Broadband Internet Promises Are Left Unfulfilled in Many Rural Areas

The lack of access, despite billions spent, has made it harder for the unconnected to work and study during Covid-19

for the Wall Street Journal, text by Drew FitzGerald

Tod Wohlfarth has been working through local groups he and his neighbors formed to get broadband internet access for their homes in Hillsdale, N.Y.

The scene is a far cry from what was promised in the same spot four years ago, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo touted a plan to provide universal high-speed home internet service in the state by 2018. The ambitious initiative would spread broadband “faster than anyone has ever contemplated,” the governor said then during a press conference at the library.

Residents a few miles away from the library say they are still waiting for service. And their frustration has grown since the coronavirus pandemic forced families in their rural communities to work and study online, often through connections that are barely capable of supporting one video stream, let alone several.
“It’s like the apple is dangling in front of my eye,” says Marcy Feld, a photographer based in nearby Hillsdale, N.Y., referring to a fiber optic cable that stopped well short of her property but is close enough to be a constant reminder of what she’s missing. Her family of five relies on satellite provider HughesNet for relatively slow and expensive internet service.

New York tried to fix this problem years ago by showering rural internet providers with $500 million in state subsidies—in addition to hundreds of millions in federal subsidies—to reach more than two million residents who lacked broadband. Separately, a merger settlement forced cable operator Charter Communications Inc. to add 145,000 internet connections in New York in exchange for allowing its purchase of Time Warner Cable.

Christina Lowery sits outside the Hudson Area Library so she can use the library’s Wi-Fi.

Neither plan worked as advertised. Regulators pushed Charter’s broadband-expansion deadline to mid-2021 after they found fewer locations than expected being served. The cable company recently told regulators it had connected 109,000 of the required locations. A spokesman for the state comptroller said the watchdog agency is also auditing the state’s subsidy program, called New NY Broadband.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Cuomo says the governor “led the largest state broadband program in the nation and as a result New York ranks No. 2 among states for overall coverage, price and speed,” trimming the coverage gap to 2% from 30% “with tens of thousands of rural homes expected to be connected in the year ahead.”

The digital divide—in New York and elsewhere—hasn’t gone away, despite much money spent and many speeches made. A patchwork of conflicting government programs, flawed maps and weak enforcement have left broad swaths of the country without access to high-speed or even basic internet service when people need it more than ever.

The result is a longstanding source of personal frustration and economic disadvantage for many rural communities in areas where spread-out housing makes adding new wires expensive. That lack of access extends to many more-crowded suburban and exurban counties where home internet coverage is available in one neighborhood but out of reach just down the road.

Main Street in Ghent, NY
Companies including CenturyLink Inc., Frontier Communications Inc. FTRCQ -2.34% and Consolidated Communications Inc. have used billions of dollars of federal subsidies to wire homes with broadband cables for the first time. But at least 18 million people in the U.S. still lack access to true broadband, according to the Federal Communications Commission’s latest national deployment report. Other studies have found a much higher number of households without usable broadband service.

Some homes have fallen through the cracks because federal regulators graded companies’ performance using inaccurate maps. The FCC this year devised a plan to use more-accurate geographic data, but the initiative lacks congressional funding.

In New York, the Empire State Development agency oversees the rural expansion program that benefited from $500 million of state funds. The Public Service Commission, another state regulator, oversees Charter’s mandated broadband expansion.
“I commend the governor immensely for what he’s tried to do,” says David Berman, co-chairman of Connect Columbia, an association of local officials drawn from across the county. “Now we’ve got to finish the job.”
Patti Matheney, a member of the town board in nearby Ghent, says that while state subsidies have added many new homes to the network, “it never feels right if I have it and my neighbor doesn’t.”
“The providers have not been very forthcoming with where they’re going, with their maps,” Ms. Matheney says. “So we were flying blind a lot of the time.”

David Berman is co-chairman of Connect Columbia, an association seeking better broadband internet access in Columbia County, N.Y.

Hillsdale resident Tod Wohlfarth pays $110 a month for a low-speed digital subscriber line from Consolidated Communications. He says the service is unreliable and tops out at 15 megabits per second, well below the 25 megabits level the Federal Communications Commission considers necessary to support broadband applications like videoconferencing and streaming TV.

The New NY Broadband program steered about $1.5 million to Hillsdale and nearly $30 million to Columbia County, according to state data. The region also received federal dollars from the second phase of the Connect America Fund.

