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Going global: 600 volunteers from around the world teach kids English at summer camps in Ukraine

One of the GoCamp volunteers works with the children in Summer 2016. Photo:
Going global: 600 volunteers from around the world teach kids English at summer camps in Ukraine
Article by: Kostiantyn Yanchenko

During our interview, Canberk Bal, a young man from Türkiye, is wearing a vyshyvanka – a Ukrainian national embroidered shirt. Canberk has just come back from the west-Ukrainian city of Lviv where he worked as a volunteer tutor assistant at one of the Lviv secondary schools. He got a vyshyvanka as a souvenir from Ukrainian children and then bought one more for his mom.

Canberk is one of the 600 volunteers who arrived in Ukraine in Summer 2017 as part of the GoGlobal language camp initiative called GoCamps. The project is organized by the Ukrainian NGO “Global Office” in partnership with British Council, Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine as well as a number of other international organizations and embassies. This is the second year of the project; last year, 117 volunteers from 38 countries came to work in summer camps across Ukraine.

Read more: Would you volunteer teaching English to Ukrainian kids?

GoCamps aim to engage people from different countries and backgrounds to help Ukrainian schoolers to overcome language barriers and to promote the volunteer culture in Ukraine. As of today, nearly 70,000 pupils from all 24 oblasts of Ukraine have already participated in GoCamps. The organizers hope to increase this figure up to 1.5 million by 2020.

Euromaidan Press asked Canberk Bal to share his experience of volunteering in a GoCamp and talked to teachers and children he worked with.

Canberk Bal stands in front of his wards, who are lined up to depict the logo of “GoCamp.” Photo: Olha Matiashuk

How does one become a volunteer in a GoCamp?

Before taking part in a GoGamp, Canberk had never been in Ukraine. However, he did some voluntary work teaching Turkish children with disabilities how to ride a bike and lead a healthy lifestyle. In high school, he went to Israel to practice English with African refugees. After finishing the first year of a Bachelor program in Canada, Canberk thought about the possibility to go volunteering once again. That is how he came across a call for the GoCamps volunteers.

“I chose a GoGlobal project since it was fully based on commitment. It did not require any participation fee, and I did not spend much money in Ukraine, since the prices are relatively low there. In addition, unlike some of my Canadian acquaintances, I did not worry about the war issue. I am from Türkiye where the military conflict also goes on in the East, so I know that such things do not make the whole country unsafe,” Canberk says.

After applying for a GoGlobal camp, Canberk had to go through the simple selection procedure. It included filling in a questionnaire, proving his English language skills and explaining a motivation to participate in the project. Сanberk succeeded at each of the stages despite the strong competition. According to GoGlobal Volunteers Coordinator Iryna Horlach, there were applicants from almost 140 countries this year.

“Our volunteers сome to Ukraine for completely different reasons. Some of them are students taking their gap-years, while others are graduates who see volunteering as a chance to build a more successful career in the future. At the same time, we received many applications from the volunteers over 50 years old. They have some leisure time and want to invest it in children. There were also people from diaspora and those who deal with Eastern European studies… all sorts of people,” Iryna says.

Not only volunteers had to compete for the opportunity to take part in a GoCamp – the same applied to the schools. Since all of the camps’ activities take place on the basis of secondary schools, it was Ukrainian teachers who recorded video greetings for volunteers, visited several preparatory trainings in Kyiv and planned everything in advance.

Canberk with some of the Sykhivska gymnasium teachers responsible for holding the camp where he worked. Photo: Olha Matiashuk

You’re accepted! What’s next?

As soon as you are accepted, the next step in the project is to decide where exactly to volunteer. It is up to the volunteers to choose among dozens of regions and localities, but, according to Iryna, the GoGlobal team tries to target tiny villages first of all.

“The quality of secondary education in small Ukrainian towns is often poor. Most of the children there have never been abroad. We believe that it is important to bet on these children today for the future of Ukraine. That is why more than a half of our host schools are situated in villages,” Iryna explains.

For volunteers like Canberk, this is not a problem at all. From the very beginning, he claimed he would gladly travel to any place and ended up in Lviv which is a big and developed сity. However, sometimes volunteers have preferences regarding a place of the camp.

