Why I Give: Alumna Bridges Pandemic to Serve Students from Afar
Barbara ‘Bobbi’ Dunham’s special regard for English-language students was cultivated with Global Volunteers in 2012 in India. She’s served regularly since then, forming special relationships with students in the classrooms of Kotun, Poland over the past four years. Prevented by the pandemic from returning in 2020, she did what she regards as the next-best thing by generously donating funds for several months of tutoring for students who needed it most. Read on for Bobbi’s reflections on her on-going volunteer journey, and her motivation behind the tutoring project she initiated.
by Barbara Dunham
Nearly two decades ago, I listened intently to a speaker describe her experience with Global Volunteers in Vietnam teaching English as a second language. The speaker and her husband enjoyed their experience so much they returned the following year to volunteer again. This introduction to Global Volunteers altered the course of my life. Eight years ago, I left my law firm partnership and two days later, I was well on my way to Chennai, India to volunteer – and have been volunteering nearly every year since that extraordinary experience.
“Eight years ago, I left my law firm partnership, and two days later I was well on my way to Chennai, India to volunteer – and have been volunteering nearly every year since that extraordinary experience.”– Bobbi Dunham
Four years ago, I found myself in Siedlce, Poland, teaching English as a second language. Each day, after teaching at the local university and a delicious, wholesome meal at Reymontowka, a beautiful manor house where we stay, it was off to the community center. The center is located in a small village where, once the word is out that the volunteers are here, the high school students arrive after school to improve their English language skills. It is here I first met Victor, Lidia, Ola, and other students who were eager to learn, share a joke, help each other with English pronunciation and when one struggled with the game – extra hints to arrive at the correct answer. The experience was extraordinary and fun!
These students at the community center were one of the main reasons I returned to Poland again and again. Their stories closely paralleled my own. Most students come from hardworking families where they may be the first who will expand their education beyond high school. Every passing year I learned more about these students and their lives. One of these students, Ola, was determined to gain the same level of proficiency in English as her closest friends. She worked tirelessly and availed herself of every opportunity to improve her skills. Ola is the only person in her family who speaks English and she is eagerly sharing her knowledge with her younger sister. Ola and her family know this knowledge will provide her with greater opportunities then available to them. They are enormously proud of her and so are all of the volunteers, especially me.
“Most students come from hardworking families where they may be the first who will expand their education beyond high school. Every passing year I learned more about these students and their lives.”– Bobbi Dunham
Many of us had committed to returning to Poland in 2020 to teach and celebrate the 30th anniversary of Global Volunteer’s partnership with this extraordinary country. Sadly, the COVID pandemic prevented our return. Having watched the progress of the students over three years, I was concerned the absence of volunteers would negatively impact further progress. Global Volunteers has no expectation of a donation beyond your commitment as a volunteer. However, because I was unable to return, I proposed to Global a donation specifically for English tutors for the students in Poland. They embraced this proposal and with the help of Dorota Wierzbicka, Poland Country Manager, two English tutors started classes a few weeks ago for students and yes, Ola is one of them!
“Outside the Box Idea” Quickly Foments Students’ Learning
Bobbi has worked with students in Kotun each year she has served in Poland, and was concerned that during the absence of volunteers, the students’ English proficiency would lag. So, she asked if her donation to Global Volunteers during the pandemic could pay for a tutor to provide small-group tutoring for students who needed it most.
Poland Country Manager Dorota Wierzbicka worked with Global Volunteers’ community partner, the country government of Siedlce, to set up the tutoring sessions until volunteers are able to return to Poland later in 2021. The Siedlce community center director and Kotun elementary school principal selected students without financial resources for special language tutoring on their own. A group of four elementary school students and another of four high school students were selected by community leaders. In December, the two groups started weekly tutoring sessions each with an English tutor suited for their age group and who lives Kotun. The tutoring sessions will continue through April.
After the first day of classes with the high school students, Poland Country Manager Dorota Wierzbicka reported that the students and teachers enjoyed working together and look forward to the next several weeks of studies. “This was such a needed project at this time,” she said, “because the volunteers’ absence was clearly felt. And, everyone involved: the tutors, school principal, community center staff, and Marek are all very enthusiastic about this initiative at this challenging time.” She said the children are studying at home all day and miss the new educational experiences the volunteers usually provide.
Bobbi responded with the same enthusiasm: “Great news! I am just thrilled to help in some way during these challenging times! We must think outside the box to provide continued services on some level even in these tough times. I am grateful to you for your efforts on behalf of so many!”
“They are all very enthusiastic about this initiative at this challenging time when the children are at home all day long and don’t get exposed to any new educational experiences.”– Dorota Wierzbicka, Poland Country Manager
“We must think outside the box to provide continued services on some level even in these tough times.”– Bobbi Dunham, Poland volunteer and donor
Join Bobbi to Celebrate 30 Years of Service in Poland in October 2021
Bobbi plans to return to Poland this year and invites others to celebrate Global Volunteers’ 30-year legacy of service – which was postponed in 2020 because of the pandemic.
“Already, volunteers I met in 2019 have recommitted to returning in 2021. It will be wonderful to see them again in Poland, and all of the others I have met and now call friends,” Bobbi said. She said she’s eager to rejoin with her students and appreciate their progress in her absence.
She further exhorts: “Please think about volunteering in Poland and help us celebrate their ‘one-year-late’ 30th anniversary. You will be enchanted with the students, the teachers, the people, Reymontowka, the food, the land, the history, and so much more. Hope to see you there!“
We are currently working on plans to safely resume teaching programs at summer English language camps in Siedlce and Zakopane in summer 2021. You may obtain updated information from volunteer coordinators at 651-407-6100 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch our website for current information on program re-launches throughout 2021.
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