Mistrustful of state-supplied data that showed his county well covered by broadband subsidy programs, Mr. Wohlfarth and his neighbors formed a committee to press the issue. The committee earlier this year surveyed Hillsdale residents and found that more than 70% of them lacked broadband service.

Mr. Wohlfarth, a creative marketing director, has been working through local groups

he and his neighbors formed to convince Consolidated to string high-speed fiber optic through the area. In July, several Verizon trucks worked on a nearby road, giving him hope that the area was due for an upgrade, but a worker said there was nothing he could do.

The two phone companies operate in different parts of the county. Local provider FairPoint, which Consolidated later acquired, began expanding fiber-optic lines into Verizon territory after Verizon declined to participate in the subsidy program. Program rules affected which homes received upgrades.
“Call your congressman,” the Verizon technician advised, according to Mr. Wohlfarth.

County residents say that advice is common. A Public Service Commission spokesman said the department keeps track of internet providers’ progress by fielding “inquiries from elected officials and consumers who have questions or concerns about service in their area,” in addition to audits and other checks.

Consolidated Communications public-policy executive Michael Shultz says the telephone network operator built new lines to all of the New York locations covered by its federal subsidies and almost all of the locations the state paid to cover. The company would need more funding to reach other locations, he added.

In the meantime, Mr. Wohlfarth says he’s waiting for some network operator, whether it’s Consolidated, Charter or someone else, to offer service capable of reaching the modern internet.

“I’ve checked the buildout lookup tool every other month for years now,” he said. “Nothing for me.”

For New Widow, ‘Horrible Days.’ Then More Help Arrived.

In April, the loss of Mayya Gil’s husband was compounded by concerns for meeting her basic needs. Many older New Yorkers are struggling as the pandemic continues.


for the New York Times
text by Masha Goncharova

Weeks after the coronavirus lockdown began in New York, Mayya Gil, 91, found her husband on the kitchen floor of their apartment.

Weak with a fever, he had fallen, the first sign of his Covid-19 infection.
For the first 10 days, Ms. Gil cared for her husband, Vilyam, at home with the help of an aide. Then, on April 20, he was taken to New York Community Hospital in Brooklyn, where he spent his last two days.

“They wouldn’t let me see him, and he was too weak to say anything on the phone,” Ms. Gil recalled in Russian during a recent interview. After 68 years together, she said, “we couldn’t say goodbye.”

Ms. Gil met her husband in Kyiv, Ukraine. She, her mother and her brother fled there when she was 12 and their hometown, Khmelnytskyi, was invaded by Nazis. She eventually married Mr. Gil. “We were like one person,” she said.

They moved to New York in 1992, following their twin daughters.

After Mr. Gil died, three people accompanied Ms. Gil to the interment at United Hebrew Cemetery on Staten Island: her daughter, a granddaughter and the couple’s home health aide.

The aide was an employee at the Edith and Carl Marks Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, a beneficiary agency of UJA-Federation of New York, when she began working for the Gils in 2010. Since then, Ms. Gil said, she has become “like another daughter” to them.

In 2013, the Gils suffered a painful loss when one of their twins, Larisa Vaynberg, died at age 58. They could not afford a gravestone, and they received help from The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, which supports UJA-Federation.

This year, Ms. Gil needed help again. After Mr. Gil’s death, her health insurance provider reduced the assistance she received from her home health aide to four and half hours per day, from nine.
With her surviving daughter retired and unable to help Ms. Gil financially, or to visit frequently because of concerns about the virus, Ms. Gil, who lives in a subsidized apartment in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, was struggling.

“In those horrible days right after Vilyam died and everyone was so scared with Covid, that’s when I needed her help the most,” Ms. Gil said.

In April, the Marks J.C.H. used $1,200 from The Fund to provide Ms. Gil with nine hours of assistance per day from her aide for one month after Mr. Gil’s death. Ms. Gil’s case manager also helped renegotiate her insurance plan to provide the aide’s services for seven and a half hours per day.
Ms. Gil was also overwhelmed with meeting basic needs for herself. She did not want to risk infection to get groceries, and she knew online shopping was expensive. In July, when caseworkers became aware of Ms. Gil’s financial situation, she received an additional $200 from The Fund for groceries.

Her case manager then helped advocate, getting Ms. Gil $194 in monthly benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. She also receives $870 a month in Supplemental Security Income.

Ms. Gil is one of thousands of older New Yorkers whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus.

