I create educational board games to help children and teenagers

Maria Kurakina is playing a game with the children.

Sixteen-year-old Maria Kurakina from Kharkiv, Ukraine, explains how she co-founded the Tram 26 project.

Meeting on a tram

Can you imagine five girls boarding a tram as strangers and leaving together as a team? I can’t. But miracles do happen.

This is how I met my teammates – Alina, Yulia, Daryna and Yuliana – for the first time while volunteering in my home city of Kharkiv in spring 2021. The following summer we met for a second time at a day camp organized by teenagers with the support of the UPSHIFT programme, run by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The programme changed the way I look at the potential of young people. People who were just like me were behind important causes and they inspired me to act. So it was with my four new friends that I applied for UPSHIFT.

Employment project for teenagers

Through the programme, our team named ‘Tram 26’ wanted to help the people we know best – teenagers who often feel uncertainty and fear for the future. So we decided to create the board game ‘Jobby’, which aims to highlight key legal aspects of teenage employment. It teaches teenagers how to choose reliable vacancies, how to write a high-quality resume, how to prepare for an interview and it offers tips for their trial period. We distributed the game to teenagers and things have been quite successful. 

However, at the beginning of the war in February 2022, we had to leave our homes. We moved around the world in an effort to find safety. Our project was put on hold.

The outbreak of war

After six months, I had almost recovered from the horror that caught everyone by surprise on 24 February 2022. Life went on, but I, like my teammates, felt as though I was missing something. I wanted to make a contribution and I wanted to help the people around us. 

The board game idea came to the rescue once more, and we united around a common cause. This new game, called "33 Misfortunes", uses a funny cat to offer children important reminders about how they can secure their safety. 

The game explains martial law to children, how to stay safe when a mine is found, how to evacuate from a zone of chemical contamination, how to provide first aid care to yourself or someone nearby, what to do during a fire, and more.

Our team strongly believes that no child should have to go through the ordeal of war and we continue to raise awareness on the situation of the most vulnerable Ukrainians. Currently, I live in the Poltava region, and it is here that I am busy presenting the game to schoolchildren. Another part of the team supports the project online from different parts of Europe.

Thanks to our joint efforts, Jobby and 33 Misfortunes are conquering the hearts of many players and their parents. And I hope that our Tram 26 team – named after the tram where it all started – will be able to reunite under the peaceful skies of Ukraine.


The team ‘Tram 26’
Maria Kurakina tells the children about her own game
Children play the game "33 Misfortunes"
A child holds playing cards in his hand