The pandemic may have inspired the Peace Corps Virtual Service, but the pilot benefits and expanded opportunities mean that virtual collaboration isn’t going away anytime soon.
One of the benefits of Virtual Services is providing remote support to partners who are unable to accept Volunteers in person. With Russia’s war in Ukraine raging, partners in Ukraine are a good example of the benefits of virtual services.
Since September 2020, the Ukrainian Peace Corps has welcomed 27 returning Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV) who volunteer their time each week to complete assignments with their Ukrainian counterparts. Four of these Virtual Service Participants shared their experiences with us.
Theodore ‘Ted’ Webne
Ted served as a Volunteer in Ukraine from 2016 to 2018. His ties to the country make his virtual involvement very personal.
Ted co-facilitates an English conversation club with a local NGO which provides safe rooms for war veterans. Every Thursday, Ted and co meet with about 10 veterans for an hour to discuss everything from the World Cup to food and music. This community development work has given Ted the opportunity to hone his Ukrainian language skills and contribute to the war effort without leaving home.
“My Ukrainian adoptive father was forced to leave his family to fight on the front lines in eastern Ukraine. I see how hard this is for my host family. I love being able to give something back to the veterans community now through Virtual Service, however small it may be, especially considering the current state of things,” said Ted.
After Volunteering in China (2015-2017) and Georgia (2017-2018), Andre felt the call to reconnect with the Peace Corps this past fall. His 18-week engagement with the Ministry of Secondary Education aims to build capacity among local English teachers to use virtual technologies and strengthen their language skills.
Between developing shared resources and facilitating joint workshops, Andre has developed an immense admiration for Ukrainians. Despite the war, teachers survive and attend workshops. They, like many Ukrainians, are focused on the future.
“Due to the war in Ukraine, power grids were targeted, and, in many places, residents did not have electricity. One participant was so dedicated to sharing his online teaching technique activities that he held his phone above his head with one hand so we could see it while he was presenting it,” said Andre.
Peggy served as an Education Volunteer three times in Ukraine. This in-country experience, along with 25 years in education, has proven very helpful to support Ukrainian university foreign language departments.
Peggy and her Virtual Services partners develop and facilitate weekly English conversation clubs for first and third year university students. These clubs provide opportunities for local residents to practice their English skills on everyday topics and class-specific discussions.
“I realized how important it was for me, a long-retired teacher, to use my skills to promote the growth of others and to connect meaningfully with others,” says Peggy. -a lovely, smart, and dedicated person living in very bad conditions. [These are people] who are still committed to living their lives as normal as possible, sharing themselves with strangers – and, strangers, under such compulsion. What could improve my life more than this?”
Nicholas ‘Nick’ Denson
Nick (Rwanda 2018-2020) is a board-certified art therapist and counselor with over seven years of experience. She applies her professional skills to support displaced youth with special needs and their caregivers. Nick co-facilitates biweekly meetings with teachers on topics related to emotional resilience, working with children with autism, and special education approaches.
To further build capacity in Ukraine, Nick recently led a workshop for over 65 local teachers, social workers and student assistants on how to implement art therapy activities in classrooms with children with autism. Nick and his partners plan to conduct more webinars in the future on a smaller scale for more personalized support.
“I love working with special needs youth and the caregiver community in Ukraine. I love to see them helping each other. Seeing participants share their sense of mastery is a feeling like no other. You can see capacity building as part of your actions,” said Nick.
Virtual Service Participants credit local Peace Corps staff with preparing them for serious engagement with people living in conditions of war. Many have decided to continue their virtual support after the initial end date.
Peace Corps Response has been proud to support Ukraine throughout this time and is eager to expand its virtual reach.
“Virtual Service creates opportunities to engage remotely with our colleagues even when it is not possible for Volunteers to serve in this country. This connection provides another avenue for continuing the Peace Corps’ important mission of promoting world friendship and peace,” said Peace Corps Response Director Sarah Dietch.
If you are a returning Peace Corps Volunteer, consider supporting Ukraine through Virtual Service.