Eight out of every 10 Covid-19 deaths reported in the United States are among adults age 65 and above, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has also identified poverty and crowding as increased factors for coronavirus vulnerability.
New York City’s Department for the Aging has been placing an average of 10,000 wellness check-in calls to seniors each day. A representative said that many request a second call because these are sometimes the only ones older adults receive.

“The recommendations have been to avoid mixing, or not to expose older people in your family to the virus,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiology professor and the global director of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. “What has that meant for their social isolation? What about depression?”

Starting next month, using $150,000 from the Emergency Response Fund of the New York Community Trust, a beneficiary of The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, Dr. El-Sadr will spearhead a telephone survey of about 1,500 individuals who are 70 years or older and living in the five boroughs, oversampling for the communities most severely affected by the coronavirus based on data collected by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The survey will collect demographic information and identify whether those surveyed or anyone in their household has been diagnosed with or has died from the virus. It will also assess their access to food and health services, their financial security, their mental health and their willingness to obtain supportive services.

“There’s been so little information about these older individuals, and getting information about them and the impact of Covid on their lives, but also, more importantly, what their needs are, will be very critical,” Dr. El-Sadr said. “The goal is to better inform a proactive response among service providers and government agencies to assist older adults during the pandemic.”

The family whose Black Lives Matter sign shook their conservative town
In the small community of White Sulphur Springs, everyone knows each others’ political stance. But does it promote any fruitful debate?

for the Guardian, text by Phillip Pantuso

Paul Lindsley standing at his front lawn next to a Trump sign he installed

The hamlet of White Sulphur Springs, two hours north-west of New York City, tumbles toward the rolling foothills of the Catskill mountains off New York state route 52 in rural, verdant Sullivan county. The first white settlers, drawn by the dense hemlock forest, set up sawmills; later, dairy farms and tanneries were the area’s main economic drivers. But now and for the past hundred or so years, this bucolic wedge of New York countryside relies on tourism. Nowadays in White Sulphur Springs, there’s one inn, a gardening store, a small grocery that doubles as the local post office, a quaint used bookstore, a Methodist church, and a Dollar General.
And, in 2020, a couple of dozen Trump signs. In a town of 377 people, where 351 of those people are white, you can’t help but notice the Trump flags, even if you’re just driving through.

Sheila Parks says this proliferation of insignia displaying the US president’s name might be
her fault, at least inadvertently. Back in late spring, Sheila decided that she was going to put a Black Lives Matter sign and a Biden For President sign in the front lawn of the house where she lives with her husband, Jimmy, and their two teenage sons. Theirs is the only house in White Sulphur Springs with a Biden or a Black Lives Matter sign. Their home is right before the main stretch of town. You can’t miss it.
“All the Trump signs came up after,” she says. “It was in response.”

Sheila is Catholic but was raised in a Jewish hotel, where her parents worked, in nearby Swan Lake. She remembers guests with tattooed numbers from the Holocaust concentration camps. Her mother grew up in the Bronx, the daughter of Irish immigrants, and Sheila herself has traveled the world and lived in multiple places. She’s also an army veteran.

The Parks family, from left, Dylan, Sheila, Jimmy and Liam in front of their house in White Sulphur Springs, New York

She credits those experiences with broadening her perspective. “We were raised as people who, no matter your race or economic position, everyone should interact equally,” Sheila says. “Obviously it wasn’t that way when I grew up here in the 70s and 80s. They were still using the N-word, you didn’t see people of color in positions of power, and it’s pretty much the same way now.”
In 2016, Sheila supported Hillary Clinton, but she didn’t feel like she needed to put a sign out. Then, well, Trump won. This time around, she wanted to display a small act of resistance, but she was nervous. White Sulphur Springs is a conservative place –you’ll also see one or two Confederate flags if you drive through – and her husband’s family are Republicans all the way down, though Jimmy doesn’t count himself in that number. She was also concerned about consequences for her children, one of whom is especially supportive of progressive causes on social media.
But that was never going to stop her. She wanted to show that people who didn’t cleave to the town orthodoxy of “supporting the NRA, Trump, and hating AOC” wouldn’t be intimidated. And she wanted to show her kids that it’s important to stand up for what you believe in.
Plus, it’s not like Sheila is totally without support. Elderly Mrs Hogencamp, across the 
street, couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the signs. She supports Biden and BLM, but she doesn’t want the drama that comes with advertising that. Same goes for the Parks’ neighbors, a Latino family who moved to White Sulphur Springs about a year ago. And Sheila’s friend in town, Christina, is also supportive (her last name is being withheld at her request).
Christina is Puerto Rican and her husband is Black. He has been nervous since the pandemic began because when he wears a mask, people can’t see him smile when he goes to the supermarket, and that’s the best way to show you’re not an angry Black man. When their 13-year-old daughter saw the video of George Floyd being killed by police officers, she was devastated. “She was like, ‘Mom, I don’t want my dad and my brother to end up this way’,” Christina remembers. “To be a parent and have to express to your child, ‘I can’t promise you it won’t happen, but I’m here for you’ …” she trails off. “To see Sheila’s signs just gave me a little sense of hope. I reached out to her literally in tears. Because it’s hard.”

