JERSEY SHORE – Volunteers across the state are helping Ukrainians improve their English online but more are needed.
Anna Nikulina is a member of the 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization ENGin. She is the manager of public relations and social media for the organization and explained that the group “pairs American volunteers with Ukrainian youth for free online language practice and cultural exchange.”
“This summer, hundreds of New Jerseyans looking for an easy, hands-on way to help Ukrainians in need are volunteering as conversation partners with English-speakers for free online conversation practice and cross-cultural connection,” Nikulina said.
“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 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,” Nikulina said. “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.”
ENGin’s volunteers hail from all walks of life – from high school students to retirees. Nikulina said, “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 in these young 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.
Monmouth Junction volunteer Aarohi Hemmady spoke about the program and how she became a part of it and how it has benefited those she has tutored.
“I’ve been a volunteer with ENGIN for around two months. I first found ENGIN on volunteermatch.org. At first, I was worried about completing the volunteer hours needed to graduate high school, but as I read about ENGIN, I became fascinated with the idea of helping Ukrainian young adults learn English to help them achieve their goals.
“So far, I have only assisted one person in learning English, but I hope to help many more. To help make my student more familiar with the language and American culture, I often pause lessons to explain common slang terminology or work through vocabulary they are having a difficult time with. Taking my time with lessons and working through concepts slowly seems to help my student process ideas better,” Hemmady added.
Hemmady said, “I also always have to keep in mind the differences between the Ukrainian and American schooling system. My buddy has not had a stable schooling system since the pandemic started and when they were in school, they learned about very different historical events and concepts. An event like the sinking of the Titanic or how a plane flies through the air is much easier to understand in visual terms, so I make sure my student watches videos on each of the topics for homework.”
Anika Vedmala is another Monmouth County volunteer who shared her views about the program and her thoughts about the ongoing atrocities occurring in Ukraine.
“I’ve been a volunteer for the organization for about a month now and I wanted to become a part of the organization after hearing I could make a difference to these kids and because it was an opportunity to meet new people and hear different stories,” she said.
She added, “so far, I’ve only assisted one person. Some things I’ve done to help my buddy would be just having conversations and making her more comfortable with the language. We do activities like planning trips and vacations for help with practical skills and to gain more knowledge about different cultures.”
“Talking about my school here and experiences in the U.S. help Valerie greatly because she gets a feel for what my life looks like and she can ask any questions she has,” Vedmala said.
“It’s shocking that we can’t do more to help and I feel like more attention should be given to help the citizens there. Most people don’t even know what’s happening to these innocent families and there isn’t enough being done to help them there,” Vedmala added.
Nikulina urged people to visit the group’s website at enginprogram.org/ People can also look through ENGin’s annual report at enginprogram.org/_files/ugd/72b7da_2b332026b7604f13b936b9e75c63a217.pdf