Katie Guryeva

When people ask me why I chose not to go straight to university after high school, I respond that, ironically enough, it was so that I could focus on education.

Gap years are poorly understood in Russia; when I told my extended family that I was planning to take one, my grandma’s initial assumption was that I’d found a boy that I wanted to elope with, and that my future was in jeopardy.

This was, of course, hardly the case, and instead I found a job working in an international school in Moscow as in-classroom support for children with behavioral and learning difficulties. And thus, my gap year began to center on the very thing people said I would miss out on by not going directly to university.

I attended quite an unconventional high school, one of 17 United World Colleges (UWCs) around the world. There, I studied and lived with students from over 70 different countries who paid only as much as their families could afford. Inevitably, my views on education were shaped by these experiences. I would never have had the chance to meet most of my best friends had someone not decided that money should not be the deciding factor on whether or not children should receive quality schooling.

I’ve always been exponentially lucky in that I went to good schools growing up, and as a natural consequence, numerous doors have opened for me. However, that doesn’t mean that I deserved those opportunities any more than the next child.

I truly believe that the chance to learn and grow should be a human right. It shouldn’t matter where they come from, who their parents are, whether or not they can pay, or if they are in some other way different from their peers. Education is about so much more than just reading textbooks in the classroom; it is a vehicle for social and individual development.

Consequently, the concept of ‘inclusive education’ is one that I wholeheartedly support. Though the exact definition varies, at its core this means that no child should be left behind. Although now, at the age of 19, I have lived outside of Russia for most of my life, I feel a certain sense of responsibility to do what I can in my home country with the education that I’ve received so far.

And so, gradually, I understood what I wanted to do with my gap year. I am in a fortunate position where I have the time and the opportunity to do something that I care about. After working at a school and giving a lot of thought to my own plans for future study, I realized that it made sense to focus my efforts on a project centered on education.

And so, that’s how I decided I wanted to run a marathon to raise money for Kovcheg, a school in Moscow that’s been pioneering inclusive education in Russia for the past 20 years.

As it is a state school, Kovcheg is free of charge which means that it isn’t selective; based on who can pay. However, what is special about it is that one third of their students have a diagnosed disability, either mental or physical, yet they still learn alongside their peers. Regardless of whether they will end up bankers, or teachers, or even just confident, independent individuals because of their time at the school, every child’s education is worth the same.

So, over the next few months, I will be training for the Great Wall Marathon that will take place in China this May, which I hope will be a platform for me to raise money for and awareness about the work that Kovcheg is doing. Additionally, I am visiting different schools in Moscow to talk to children about what inclusive education is and talk about why I think it’s so important. To find out more about my project, you can read my blog at katyarunstheworld.com, and if you think it’s worth supporting, here is a link to my fundraising page: https://www.katyarunstheworld.com/https://gogetfunding.com/the-inclusive-education-project/

Here is a link to the Russian charity Kovcheg: http://www.nashkovcheg.ru/about_us.html