Alan Werlau lives in small, conservative White Sulphur Springs, New York

People drive by the Parks’ house and yell things like “Biden sucks!” or “Biden’s going down!” (Occasionally there are more supportive gestures.) But a lot of politically opinionated people in White Sulphur Springs feel like they can’t talk to Sheila – if they’d even want to. She’s the town liberal, a role she seems to take some pride in. Same goes for her eldest son, 16-year-old Dylan. (“He’s very opinionated,” says one Trump-supporting woman, who happens to be Dylan’s aunt. “Very opinionated.”) For his part, Dylan “can wholeheartedly say I don’t feel like I belong in this town at all”.
No, the individual who’s borne the brunt of the backlash is Jimmy Parks, who has lived in White Sulphur Springs for 54 years. Jimmy is like a lot of people in the US: his political identity is not neatly divisible along party lines. “I just want a good country,” he says. “I got kids.” He’s voted Republican in the past, but he’s colorfully unapologetic
about his support for Biden and Black Lives Matter, and as for the Trump administration: “They don’t care, they’re racist people.”
Whereas most of the Trump supporters in town dismiss Sheila out of hand, they’re befuddled by Jimmy. He seems a lot like them: white, working class, from the area and never really left. His family goes way back here. There are people in White Sulphur Springs who simply don’t believe that Jimmy believes what he believes. He’s been approached at the store, confronted by cousins and strangers, all questioning why he has those signs on his lawn.

“A lot of people in these small towns, they don’t understand about equality, how much diversity there is in this country,” Jimmy says. As for whether they ever can, he’s not all that optimistic. “There’s so many people in this country who are truly set in their ways,” he reasons. “Racist people who just want that Chevrolet, apple-pie lifestyle. It’s not that way any more, man, and really at the end of the day, it never was.”

April Kissel has had four Trump
placards on her lawn for the past month

April Kissel put up her Trump signs out of political loyalty, not in response to Sheila. She lives with her husband, Joe, in one of the first houses on the road into White Sulphur Springs. Joe is also a Trump fan. He watches Fox Nation all night, and was in the US national guard for nearly two decades after joining in 1969.
The Kissels have had four Trump 2020 placards on their lawn for the past month, but April says she’s always advertised her political support, even for local elections. She’s not trying to start a dialogue, but “to help other people think a little bit”. Especially the people driving through. “It’s a small town; we all know each other,” April says. Which means: where everybody stands politically.
April is Jimmy’s first cousin, but despite the fact the Kissels and the Parks live half a mile down the road from each other, the families don’t interact much. “The Biden sign is fine, but I don’t agree with the Black Lives Matter sign at all,” April says. “Black lives aren’t the only lives that matter. It has nothing to do with politics.”
Paul Lindsley feels much the same way. “Whether Black, Spanish, white, Chinese – all lives matter,” he says when I find him sitting on his front porch, with a beautiful view of the hills, smoking a cigarette in a green wool overshirt. Paul is “a hunter and a shooter”, and he thinks Joe Biden is going to take his guns away. His house is next door 
to the Parks’, and he’s actually related to Jimmy, too – a distant cousin. As is Judy Bradley, who lives across the street, next door to Mrs Hogencamp. When I first drive out to White Sulphur Springs, the Bradleys have two Trump lawn signs, an All Lives Matter sign, and a fire department sign. Judy’s not interested in talking. Two weeks later there’s a “Trump 2020: No More Bullshit” flag flying in their yard.
It’s not the most ostentatious display in White Sulphur Springs, however. That honor goes to Ed Roth, whose house is bedecked with three large flags: a thin blue/red line flag for policemen and firefighters; a flag depicting Trump standing proudly atop a panzer tank, assault rifle in hand, with an explosion in the background and a bald eagle soaring into battle; and, right in the middle, raised above the other two, an American flag. From the detached garage out back fly two more banners: A “No More Bullshit” flag and a Gadsden flag, the yellow banner depicting a coiled rattlesnake above the words “don’t tread on me”. (The Gadsden flag was originally designed during the American revolution, but has subsequently been embraced by Confederate war veterans’ groups, white supremacist groups, and the American Tea Party, lending it the dual symbolism of revolution and racial animosity.)

