This summer, Oregonians looking for an easy, hands-on way to help Ukrainians in need can volunteer as online conversation partners at ENGin. ENGin, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, pairs Ukrainian youth (ages 13-35) with English-speakers (ages 14+) for free online conversation practice and cross-cultural connection. The program complements humanitarian aid efforts by giving Ukrainians the skills they need to support themselves in the longer term.
ENGin’s free program, launched in March 2020, is the only one of its kind in Ukraine–open to anyone, anywhere, at any time, for as long as they need it. Since the war, demand for ENGin’s services has skyrocketed, as over half of Ukrainians have lost their jobs and millions have been forced to flee the country.
While many Ukrainians study English in school, few can actually speak the language. That’s because spoken fluency is almost impossible to achieve without real-world practice. But speaking skills are exactly what many Ukrainians need today–whether to find new jobs or to settle in foreign countries as refugees.
That’s where ENGin’s volunteers come in. They hail from all walks of life–from high school students to retirees. For the most part, they aren’t professional teachers, don’t speak any Ukrainian and have no prior language tutoring experience. But just by chatting with their students for one hour a week, they’re making a huge impact on these Ukrainians’ lives.
“ENGin allows any fluent English speaker to make a difference from the comfort of home,” said Rose Tatum, ENGin’s Volunteer Manager. “We provide all session materials, training and ongoing support, so volunteers can thrive in our program without any special skills or prior experience.”
To date, ENGin has already connected over 7,000 volunteers with 8,000 students. But hundreds more young Ukrainians are applying to the program each week, so ENGin’s team is actively recruiting volunteers. While operating at such a large scale poses many operational challenges, founder and CEO Katerina Manoff believes that’s exactly the point.
“The true magic of ENGin is scale,” Manoff said. “We are using the power of the English language and international connections to transform an entire country. Today, we fight Russia’s attempts to isolate and destroy our nation. Tomorrow, a generation of English-fluent, culturally competent young Ukrainians will rebuild it.”
Volunteers are asked to commit to at least three months, weekends or weekdays, in the first half of the day (Ukraine is 7-10 hours ahead of the US). It is the volunteer’s responsibility to lead each session and decide what to do based on the resources and activity ideas provided. If the student’s English is more advanced or as the volunteer and student get more comfortable with one another, some people choose to simply let the conversation flow, covering topics from music to travel to politics.
Both the students and the volunteers will be using video chat for their sessions. In addition, each pair can decide on additional ways to communicate, like Instagram messages, Skype, Google chat, WhatsApp or whatever works best for them.
For full details on the program, visit enginprogram.org.