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Walking Safely Around the World
As we get closer to International Walk to School Day on October 9, I can’t help but think about how many more countries are desperately in need of pedestrian safety initiatives and education. One of those countries is my home in Simferopol, Ukraine.
I traveled back this past August for the first time in a few years. There were so many things about my hometown that stayed the same since I left in 1995; things I hadn’t even noticed as a child. They just became a fact of everyday life when I was growing up there.
For example, I had never thought of wearing a seatbelt while living there, but when I insisted on wearing one during my visit, I was teased incessantly by family and friends for being “too proper.” At one point, I attempted to buckle up in a cab, only to find that there was no buckle – just the seat belt.
Walking was a whole other issue. For most people in the city, walking is the primary means of getting around. Although there is a lot of traffic, the majority of people don’t own a car, and public transportation is often overcrowded and unreliable, forcing people to walk year-round. And let me tell you, walking safely is a whole feat in itself. Without the knowledge of every inch of street (which local drivers and pedestrians all seem to have), it is essential to look down at all times. Rubble, poor construction, uncovered man holes, lack of sidewalks and obstruction of sidewalks (when they are present), are at every turn. Not only must you look down, but you must also be on the lookout for cars – especially when there is no sidewalk present. And walking at night? Forget about it without a flashlight and a companion to catch you if you fall. Many areas of the city were completely dark, even the downtown.
I was so shocked by the walking environment that I decided to document my experience through photos. I especially wanted to take some photos while revisiting my old route to school. I can’t imagine how frightening it must be for a child to learn to navigate those streets. As I passed a traffic safety park with real working lights, I noticed that not a single kid on a bike or skates was wearing a helmet or protective gear. The area surrounding the school itself lacked crosswalks, road signs and adequate sidewalks. It was a sad and frustrating experience because children shouldn’t have to face danger on the roads as they walk to and from school each day.
Working at Safe Kids, I’ve realized that the absence of safety practices don’t have to be a fact of life. We can and should help to transform environments to protect people, especially the little ones we hold so dear. It starts with awareness.
Since 2000, Safe Kids Worldwide and FedEx have worked together to keep kids safe as pedestrians through the Walk This Way program. Today, this successful program is implemented in 10 countries including Brazil, Canada, China, India, Mexico, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.