Ed Roth’s home in White Sulphur Springs is bedecked with three large flags in front and two hanging from his detached garage

When he speaks, Roth has to hold his thumb to the hole in his throat, which was cut out on his 50th birthday. The cancer is on his tongue now. “I’ve beat it twice,” he says. “Having trouble beating it this time.”
To him, flying flags is all about respect. He used to be a Democrat, but he left the party a long time ago. He says he’d hang a Confederate sign if he had one. “They believed in what they were fighting for, just like the north believed in what we were fighting for,” he explains. “It was the same thing.”
Not everyone is motivated by grievance politics, though. At the far end of town flies a bright blue Keep America Great banner, a gift to logger Dale Klein from his dying grandmother. Klein fashioned a makeshift pole out of two-by-fours painted blue and stapled together to raise the flag in her honor.
Dale is friendly. He refers to strangers as “buddy”. When I find him, he’s wearing a racing
cap and a T-shirt that reads “Intercourse, PA”, which is a real place in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. The makeshift pole where the Keep America Great flag hangs will be replaced by a 30ft aluminum pole as soon as Dale and his coworker find the time to pour concrete for a base.
As for the current set-up, “we got a few compliments here and there, but that’s about it”, Dale says. “Never got no complaints.”
If there’s any self-censorship of political expression in White Sulphur Springs, it isn’t only exhibited by supporters of Democratic causes. When Alan Werlau hung a Trump banner from his front deck, his neighbor expressed support, but said he couldn’t put one out himself because he works in real estate and is concerned it would harm his business.

Dale Klein’s Trump
2020 flag was a gift
from his dying

The Trump signs just keep going up in White Sulphur Springs, from supporters who run a typological gamut of rural whiteness: a tatted-up biker who lives in an old hotel, a bottle-blond housewife with hot pink nails, men in rocking chairs with cigarettes and American light lagers. They’re showing support, or acting out of fear or anger, or honoring some long-lost ideal. Mostly they’re affirming an identity.

What there isn’t much of is dialogue, in a place you might expect there to be some. Everyone knows each other, after all. The state assembly district that includes White Sulphur Springs has been represented by a Democrat who has run unopposed since 2014. The district voted for Obama twice before swinging to Trump in 2016.
As for the 2020 election, Jimmy Parks knows its importance – the pandemic, and its attendant threat to voter turnout, has only heightened the stakes for him. “That sumbitch ain’t gonna stop me from voting,” he says, referring to Trump.
The prospect of the US president winning re-election sends his mind to a scary place, though. Or at least an uncomfortable one. “I’ve been peeing in my backyard and living off the land my whole life thinking this is the greatest country in the world,” Jimmy says. But if Trump were to upset the odds again, “I think I’d want to move,” he says despairingly. “But where would I go?”

collaboration with  
/ Save the Children Ukraine 

The International Day of Peace is a special and full of hopes day for children from the east of Ukraine living in the close proximity to the contact line. In the span of over 6 years, nearly 750 schools have been damaged or destroyed hindering the access to safe and quality education for 670 000 girls and boys. On this day, the work of School Safety Committees is worth to be mentioned, their aspirations for “normal” childhood despite the ongoing conflict. Drawing maps of risks, creating School Codes of Conduct, safety protocols and other serious documents they do their contribution to turn their Schools into Zones of Peace. The Schools as Zones of Peace project is functioning thanks to the generous support from EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) and Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ihor*, 14. When the war started, I was finishing the 2nd grade of school. I was very scared. We had to move to another country. When I could not go to school, I did not know what to do as I did not have a hobby or a sport to play. But I met friends who taught me to play checkers and football and I started developing new skills in these games. When we got back home, I was scared, window glass was shaking from the explosives. There were times when we had to spend a night in the basement. Every time I want to get away, I go to play either football or checkers, and I am getting better and better in this.  We with my friend understand that if we want a brighter future we need to do something for this. We regularly clean the lake in our village picking up the garbage from it. We believe it matters.

