In early 2019, the “Open Hearts” Association for the Protection of Rights and Assistance to People with Disabilities set up a greenhouse farm in the village of Dorozhne, right outside Vinnytsia. It became part of workshops that have been providing social integration support and employment assistance to young people with severe disabilities since 2012. The project titled: “Implementation of an Inclusive Model of Employment for Individuals with Severe Forms of Disability at the Greenhouse Farm of Social Workshops of Vinnytsia” has been implemented because of funding provided through the SME Development Support Fund of the international technical assistance project: “Partnership for Local Economic Development and Democratic Governance” (PLEDDG). Apart from greenhouse construction, the initiative involved setting up an integrated workplace for young people with disabilities and replicating this experience among partner and friendly organizations at the regional and nationwide levels.
Project Director Svitlana Demko says that the Open Hearts Association is working with young people; most of whom officially lack the capacity to work. Based on her many years of experience communicating with them, Svitlana knows that these young people want to and can work. Oftentimes families slow down the development of children with disabilities by not giving them a chance to become independent and acquire new skills.
As part of this project, a greenhouse measuring 100 m2 was fitted out with an automatic drip watering system, heating, lighting, ventilation, and multi-tiered racks for full-cycle plant cultivation. Because of the technologies in place, it operates on a year-round basis. The greenhouse facility has a barrier-free environment, meaning that people in wheelchairs can work here without restrictions. According to Svitlana Demko, they launched the project while relying on greenhouse farming experts. Their expertise helped set up a stable plant cultivation business. In the spring of 2019, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, brussels sprouts, kale, turnips, flowers, and all kinds of herbs were seeded here for the first time.
So far eight workplaces have been set up at the greenhouse. Young people take shifts working according to individual schedules. Natalia Lozitska, member of the “Open Hearts” Association and mother of a child with a disability, became one of those 10 people who assist the greenhouse workers.
The Open Hearts Association rented additional farmland, and now the grounds of the social workshops have close to 4,000 square metres of land where they grow vegetables to supplement the nutrition of their clients and personnel with healthy, organic produce. Seedlings from the greenhouse are transplanted to soil in outdoor plots. Young people with disabilities also take them home to grow in their own pots. They can also take ripe vegetables to give to their families and show the fruits of their labour. For the second year in a row, the Association has been fully supplying its representatives and beneficiaries of rehabilitation program services with vegetables that are fresh, canned, or pickled. Products grown in the social warehouse will also be sold. To this end, they built the so-called “Achievement Store” recently. The quarantine put a halt on renovations at the store, but it will soon open its door to buyers.
The project initiators have set the goal of sharing their experience of creating an inclusive employment model with colleagues in other cities and regions. To this end, they created video tutorials on how to develop greenhouse skills. They were published using simplified language to reach the widest possible audience. In 2019, the Association held practical workshops and master classes to share the experience of greenhouse farming by families with children living with disabilities in seven districts of the region. Also, in September 2019 a one-day training called “Greenhouse Farm and an Integrated Workplace – Progress Toward Wellbeing of Families of People with Disabilities” was held, where 40 participants acquired knowledge and practical skills instrumental to starting a greenhouse farm and creating inclusive workplaces as part of their own farms. The local youth centre “Quadrat” also hosted a working meeting with 30 representatives of local government and the business community, who collectively elaborated a policy to promote social enterprise in Vinnytsia, and shared their experience creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Printed materials covering the initiative were circulated during all project activities.
Following the expansion of farmland, the organization needed to use agricultural machinery as manual labour was no longer sufficient to cover that much land. The solution came quite quickly. The Association won a grant as part of a program called: “Ukraine: The Breadbasket of the Future”, sponsored by Bayer AS. Using a portion of the grant, the Association bought a motorized tractor with attachments. The team also bought two collapsible greenhouses that will make non-local trainings much easier to arrange. Association representatives believe their overriding goal is to inspire people with disabilities and their families by demonstrating that viable employment is perfectly possible. The organization’s immediate plans include recording additional agrarian video tutorials and holding master classes in five communities of the region. The first inclusive exhibition and fair called “Celebration of Harvest” is also planned for this fall.
Thanks to PLEDDG support, Vinnytsia-based young people with disabilities have acquired professional skills at inclusive workplaces and new opportunities for self-realization and development. The initiative provided a uniting force and support for people with disabilities and their families. The community now has a unified employment model with support, which goes a long way in promoting continued development of social entrepreneurship in the Vinnytsia Region and beyond.
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