She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “I always tell my students: Think! Look for peace and beauty everywhere. If you find peace in your soul, if you see the beauty in the world around you, you will be free! I want them to realize that money alone cannot buy happiness. I want them to open the door to something more important, their hearts”.
She says also: “It was not easy at first, so we decided to work out our own democratic rules: togetherness, friendliness, fairness, happiness, empathy and self-esteem. Which in the long run resulted in WE-NESS. We are human beings first, we said, we are boys and girls or other members of the society only secondly”.
And she says: “My life was cut into two parts in April 1986, in BEFORE and in AFTER”.
Tetyana Tkachenko – Ukraine
She works for Women for the Future / Žinky za Majbutnie. This is a political party in the Ukraine. At the last legislative elections, 30 march 2002, the party won 2.1 % of the popular vote and no seats. At the last legislative elections, 26 March 2006, the party was part of the Opposition Bloc “Ne Tak“.
When the nuclear catastrophe took place, it opened her eyes and changed her life. Working in the contaminated area for five years she developed a new child-centered holistic education for peace, democracy, and ecology. Her goal was to save the children and to work for a better world.
Since 1991, she has been working in Ternopil, Ukraine, and is linked to an international network of peace education. In 1997, she founded the NGO Women for the Future.’My life was cut into two parts in April 1986, in BEFORE and AFTER.’ These words that Tetyana often repeats can help to describe her life and work.
It was the day the nuclear power station in Chernobyl, Ukraine, went out of control and exploded. BEFORE 26 April 1986: Tetyana was as an English teacher in Poliske, in the Kiev region, 30 km from Chernobyl, where she worked in the atmosphere of strict discipline and obedience both at home and at school. They were a family of four. Together with her colleagues, she was just one of the small screws in the rusty Soviet authoritarian regime. Questions were never allowed, and neither the teachers or students enjoyed democratic rights.
But she loved English, and her students liked their teacher and her interesting lessons. She never dreamt of anything else. AFTER 26 April 1986: Chernobyl entered the homes of all Ukrainian families, Tetyana’s family was no exception. ‘We had no support, no help, our Government did not even tell us the whole truth about the catastrophe,’ Tetyana recalls. ‘And one day I woke up a different person: my eyes were open, my ears heard and my heart felt things I had not felt before. I began to think and, what is more, I began asking questions.’
Since the teachers had to keep their students in school all day after lessons because of the disastrous nuclear pollution in the region, and to give them breakfast, lunch and dinner made of products especially brought from the territories that were not contaminated, Tetyana worked out a special concept called ‘Touch The Child.’ It helped her arrange their life in school, for it looked more like life than just studies. They did everything together: their classroom, it seemed, became the only place where children felt protected and understood, their voices heard and respected.
The world of the adults had gone to pieces. ‘It was not easy at first’, Tetyana smiles, ’so we decided to work out our own democratic rules: togetherness, friendliness, fairness, happiness, empathy and self-esteem. Which in the long run resulted in WE-NESS. We are human beings first, we said, we are boys and girls or other members of the society only secondly.’ Tetyana and her students were not aware then that the principles they were living under were actually the principles of peace education, and their talks and experiments were their first steps to self-esteem and civic courage.
Together they enjoyed the feeling of physical and emotional safety, they shared the ‘I Belong’ feeling. They lived in the Chernobyl zone, breathed polluted air and walked on contaminated earth, but they all cared about the ecology of human relations. Tetyana had to stay in the Kiev region for five more years before her family was allowed to move to Ternopil, a town in Western Ukraine; but she accepted the situation as the place where God had placed her.
These years became the beginning of her dedication to a new pedagogy. In 1990 she was chosen as the only Ukrainian representative in an international peace contest together with 15 teachers from the Soviet Union to participate in the program ‘Educators for Peace and Social Responsibility’ of the American-Soviet Institute in Flint, Michigan. Later she was also invited to international seminars and conferences in Norway, Denmark and Germany dealing with education for peace and human rights. These contacts and networks are still very much alive. She started to develop teaching material first for her own students, later shared with other teachers.
