If there is a will, there is a way

How awareness raising is changing my life

written by Maksim Makukha

Perhaps my life story thus far is quite common. However, I would like to share how my life experience so far has provided invaluable lessons that have changed my mindset, and how through having a new mindset leads you to new challenges and experiences.

I started out with a pretty normal life plan after high school. I decided to study mechanical engineering and production management at a University; it seemed logical to pursue these fields of study as I already had some practical experience working with metal on my part-time after-classes job. However, while studying at the University, I realized that I did not necessarily want to be a production engineer, but the perfectionist in me told me that I should finish what I started.

After completing my studies at the University, I decided to take a more slow-paced approach to life. I elected to live in a village while also becoming a raw vegan. While living in the village, I began to read a lot of books, namely about ecological topics, such as eco-building, organic farming and permaculture. After experiencing village life for several months, I realized that I didn’t want to live only for a personal benefit, but for the benefit of others as well and help contribute to the betterment of society.

Subsequent to having such a profound realization, I began to detect ‘magic’ in my life. Firstly, by accident, I became an instructor for survival skills at a local scout camp. I realized that I really enjoyed working with children and imparting my knowledge on them. Moreover, this job allowed me to live in the forest while earning an income. What a dream job! Though it was only a part-time job in the summer and I had to find other means of income. While searching for another workplace I realized that if you wish to see a change in the world, you should make it your job.

After working as an instructor for a scout camp, I started working as a trade agent and engineer in a small company that worked with renewable energy. At the time, renewable energy was just entering the market in Ukraine, so the fact that I was able to work with such a company was a very beneficial and interesting experience for me. Then, life took a very bad turn for many people in Ukraine. At the end of 2013, the Revolution of Dignity began and the economy in Ukraine had collapsed, severely devaluing the Ukrainian currency. This was a difficult period for me, and for many people in Ukraine. However, when life closes one door, another one opens. I polished up some old skills and found work as a blacksmith assistant, which I enjoyed doing. After working for a short time in the blacksmith, I decided to move back to my native city, finding a job in an internet shop.

After moving back home, I still thought about how I could make the world a better place. In my free time, my family and I thought we could start by cleaning a nearby forest.

Even though contributing to society by picking up litter, felt good, it was an endless job. Every weekend, we would discover new trash left by local citizens who did not have access to a trash pick-up service. As a result, we decided to install trash containers to ease the amount of litter. Next we spoke to the village council and they agreed to install trash containers. We also found local people to co-fund the installation and management of trash containers and I received a special permission to install containers to collect PET and glass. Alas, we had the first village pilot project of sorting waste! After initiating the pilot project, I began my own small business of collecting valuable, recyclable materials in rural areas; it was a good business because not only did locals learn how to sort waste, but they also profited from disposing such materials to recycling centers.

Around that time, I started to ask myself “how can I change people’s mindset to think in a more eco-friendly way?” I decided to first collect batteries and other hazardous waste with volunteers. From that initiative, local teachers approached me to present the importance of sorting waste, like batteries to their students. From this initiative, a very important project was born: “ChistoTak!” (Clean-up!). Together with volunteers Istarted giving lessons to students of all ages on how to collect and sort materials. ChistoTak! began to expand throughout Ukraine, motivating other people to sort waste along the way. I eventually ended my small sorting business and began working full-time for an NGO, ‘Ekoltava’ that I cofounded together with fellow volunteers.

Now our NGO supports and consults local authorities and businesses on their way to sustainability. I’m growing as a professional together with my organization.

And now, an old dream of mine has come to fruition… studying environmental management in Germany! And life continues to open new and unexpected doors for me.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

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