In May 2022, as Russian forces clattered through Ukrainian territory, I sat at home in the warmth of my lounge feeling utterly helpless, utterly hopeless. A second year university student living in the north of England, I felt truly powerless to aid the enormity of international conflict.
I wracked my brain for a way in which I could be of some use. I wondered if there might finally be a use for my English degree.
Late in May, I posted on a Facebook group that I was looking to tutor some Ukrainian students in English. To my utter surprise, instead of receiving a few dozen requests for tuition, by the end of the day I had over 500 students interested in free English language lessons. There was no way I could do it alone.
I reached out to my university to set up a volunteering initiative to recruit more tutors. Less than one month later, we had 20 completed lesson plans ready to be used, 10 tutors, and over 1000 sign-ups. Within just four months, over 200 students had been taught through the project.
Tutors volunteer for one hour per week, and no knowledge of Ukrainian or Russian is needed. Instead, the lesson plans are designed to ensure that tutors are confident in overcoming the language barrier between their students and themselves. Lessons are now held on a weekly basis, with all levels of English being taught. We also have to make sure that the lessons, although they’re online, use interactive methods and visual aids to ensure even the youngest students, those of just 7-years-old, remain engaged.
All that the tutors need is patience, enthusiasm and adaptability - because the lessons don’t always go exactly as you plan them to. Indeed, many of the students’ circumstances are less than ideal as learning conditions. I’ve had students join with the droning blare of planes flying overhead, students join from train station platforms, and students join from cramped basements with little to no Wifi. But we do our best, and the students’ dedication and determination is one constant you can always rely upon.
We ultimately aim to give the children confidence and skills. It’s a social induction as well as a linguistic one. To offer that support during such a huge upheaval has been truly valued.
I now hope that the project can expand to include student volunteers from other universities. It would be wonderful to provide free English lessons to anyone struggling as the result of a crisis. I can only hope that the project continues to support those in need, strengthening connections between Ukraine and the UK.
If you would like to get involved in Tutor for Ukraine or introduce it to your university, email [email protected].