Taking the Lead: Ukrainian Student Inspires Peers to be Civically Active and Informed

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Rashyd shares his experience of studying Democracy: From Theory to Practice.
Courtesy of IFES

Rashyd Bilalov, an 18-year-old student from Karazin Kharkiv National University, is now known among his peers for his successful efforts leading discussions on democratic governance and fair elections. In early 2019, before Ukraine’s presidential election, Rashyd organized the Democracy Talks project – later renamed Freedom to Speak Up – at his university. At first, the project’s primary objective was to organize weekly discussions on the importance of elections and citizens’ roles in shaping government policy for youth. After the March elections, the effort took on a life of its own, and today his discussion groups continue on a variety of subjects, including education, human and LGBTQ rights and fighting corruption.

“At first, I thought I would just conduct Democracy Talks before the elections and finish this project right after,” said Rashyd. “But I enjoyed organizing such discussions, and people enjoyed participating as well.

Rashyd points to two initiatives that inspired him to organize his project: USAID’s Democracy: From Theory to Practice civic education course based on IFES’s Strengthening Engagement Through Education for Democracy (SEED) methodology and a trip to the United States to observe mid-term elections during the fall of 2018.

Karazin Kharkiv National University, where Rashyd studies foreign languages and literature, was among the first eight universities that introduced USAID’s Democracy: From Theory to Practice course into its regular curriculum. In its first year, the course was an elective in seven out of eight universities and mandatory in one. 

Rashyd was an early alumnus of the course at his university and became one of its student ambassadors. He has traveled to other universities in Ukraine to share his experiences.

“The course gave me the opportunity to fulfill my potential, to understand how I see the concept of human rights and why it is important for me personally to contribute in establishing democracy in Ukraine,” he said. “I was also able to realize my organizational skills and learned how to work as part of a team. I believe that this course is truly innovative and helpful to every student regardless of his or her career plans.”

The knowledge gained during the course helped Rashyd write an essay that provided him the opportunity to visit the United States. during the 2018 midterm elections. In the U.S., Rashyd witnessed how political discussions are organized at the College of New Jersey. “I saw how Americans relate to democratic values, which allowed me to compare it with how Ukrainians relate to them,” explained Rashyd. “I saw active students who organize joint meetings, discuss issues of concern to them and to the societies in which they live. The trip to the U.S. inspired me to gather students and discuss elections in my town.”

USAID’s Democracy: From Theory to Practice course is based on IFES’ global, university-level civic education methodology, Strengthening Engagement Through Education for Democracy, (SEED) and tailored to the Ukrainian context. Through SEED and with USAID support, IFES has worked with education specialists and civil society in Ukraine and in Georgia—where SEED was first introduced, to develop and expand the fully-accredited, tailored, university-level civic education curricula.

The SEED curriculum, materials and methodology are designed to foster students’ democratic values and attitudes and equip them with the knowledge and skills essential to effective and informed citizenship in digital age democracies. Nearly 1,000 students enrolled during its inaugural fall semester in 2018. In the upcoming 2019-20 academic year, the course will be offered to thousands of students in 20 universities across Ukraine.