Emporia State University student Anya Avramenko lost her sight between 3 and 4 years old after she fell from a swing when she was in kindergarten. Following the accident, she gradually lost her sight.
“It was hard to recognize right away and it became more obvious, we started urgently looking for medical care and for eye doctors,” Avramenko said. “They couldn’t help. It was right after the fall of the Soviet Union. We had to go to Moscow and we didn’t have money so we had to raise funds to go. It was hard because everybody was poor at the time.
“My grandpa would go to the banks and talk to bank owners and ask them for money to take me to Moscow. But when we got there, it was too late to fix anything. They still offered us the surgery, but there was no guarantee at all and I would risk losing what little sight I had left.”
Avramenko didn’t get the surgery. She then was required to attend a school for the blind in the Ukraine.
“Blind children in my country are not allowed to be accepted into public schools as opposed to here (in the United States) where you have a choice,” Avramenko said. “It’s different there and you have to go to a special school.”
Avramenko went to the best school in the country for vision-impaired individuals, but yearned for more. Her junior year of high school she came to the United States as part of the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program, which provides scholarships for high school students to spend an academic year in the United States. She completed her academic year and spent the required two years in her home country.
“According to the program you must return to your home country and not to come back for next two years,” Avramenko explained. “Which kind of worked out and I finished my senior year, and I started attending a university in my country, one of the biggest ones, majoring in interpreting.”
She dropped out of the university because it didn’t have the proper accommodations.
“They didn’t have disability services like they do here, and the books weren’t accessible and available so it was really difficult to study,” Avramenko said. “I would have obtained a degree, but it wouldn’t have been a very worthy degree.”
Despite that challenge, Avramenko didn’t give up. She decided to continue her education in the United States. She was awarded a scholarship to attend the Colorado Center for the Blind where she attended for seven months. She learned several skills including cane travel, cooking and computer skills.
“I graduated from there and while I was there I was looking for funding to go to college because I already had experienced Ukrainian college and I knew it wasn’t going to work so I was totally determined to find a way to attend American college,” Avramenko said. “They were so pricey and my family cannot afford paying for my school — even for a semester.”
Avramenko continued to push and got help from private donors, Russian Immigration and scholarships from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
“The education advisor that I had been working with in Ukraine recommended Emporia State, and I was given 60 percent tuition waiver to attend this school,” she said. “That’s how I ended up in Kansas.”
At Emporia State, Avramenko found the support she needed, along with many academic opportunities, she said.
“The Office of Disability Services has been very accommodating, very helpful,” she said. “They have awarded me scholarships every semester. And they got me a braille computer so I can take notes in class.”
One year into her education at Emporia State, Avramenko picked up a double major — Spanish and modern literature because of her love for the Spanish language. In addition to speaking Spanish, she’s fluent in Russian, English and Ukrainian.
This past summer, Avramenko had the opportunity to complete an internship with Blind, Inc., in Minnesota teaching English to visually impaired immigrants and refugees.
“We had students who were blind from different countries who could not attend regular ELL programs because they cannot see, and it’s hard to explain something to somebody without showing anything,” she said. “We had people with different ages and different countries. The majority of them were from Somalia, and we had people from Argentina, Pakistan and Liberia.
“Some of them had never seen books in their lives because their country is so underdeveloped in that regard. So basically, we started with them from scratch and we taught them braille.”
The internship was very rewarding for Avramenko, she said.
“The most rewarding one was seeing the progress,” she said. “Seeing that what you did actually pays off. You want to see them succeed and to realize it was you who played into it and contributed to their success.”
Avramenko takes her inspiration from many people in her life, she said.
“I have quite a few friends, and I take something from everyone” she said. “I’m not the kind of person who admires one person because nobody is perfect. Everybody possesses qualities that I admire in them but not person as a whole. I like people who are goal-oriented and who are positive thinkers.”
Through positive thinking and staying motivated, Avramenko was able to reach her goals. She gave the following advice to people reaching for their dreams.
“Never give up,” she said. “If something doesn’t happen the way you hoped, it means that something better is waiting for you. It’s a primitive statement but I heard this from someone: ‘Don’t hold on to the bowl of oatmeal if there is a seafood dinner waiting for you.’
“If you wanted something so bad and it doesn’t come through, you get something better then. It always worked for me.”
Despite many obstacles in her life, Emporia State University senior Anya Avramenko didn’t give up.
From Ukraine, Avramenko will graduate from Emporia State in December with a double-major: interpersonal communication and Spanish and modern literature.