined the program too, if only they had found a proper sending organisation to guide them through the application, preparation, and visa processes. The closest organisation that could assist in these matters was located in Lviv, about 800 km from my hometown. To fill in this niche and to realize my lifetime ambition of managing my own organisation, in 2008 I single-handedly founded youth NGO Iskra ( Today we have a team of five youth workers and two members of support staff, who have helped over 120 young Ukrainians pursue long-term voluntary service abroad. We also send up to a hundred young people to youth exchanges and training courses in Europe every year. I believe that in order to build a functioning democracy in Ukraine young people need to experience how things work in other functioning democracies first. Helping young people to become volunteers in EU countries and receive their first experience of living and working abroad is my main ambition. We are especially focused on engaging young people from rural areas, migrant families, and from difficult social and economic backgrounds in those programs.

Current Highlights: The most exciting aspect of my work is getting in touch with many inspired, visionary, socially-oriented young people across the country, as well as with community initiatives and NGOs across Europe. Through my work I have literally made hundreds of new friends. Since I use every chance to travel and visit my volunteers and their host coordinators at the project site, I have a lot of chances to establish international friendships, practice my foreign languages and experience Europe “from the inside”.

Past Highlights: I am proud of having successfully managed the finances of the organisation in such a way that our projects are accessible to everyone. Five years in the making we, for instance, still don’t charge our volunteers anything for a one year-long cycle of support while they live and work abroad. I am also particularly proud of leading a team that consists entirely of ex-EVS, volunteers who were initially sent abroad by Iskra. They all came back to me, their former volunteer coordinator, and asked if they could work in my team and help new people receive the same incredible experience that they had been lucky to receive themselves.

FLEX Values: Most of all I miss Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. If talking seriously, I miss the incredible sense of unity, of community pride and common community interest that I experienced in my host town Fruitland, ID. This is something we in Ukraine still need to achieve in our communities.

Current Concerns: One of the societal issues of great importance in Ukraine is the lack of opportunities for young people from rural areas. Access to information on international scholarships and programs remains very constrained for those who live outside of large urban centers. Their CVs are often not competitive due to the lack of internship and work opportunities in their places of living. Iskra strives to promote opportunities for youth from rural areas by following internal quotas to include young people from villages and small towns into all our projects. In the fall of 2013 we organised an international youth exchange on the topic of rural youth and gender equality. It was sponsored by the European Commission and successfully took place in Busk, Lviv region, Ukraine. I believe that more efforts need to be made to breach the village-city divide in Ukraine.

Current Reading: “Thinking: Fast and Slow” by Nobel Prize winner in Economics Daniel Kahneman.