Nine determined Medtronic employees joined together for a week in service and bonding in Poland in September. Working at a preschool, four elementary schools, and one high school in Siedlce in rural Poland, the nine Medtronic volunteers shared about their culture and language with their students while learning about theirs. Read on for details on how impactful their service was to them and their students.
Having organized and coordinated a Medtronic volunteer team to serve in Peru in 2017 and two in Ecuador in 2019 with Global Volunteers, Sandy Hickey and other volunteer participants from Aspire, a philanthropic group within Medtronic, were eager to plan their next adventure in service, and chose Poland as their service location, where they would teach conversational English to children. Their determination to serve in Poland ran deep as their service program was cancelled more than once due to the pandemic. In planning meetings this summer with Global Volunteers staff, the women from Medtronic, who had been fully vaccinated and were confident they could travel and be safe, were determined to make their service program a reality.
The nine Medtronic employees, some of whom knew each other, joined together to teach conversational English to children in Poland. For some of the students, this would be their first ever contact with people from the United States. Fonda Barkel, who served in Ecuador in 2019, reflected on this coming together with other women from Medtronic for a common purpose: “I can’t help but to think about what we have all been through in the last year and a half. We have experienced some type of sadness and uncertainty, whether it was losing some we loved or just the fear of the unknown. Yet we all sit here today as strong powerful women who can persevere through a pandemic to fly across the world to help children in need. During our multiple conference calls, rescheduling, and wondering if the trip was ever going to happen, we continued to know the importance of the trip. This is my second international trip and I have to say how proud I am to be part of such a strong group of women who give their valuable time, dedication, and money to give back to a community whatever country is in need. You should all be proud. We are finally here to help the children of Polish learn English. I look forward to learning more about the culture, people, children but most of all working with all of you.”
During each day, the volunteers taught classes to preschool, elementary, and high school students. In the evenings, they participated in cultural activities, explored Siedlce, and spent time together as colleagues.
Most Touching Moments
The week was filled with connection and meaningful service with Polish students. Here, these hard-working, dedicated volunteers share some of the most touching moments from their week in service:
- Leigh Ramsey said, “Having an activity that drew an autistic child out of his shell. He has not communicated with me or anyone in the class all week. Today we did a word search for the 50 states and he opened up…raising his hand each time he found a state and sharing it with the class. Even the teacher commented on how unusual that was.”
- Liz Reidel shared, “On the way to school, Niko’s mom, Margaret told me that her son was talking about the brown squirrel song that we sang and danced to the previous day, so that really warmed my heart that he took something fun away from the intimidating first day.”
- Fonda Barkel: “Mid-week when I was walking in the hallway of the school and the kids would hold their hand up and say Michigan and point on their hand where I lived.”
- Marisa Saladino: “When at the beginning of our class of teaching a packed room of 30 seventeen-year-olds, a kid in the front raised his hand just to tell us how excited he was for us to be there so he could converse for the first time in his life with native-speaking Americans.”
- Sandy Hickey: “Walking through the hallway each day and seeing how excited the kids were that we were there!”
- Amy Nguyen: “My favorite part of today was visiting the special ed school. It was amazing to see the children in their natural environment. I loved how much passion the director had. It was an awesome day!”
- Kendra Meyer: “My favorite part was watching Amy’s light shine with her heart-led talent with special needs children. What Amy doesn’t realize is that by her living out loud with her heart, she influenced me and others around her. Watching her interact with the student at the school reminded me that loving others takes no effort – we just need to take in the moment to do so.”
- Kristen Kotsimbos: “Some have eaten meals together, met with administrators, explored outside of the school walls, exchanged hugs and cards, been told that students excitedly let their parents know about our interactions, and learned that we have been the first Americans some students have had the chance to speak with and how important that was to them.”
- Becky Fox: “I loved walking through the halls each day and seeing how excited the kids were that we were there! They wanted to say hello every chance they got and use their English! One of the most memorable and cutest moments for me was when I was teaching the kids about the state of Texas and the saying, “everything is bigger in Texas!” A second grade boy raised his hand and asked, “even the cell phones?” It was so cute!! I also loved the time driving back and forth from school with Marlena. It gave us time to connect with her and the Polish culture on a deeper level.”
Nigdy nie zagasnie! = Keep on shining!
Making Memories in Service
Kendra Meyer reflected in her team journal entry, “Last night, we came together for a team cookout… but to me, it was so much more. It was the night we felt comfortable in Poland. Just when I thought the days couldn’t possibly get better and brighter, they have, and they have outdone themselves.
“What we don’t realize right now, in the moment, is we are making memories that will carry us through the rest of our life. It will be as we open the door back home, process, a let some time go by that we fully sink in what has happened here – lessons we will pass along, not only for ourselves, but the lives we are touching this week. To us, we are on a volunteer trip to Poland. But it is so much more.
“It is best summarized by Marek, in his words to me last night as we shared Polish sausage: “Many people go on vacation to see the world. They stay in fancy hotels, see the sights, and they leave. But that is not you. Your heart. You are here to learn culture. You are here because you want to give from your heart. The knowledge you give means so much – but the children feel it from you, and it’s special to them. They will never forget you; you are actually changing someone’s life.””
“You are here because you want to give from your heart. The knowledge you give means so much – but the children feel it from you, and it’s special to them. They will never forget you; you are actually changing someone’s life.”– Marek Blaszczyk, Director of Reymontówka manor house and a Siedlce Country government employee
“Some have eaten meals together, met with administrators, explored outside of the school walls, exchanged hugs and cards, been told that students excitedly let their parents know about our interactions, and learned that we have been the first Americans some students have had the chance to speak with and how important that was to them.”– Kristen Kotsimbos, Poland volunteer
As they were culminating their time in service, Kendra Meyer reflected, “As we carry ourselves back to the wind and grind of our daily life back in the USA, let’s us not forget this lesson of pausing to love. Because when it’s all said and done, it’s the only thing we can take with us.”
“Needless to say, this is an amazing group of hard-working women, willing to help others succeed, all while sharing many laughs and making wonderful memories,” as Liz Riedel said of the experience. The volunteers described their experience volunteering in Poland as incredibly “impactful”, and are already planning a second service program in Siedlce in 2022 as well as an additional one in Greece.