I was born in the United States to the parents of Ukrainian ancestry and this country’s culture and history always fascinated me. Therefore, I decided to come to Ukraine as a volunteer. With no previous experience, I just googled “volunteer programs in Ukraine” and GoCamp was the first thing that popped up and it looked quite interesting.
Unlike other volunteer programs, GoCamp offers unique opportunities — you get to teach children in remote regions in a very creative way. It gives volunteers a lot of freedom. Moreover, the program is youth-oriented and non-bureaucratic — the enrollment process is easy and flexible.
In the summer of 2017 I arrived in a small village in the Poltava region, where I volunteered for two weeks in a very small school and lived with a local family.
At first I was overwhelmed — the teachers didn’t have enough books and there were no modern technologies for studying. Also in the beginning a lot of the kids were closed off, because they didn’t speak English and could not socialise with the volunteers. It’s common — as a kid you think if someone speaks better than you, you will be judged. Besides, there was a big age difference among kids — some kids were 13, and others were nine.
Everything changed when the children started speaking to me. First 3-4 days they were very silent. They did what they were asked to do, were quiet and kept together. Eventually they started to open up, talk, ask questions and became more engaged.
It was a challenge. We had to come up with creative solutions and so we started playing games and suggesting fun activities. One of the things the kids particularly liked was sports. So every day we offered them a new programme, learned new things and during the break we went outside and played games. It felt really laid back, everyone was excited and eager to participate.
I think communication, listening, being open, kind and patient to kids is the key.
All the kids were very nice, but I felt really close to some of them in particular. There was this small boy, who touched me deeply. He was very eager to learn, he brought all of his books and asked so many questions. It was wonderful to see kids who put in some extra effort.
We`ve spent two weeks together and the class was quite small so we bonded with these children. When we were leaving the kids had made some DIY farewell gifts and it was really touching. I also remember this sweet girl, who gave me a piece of hand-made beaded jewellery. She spent time, making it during these two weeks.
Sometimes you don’t realise the impact you have on kids. By the first perception they are very shy, but at the end you see how much they enjoyed it and how you have touched their lives. After we left, our volunteer group collected some English books and sent them to that school. They were thrilled.
In 2020 I participated in the Arts and Creativity online camp. Actually, I missed the deadline but was eager to participate, messaged the GoCamp team and got approved. At first I was a little sceptical, because I didn’t really know how it was gonna work. But it was very well put together. The skills we were teaching those kids are really practical and I learned a lot as well.
I definitely recommend GoCamp. It’s a cool experience, especially for foreigners. It’s an opportunity to discover authentic Ukrainian culture. Most of the schools are in remote areas and you can actually see how real people live there. This world is very different from the EU and the US. Moreover, you have a chance to play a crucial role in someone’s life and share a different perception of the world with kids who have barely left their home cities.
In addition, this can be a valuable experience of responsibility and creativity in a professional environment. After GoCamp, I realised I want to dedicate myself to the social field, where I continue working today.