Here is the short account that I provided to Ashley Hardaway, author of Ukraine (Other Places Travel Guide). It was actually published in her book! Feel free to check it out here.
Volunteer November 2nd-Dec 3rd, 2010
During my short time working as a volunteer at “The Way Home,” I learned more than I could have possibly imagined. I came to the organization with the assumption that I was going to walk into a classroom, and simply teach English to the street kids living at our center in Odessa, Ukraine. Instead, I found myself working hand on with the social patrols handing out food to the homeless, writing press releases and grant proposals for the UN, analyzing statistics, contacting friends and family to help me spread the word about our organization through social media, attending art and dance classes, teaching an English conversation module, updating our blog, and even washing a few dishes in the kitchen. My work at “The Way Home” could not have been more varied and well rounded.
During my stay with “The Way Home,” I worked most closely with Even Jahr, Manager of International Relations and Fundraising. Together, we spread the word about our foundation’s work via Facebook; after a few weeks, we have already quadrupling our membership. We also searched for new partners who may in the future be interested in donating to our foundation. In collaboration with Even, our President Sergey, and Natasha, another employee at the foundation, we created models for our next two upcoming projects that will cater to two underrepresented groups of people in the Odessa region: homeless and/or abused women and HIV+ street children. Unfortunately, the state does very little for these two groups of individuals, so our organization is devoted to helping them by creating a safe place for them to come get shelter, medical help and legal assistance. I enjoyed the challenges that arose from my work’s international focus.
The most rewarding aspect of my volunteer work came from the children I got to know during my short weeks at the center. We talked about friends, family, studies, popular culture, and even teen crushes. At the Center for Crisis Families, I spent the day bonding with a 7 year old artist who continually pushed me to my artistic limits of comfort with colored pencils. My favorite moment was when she asked me to draw a devushka (young girl) and instead she replied it looked more like a babushka (grandmother). We laughed and laughed for ten whole minutes before regaining composure. I got to know many of the children better after I traveled with the football team to Kiev to watch and document their tournament. After spending an afternoon beautifying a local park and laughing about all the interesting items we fished out of the lake, we played tag while running to our next excursion. The well-adjusted and friendly nature of each and every child at our center is a true testament to the valuable work “The Way Home” does for the community of Odessa.
My work at the foundation was colorful, varied, and always a challenge. I highly recommend this organization to all interested in making a small difference in a part of the world that really does have the capacity for change. I hope I will be able to return in the near future, because I will deeply miss the staff and children who I was privileged to work with at “The Way Home.” I know that the organization will only continue to flourish and make a meaningful impact in the lives of the street children as the years go by. The best of luck to all the wonderful people who donate time and money to this stupendous cause.