In 1994, she published her ‘Apple Books,’ which were much more than English teaching material: integrating self-esteem of the child, peace at heart, respect of human rights, responsibility for the community and for the environment, culminating in ‘Happy English.’ In 1997, Tetyana started the NGO, Women for the Future, in Ternopil that united 30 educators under the creed of: Peace Building, Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Education for a Democratic Society.
The members of Women for the Future participated and initiated a number of conferences, seminars and workshops on the issues of Peace Education and the Culture of Peace in Ukraine as well as abroad. She says that she learned optimism and sisterhood from the women in Denmark, Norway and Germany, realizing that women can achieve things together. ‘Think positively and trust your own feelings’ has been a cornerstone for her in times of political, financial, physical and psychological crisis.
Tetyana has been suffering from diabetes for many years now and her daughter had to undergo a tumor operation when she was ten. As a teacher Tetyana was never fully paid by the new regime after 1991, as was the practice of the Kutschma government. And from 1986 onward she was always in danger of being fired and probably would have been if the Soviet regime had still been in power. So she had to struggle a lot. Women for the Future made all the difference. It also spread to five more Ukrainian cities: Antratsit, Lugansk (Lugansk region) Boriyspil and Skvyra (Kiev region), and Kerch (the Crimea).
Besides community projects on diabetes, a health project for sickly school children, and a communication project for retired women, Tetyana`s latest educational projects are: R.E.C.I.P.E.: Tetyana is starting a Regional Ecological Center of International Peace Education. Her idea is to reach as many rural teachers of the Ternopil region as possible, for they do not have modern equipment, such as Internet, in their villages. The work of this center will be based on the principles of thinking globally (through seminars and workshops) and acting locally (sharing the knowledge and experience in their schools).
Women for the Future has already had such experience after the seminars they gave to the educators of Ternopil and Kiev. Lessons for the Heart: Tetyana started these lessons for her students two years ago, and now she is planning to publish them so that the other teachers can see the pattern. Tetyana explains: These lessons are what they are, lessons for the heart where we can talk about terrorism and love, empathy and diversity. ‘Orange’ lessons too, lessons of civic courage that our Orange Revolution of 2004 taught us, lessons of a revolution that was made by good people not with guns, but with laughter, songs and kind jokes, the revolution during which not a single drop of blood was shed.
A Butterfly for a Better World: This is Tetyana`s second magazine, financially supported by Eva Nordland from Norway. This magazine begins a series of publications on various issues, human relations being one of them. The magazine is the result of the collective work of Tetyana’s students and colleagues. Working in a team helps the young people acquire skills of cooperation that will be of use for them in the future. The first experience showed how the students were learning by feeling, thinking and doing together: active learning.
Tetyana says, ‘I always tell my students: Think! Look for peace and beauty everywhere. If you find peace in your soul, if you see the beauty in the world around you, you will be free! I want them to realize that money alone cannot buy happiness. I want them to open the door to something more important, their hearts.’ When she thinks back to the year 1986, she wonders if that young woman could be her, so short-sighted, so naive. ‘Did I learn my lesson’ I hope I did, because I have learned something since. I can forgive now. I forgive the Chernobyl catastrophe, for it helped a new me find my voice. I came to this world to make it better, not worse.’
Her vision of a peaceful future is based on more meetings – not on the level of politicians (presidents and prime ministers), but get-togethers of people from various professions. Such meetings, conferences, and trainings, enable people to create peace from below. She relates to an inspiring recent project with Poznan school in Poland that went on for a full year and was a wonderful motivation for both sides for deeper learning about each other`s cultures, languages, history and traditions.
She also looks forward to a project with the German NGO, Women’s Network for Peace, on setting up a peer mediation program and democratic school program in Ternopil region which she is coordinating. Tetyana’s central metaphor is the butterfly and its effect: the movement of its fragile wings, no matter how delicate it is, makes a difference that can be felt and can even start a storm.
Children want to spread their wings to be happy and to work for a better world. Tetyana is a teacher who helps them to achieve it. (Read all on 1000peacewomen 2005).