If you want to change the world, inspire a kid. That is the motto of GoCamp, a volunteer movement that helps thousands of children in Ukraine to enhance their English skills. GO stands for Global Office — the name of the Ukrainian non-profit in Kyiv that coordinates the movement. Global Office invites volunteers who are native or advanced speakers of English to children’s camps across Ukraine. The children spend two weeks with a volunteer to discover that learning English can be easy and fun. They also get an enriching intercultural experience.
Ukraine is now ranked 47th in the world in terms of the level of English proficiency among its residents (EF English Proficiency Index). Research shows that there is positive correlation between EPI scores and the economic development of a country. The GO initiative aspires to boost Ukraine’s growth and development by enhancing English proficiency of its new generation. Its goal is to give the new generation of Ukrainians “more opportunities to change the course of history” as they learn to communicate with the whole world without barriers.
This initiative was launched three years ago. It is now considered the biggest volunteer program in Eastern Europe. GO summer camps take place every two weeks from June through August, and “after school” camps are also held during spring and fall months. Most of the camps are for English learners, but some are for those who study German or French.
Over 80,000 kids are now alumni of GoCamp programs. Nearly 500 schools in Ukraine are hosting GO camps this year. By 2020, Global Office expects the program to embrace 85% of Ukraine’s school population ages 10 to 15.
As an NGO, Global Office relies on support from donors and sponsors. They proudly list several Government of Ukraine agencies as well as foreign embassies and international organizations such as the British Council among their supporters. Ambassadors of Canada, India, Australia and Belgium, among others, have worked as volunteers in GoCamp programs.
This August, almost a hundred volunteers from two dozen countries arrived in Kyiv for a three-day training program before getting sent to camps in many oblasts, from Chernivtsi in the west to Mariupol in the east. Most of them are native speakers of English from the UK, Australia and the U.S.; but there were also English teachers from other countries of Europe and even from such “unlikely” places as Morocco, Turkey, and Egypt. As Global Office proudly reports, Ukraine became “volunteer destination #1” in Eastern Europe.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. team was the most numerous, with several Ukrainian-Americans among them. I was pleased to find Lewis Madanick – a good friend of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation — in that group. An experienced citizen diplomat who works for the Open World Leadership Center, Lewis was assigned to one of the most challenging camp locations: in Vuhledar, a town just south of Donetsk and only a few miles away from Russia-occupied territory.
My assignment came to be on the southern edge of Ukraine: in Skadovsk, a remote town in Kherson oblast, about 60 miles away from the Crimean border. In my next report, I will describe the experiences of serving as a volunteer at the Skadovsk English camp.
Dr. Peter Voitsekhovsky is Research Director at the US-Ukraine Foundation.
Photo at top of page: Peter Voitsekhovsky, far right, with U.S. volunteers at the GoCamp orientation in Kyiv.