Nazar*, 14. I was 8 when the war started in summer 2014. I felt the explosions were getting closer and closer as the earth was constantly shaking and then a “boom” sound. It was scary. My dad dug a bomb shelter. I did not go out to play. Sometimes I stayed in the yard, but when the familiar sound was heard, my dad was shouting “Air raid alarm, everyone get to the bomb shelter!” I believe in a better future, however, I would feel safer if our school had a bomb shelter.  We fled the war for a while and went to Kremenchuk. I got interested in mechanics there, and how bicycles work. I assembled one bicycle from different pieces on my own and I am still riding it. When we feel sad, we have a talk with my mum. It is important to talk. The war taught me to appreciate peace.

Olga*, 13. I learned what the word ‘war’ means when I was 7. When I graduated from 1st grade, we had to live in the basement for 10 days with the sound of grad rockets, machine-guns and tanks. There were times when we did not have electricity, gas or running water. We were sleeping wearing our hats and coats. During short breaks in shelling we were boiling kettle and cooking some food. We constantly had either candles burning or a flashlight turned on. I will never forget the 19th of January 2015, the grad rocket exploded 10 meters from our home. We did not abandon hope - it turned out that I can sing. While singing, I feel light and have confidence in the future. In the eyes of the audience, I always look for compassion and understanding; they have lived through fears too.

Marta *, 11. At 6, I was about to enter school, I was so curious how the school life would look like, who would be my teacher. But then the conflict started and I did not go to school that year as it was not safe. At the very beginning me, my mum and grandmother had to hide in the basement constantly. We had food, medicine, water, candles, and a prayer book there. My dad is a deminer [someone who removes explosive mines]. He was on a business trip back then and we could not reach him on the phone. Only a week later his colleague came and said that he was ok. Many times, the whole village was shelled and there were days when around 40 grad rockets fell around. However, thanks god, no one was killed. The fear we felt back then, it did not go away, it stays with us. I found healing in painting. The year I skipped school, I committed myself to painting. My parents supported me and my works were displayed in children`s hospitals in Lysychansk. I keep painting, as it calms me and gives me strength.  In the future, I would like to become a doctor-neonatologist and save the most vulnerable children.
Solomia*, 13. I was in my first years of school in 2014 and we could see the planes flying over our heads. The sky was pink and the sound of shelling was very loud. Now children have adapted to the situation but it is not ok for our psychological state. We do everything we can to keep up good spirits, and everyone has their coping strategy. I do sport, make hand-made dolls, and spend time with my mum. Saving all the positive moments and thoughts in my diaries.

Mariia*, 41. The first night of the conflict my daughter was sick, she had fever. It was a blessing in disguise as she slept the whole night, but I knew I would not be able to stay here.  At first, we moved to Kyiv and when we came back home the sound of explosions was still loud, however, we do our best to live here. I started working as a teacher again and we are constantly making our school safer. The School Safety Committee plays an important role in school life, including trainings, events and a theater performance. The committee helps children to find a common language between each other and with teachers and parents.

Vira* and Ira*, 10. Once our mom was braiding my sister`s hair and the window shattered and fell on them. The rocket fell near our yard. We often hid in the basement but did not feel safe there and it was dark. The only place where we felt safe was the school because there was a bomb shelter. We were scared to go to school and either our dad was carrying us or we were quickly running. There was a school bell notifying us that it was time to get down in the basement. In the evenings, when our dad was at work, we were painting, dancing and playing with our mum who is our hero and who saves other children with Save the Children. Now, even after we moved from Hirske (where direct shelling happened), every time we are scared, we either paint or put on loud music so we cannot hear loud sounds. We paint almost every day. We forget about everything when we paint and we concentrate on what is in the picture, which colour to select, and what the topic will be for this or another picture. Now we like to draw colourful pictures, it was not like that before. We would like to have a school where it is safe and we could feel secure. For instance, a school in the clouds, safeguarded by unicorns.

Miriam*, 16. The wounds of the armed conflict are quite deep. A child will tell you I am not scared, but if you start asking more detailed questions, children start crying. It is somewhere very deep inside. I moved very far from the conflict to Kyiv for a year, and I was trembling there from each and every loud sound. Recently, there was a thunder storm but it reminded me of 2014.  It is good that children do not give up and look for opportunities to get distracted. You spend 11 years of life within the walls of the school; this is a long time. The school needs to be a safe haven for children. With our School Safety Committee we do a lot of good stuff to make our school safer.  We would like to have hopes for better, and we would like to believe that there will be peace. I dream that when I grow up and have my own children, I would like to send them only to a school in Ukraine.

*All names has been changed to protect identity

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