SFL Staff

by Maria Chaplia

I remember coming across hundreds of them, but only one really caught my attention. It was a call to join the organising team of Liberty Classes and to help them with events on my campus. My excitement was multiplied when I found out that it was a project of European Students for Liberty (ESFL) that held the most impressive conference I had ever attended – the Kyiv Regional Conference in 2014.

My first conversation with Ukrainian coordinators started with the question, “How can I join the movement?” and it’s after they shared their experience with ESFL that I decided I should join this organisation at all costs, even though I had no idea what libertarianism was. I got incredibly passionate about the sense of community I heard about as they recounted stories from Gummersbach, where the best students in ESFL go once a year. So I joined the team and my exploration of the ideas which are now an inalienable part of me started through the development of my events management skills as I helped plan a conference.

With every little bureaucratic challenge I faced to get the venue for the conference, I became more and more libertarian. Topic by topic I was becoming more and more addicted to ideas of liberty. This led me to LibertyCon 2016, which stands out as a turning point in my life. My first discussions on liberalism and libertarianism, my first interactions with ESFL leaders from other countries, my first silly questions about policy resulted in me filling out the application for the Local Coordinator programme on a bus to Ukraine. With a couple failed efforts to answer all the questions in it, I managed to submit it and advance to an interview to confirm my placement in the programme. Soon after I became a Local Coordinator for European Students for Liberty – the moment that changed my life once and for all.

“We don’t need scholarships, we need quality education”. An education campaign was my first big project within ESFL and the one that taught me to speak up for what I believe in regardless of misunderstanding, by taking responsibility for the consequences. My first op-ed on education, my first radio appearance, and meeting hundreds of supporters of private education from all over Ukraine. Definitely not enough, but every change starts with a little contribution.

Free Generation Forum 2016, Belgrade Advanced Events Training, and dozens of liberty evenings, movie nights, and hundreds of pages on libertarian ideas all resulted in me becoming more skilled in events management and marketing and less afraid to communicate my beliefs in everyday life. I ended up traveling to the US to present Ukrainian SFL to Atlas Network and a great number of other libertarian organisations. But the most important occasion for me personally was the invitation to communicate SFL’s vision on Ukrainian TV. It was the very first time in my life when I experienced such a great responsibility on my shoulders. Not long after that, during LibertyCon 2017 in Europe, I received the Student of the Year Award, which always reminds me of how much more I can do to make liberty movement in Europe grow.

My television appearance discussing SFL’s vision

In March 2017 I became the chairperson of Ukrainian SFL and a national coordinator. With that, one of my biggest challenges so far has begun. Leadership is always about responsibility and challenges are always about our readiness to tackle them. Ukrainian SFL Leadership Programme brought the problems of recruitment, communication, motivation, fundraising, and conflicts within the team to the forefront. What matters is that regardless of all these things, 25 new leaders from 8 regions in Ukraine joined Ukrainian SFL and the Eastern European Retreat then took place, gathering 35 advocates of liberty from all over Ukraine and Europe. And I am more than happy to acknowledge my part in that.

ESFL taught me as much about the importance of personal development as libertarianism did about inner freedom. Nothing is impossible if you pour your mind and heart into it, especially when you have ESFL experience and a big libertarian family supporting you.

Before I joined ESFL I thought that my dreams were sometimes too big to become true, yet the moment I made it to Washington D.C. for the internship with SFL through the Charles Koch Internship Programme, I forbid myself to ever think so again.

To be with SFL means knowing there are no boundaries to dreaming, and no limits to the warmth of mutual support within this community. Once an SFLer, always an SFLer.


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