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Volunteering with Children with Disability in Ukraine

Using Speech Pathology and Education skills to support children with disability in Ukraine.

Heading into the unknown can be daunting and overwhelming for any volunteer. When you are going to the Ukraine to volunteer with children with significant disability these feelings can often be amplified, especially given the current political situation. However, after spending two weeks partnering with the beautiful clients and staff at Dzherelo Rehabilitation Centre in the city of Lviv, our volunteers were filled with hope and inspiration, and plans to return to this wonderful country.

Our small group of volunteers were accompanied by a Professional Health Facilitator from Australia who has extensive experience as a Speech Pathologist working with children with disability. She has been to the centre in Lviv a number of times before, and was familiar with the clients and staff, as well as having an understanding of some of the challenges that the group would be likely to face.

The volunteers spent their first few days with their Facilitator wandering the snowy winter streets of Lviv and had the chance to see the sights of this historical town. The also got to taste their way around Lviv with dumplings, borscht and stuffed cabbage rolls being some of the highlights.

Sightseeing in Lviv

This was followed by an orientation to our partner site Dzherelo Rehabilitation Centre which caters for children through to adults, with conditions such as Cerebral Palsy, Acquired Brain Injuries and other special needs. Dzherelo provides high-quality family-centered services for children and youth with special needs and provides services including consultations, rehabilitation programs and daily care. The centre is staffed by a qualified interdisciplinary team of specialists, who work collaboratively with parents. Dzherelo is a model centre in Ukraine with an aim to integrate children and youth with special needs into main stream society.

The Development Together team with Dzherelo staff

Our group of volunteers this year consisted of Speech Pathology university students and a qualified Primary School Teacher. They spent their days with young children and adults who had communication, speech and feeding difficulties. They contributed to their care during their volunteer placement by: conducting oral assessments, assessing speech and swallow abilities, encouraging appropriate feeding techniques through demonstrations, reviewing consistency of food, considering behaviour management at meal times and encouraging language and literacy incorporation into the mainly therapy based curriculum. Micky, a Speech Pathology University Student from Melbourne, Australia said, “Up until now… I haven’t had much chance to work with kids with disability, especially in the areas of dysphagia [or at] feeding and meal times. So the practical experience I’ve been getting here at Dzherelo has been amazing for those practical skills”. 


Talisha providing a literacy session with one of the children at Dzherelo
Micky conducting a communication therapy session

 As with all Development Together placements we incorporate the service learning model and our volunteers spend time capacity building and providing education to local staff. On this occasion we were able to provide education on how to thicken food and fluids appropriately for clients with swallowing difficulties, incorporate language and literacy into daily routines, and encourage more communication and problem solving with some challenging meal time behaviours. The local staff were thrilled to be a part of the education and collaborate and share their ideas with our group. Our volunteer Talisha, an early Childhood Teacher from Perth, Australia said ” I’ve realised how important the health and education profession is in the support and development of children with disabilities to help them live their best lives”.

Providing an education session on feeding techniques for local staff

As with all volunteer placements there can be challenges to face. It was winter in Ukraine when our team where there, and coming from a warm, hot summer in Australia, they required more layers than they expected, but really enjoyed the chance to see and have fun in the snow! They also said that despite a perception that the Ukraine was unsafe, they felt very safe in Lviv with friendly people helping them find the right food in the local supermarket to providing directions when they lost their way in town. They felt the language barrier was not as much of an issue as they first thought it would be, especially because Development Together had arranged for an interpreter to work alongside the group and this made communication with staff, clients and parents a very positive experience. And of course, when they interpreter was not available, there were always “charades” and “sign language” to help them communicate! A real highlight for the group was when the local staff organised a cooking class and our volunteers had the chance to learn how to make Ukrainian dumplings. This helped to establish a really great relationship between the staff and volunteers.

A joint cooking class with local staff and our volunteers

Overall, our group had a wonderful time in the Ukraine and felt their time was highly effective for the clients and staff at Dzherelo. They also spoke about how much this placement impacted on their own personal and professional development. Elise, a Speech Pathology student from Melbourne, Australia said, “The experience has really been something special to me, and its not going to be something I will forget easily…. It will be affecting me for years to come in the most positive way.

We hope that you might consider joining us this July, or January 2020, for 2, 3, or 4 weeks, and opening yourself up to the possibility of impacting on children’s lives and helping them be the best they can be.

Learn more about how you can get involved by visiting our website at or email


Hear from our past participants!

Hear from the 2019 Development Together Health participants Michaela, Elise and Talisha as they talk about their experience at Dzherelo Rehabilitation Centre in Lviv, Ukraine.

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