“Some of our volunteers know that their ancestors come from a concrete place and they want to stay there or nearby to investigate their families’ history in archives. Others are just fans of the urban rhythms so they prefer going to big cities. Anyway, we try to meet everybody’ wishes when it is possible,” Iryna says.

Canberk playing basketball with the camp participants. Photo: Olha Matiashuk

Get ready to meet your host family!

Uliana Koziar is an English language teacher at the Sykhivska gymnasium – a secondary school where Canberk volunteered. Uliana along with the other 15 teachers was responsible for taking care of 70 pupils participating in the GoCamp and did the lion’s share of the work related to the project. She mentored kids, organized flashmobs, took photos and much more, but most of all she was afraid of not finding a host family for Canberk.

“It is a quite unusual experience for Ukrainian people to have projects like that. So, initially, I was not sure how our parents would react to the need of providing Canberk with accommodation. I even felt rather uncomfortable to ask about that, but finally, everything went well,” Uliana recalls.

It is interesting, that being a Muslim Canberk was hosted by the family of a Christian priest, father Yevhen Stanishevsky and his wife Mariya. Their sons – Tvorymyr (10 years old) and Bohuslav (12 years old) took part in GoGlobal camp while the oldest daughter Kvitka (15 years old) stayed with Canberk during his spare time and helped him to communicate with grandparents of the family, as they do not speak English. Both Canberk and the Stanishevskys agree that 3 weeks spent together were wonderful.

“It is common for us to have foreigners in our place. I speak English and Italian, besides, my husband speaks English, Italian and German, so we did not hesitate at all if to host Canberk or not. Our children had so much fun with him. They even learned one of the Turkish traditional dances. Although he left we still keep in touch,” Mariya says.

Canberk with the Stanishevskys family in one of the Lviv parks.

Canberk says he felt himself at home at the Stanishevskys’ place. He quickly learnt how to ask “are you hungry?” in Ukrainian because it was something he heard constantly from grandparents. When Canberk caught a cold, he was given with all the necessary medicines by the Stanishevskys. Together they went sightseeing, drove to the countryside, visited theatres, etc.

“It was very interesting for me to get to know about wife dominance in Ukrainian family. It is not like that in Türkiye or even Canada. Now I see that mother is an extremely important figure in Ukrainian culture. I also benefited from the religious differences between me and the host family. My girlfriend is Christian as well, so I always use the chance to understand Christianity deeper,” Canberk says.

What are you supposed to do as a volunteer?

For Canberk, it was rather shocking when he entered the classroom and all the pupils stood up to show their respect. He says he remembers this custom from Turkish school, but he did not expect to see the same in Ukraine. So, the first few days were a period of ice breaking between children and a person which was new for them.

“My task was to make pupils speak as natural and effortless English as it was possible during 3 weeks of practice. Even within the same age group, there were children of different levels, because some of them attended additional courses and others did not. So, for me, the biggest challenge was to integrate everybody, including those who felt timid at the beginning,” Canberk admits.

All of the 70 participating pupils were split into three groups. Each day, Canberk spent time with one of the groups. Uliana says that initially teachers compiled a schedule of Canberk’s visits, but then they decided to add some intrigue and started inviting Canberk randomly. As a result, there was a nice buzz among children wondering who will get Canberk next time.

Canberk bids farewell to the camp participants in the yard of the Sykhivska gymnasium. Photo: Olha Matiashuk

One more condition of GoGlobal volunteering is that each camp has some thematic direction. For example, Sykhivska gymnasium held a science and technology camp with an emphasis on mathematics, chemistry, and engineering. It was good for Canberk who studies IT. Together with children he did chemical experiments and taught them how to use a specific technical vocabulary.

“I spoke to the pupils a little bit slower comparing to the ordinary pace of my speech, but I tried not to be too simple. I did not adapt grammar too much and used, for instance, ‘fabulous’ instead of ‘great.’ It made them grow, and by the end of the camp, both me and the teachers agreed that children had improved English,” Canberk says.

The GoCamp organizers plan to launch an application process on a rolling basis from the next year. The possibility of German, French, and Spanish language camps is also being considered. In his turn, Canberk says it is just a matter of time when he comes to Ukraine again.

Read also:

Watch also: GoCamp promo video:

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