Olga Storozhenko has a story to tell. She is currently Global Volunteers Poland team leader, having joined the staff in 2022. But she came to Global Volunteers in a most unusual and unfortunate manner. After Ukraine was invaded by Russia in February 2022, Olga fled her homeland and settled in the small city of Siedlce, Poland. Shortly after her arrival, Global Volunteers hired Olga as a translator.
In early 2022, immediately after the Russian army invaded Ukraine, Poland welcomed Ukrainian families who were fleeing the war, particularly women and children. Our Polish partner anticipated that Siedlce County would soon welcome a great number of refugees – called “Ukrainian guests” by the local people. Global Volunteers offered our partner any assistance they deemed helpful. Together, we decided to provide humanitarian aid to the women and children who came from areas under attack. The Siedlce County government officials and staff, our volunteers and generous donors, along with Polish students, generously offered their time and resources to create a sense of normality for these people during a very difficult and traumatic period.
In 2022, Global Volunteers and the Siedlce County government staff supported Ukrainian refugees as they adjusted to their new life in Poland. Together, we hosted afternoon sessions five days a week at Reymontówka, a delightful, old Polish manor house. Ukrainian moms and their kids took part in a variety of activities with volunteers, enjoyed dinner with the volunteers, and on some afternoons went on field trips to the Warsaw zoo and other interesting places. The Ukrainian guests were able to meet each other, briefly take their minds off the war, and build friendships in a caring environment.
In response to the high demand for support, we doubled the capacity of our English language summer camps to accommodate Ukrainian families in the country. Volunteers assisted in the conversational English classes, but mostly offered comfort and relief to Ukrainian guests. They also assisted in renovating and painting a formerly abandoned school that was converted into refugee housing and participated in arts, crafts, games, and other activities in the evenings. If there are still refugees in Siedlce in 2023, Global Volunteers plans to offer a similar summer camp program in June, July and August, while continuing the weekly sessions with the Ukrainian families during the rest of the year.
In her role as Poland team leader, Olga is responsible for all aspects of the service program, which include helping prepare volunteers prior to their arrival, managing all the logistics, and assigning volunteers to specific projects while creating a safe space for volunteers and the local Polish and Ukrainian people to share meaningful experiences. When there are no volunteers in country, Olga works closely with Global Volunteers international development director on various projects.
” It’s what we wanted to create-a place where people can relax and forget about the war for a while”.–Olga Storozhenko
The following is an interview of Olga Storozhenko
How did you first interact with Global Volunteers, and in what capacity?
I came to Poland from Ukraine because Russia started war in my country. My sister and I arrived in Siedlce on the 7th of March 2022. The reason why we chose this town was my sister’s daughter studied at university there. My sister started working first at school, teaching Ukrainian kids the Polish language and an English teacher there reached out to me about the opportunity to be a Ukrainian English translator for the program with Ukrainian refugees in the area. That is how I met Dorota Wierzbicka, Director of International Operations at Global Volunteers. It was a life-changing moment in my life. Clearly, it was my connection to Ukraine and the willingness of Global Volunteers that made it all happen.
“Olga was instrumental in both developing and conducting the program of assisting Ukrainian refugees. Our volunteers and I could not have communicated with the families without Olga’s superb English skills. But in addition to the language assistance, she was also able to create a special environment, full of trust and understanding, where Ukrainian moms shared their stories with the volunteers and the volunteers offered words of support to them. I am confident that any prospecting volunteers will be in great hands with Olga as the new Team Leader.”– Dorota Wierzbicka, Director of International Operations
Please give us a brief about your background (studies, previous experience, any significant information about you that you would like to share, etc.)
I was born and raised in Berdychiv, a historic city in the Zhytomyr region of northern Ukraine. I went to school, then to college in Berdychiv. After graduating from college, I studied law at the Kiev University of Law. Meanwhile studying, I worked for one year in a secretarial department of The Security Service of Ukraine. In 2010 I decided to quit it and start traveling to broaden my horizon. The first country I went to was Germany, I did one year of the Au Pair program there and studied German language and culture. The next countries were Austria and France, I did the same program there. This experience gave me the confidence to travel and taught me more than years at university. After returning to Ukraine, I worked for a couple of years as a translator and volunteer in a non-profit organization in my hometown, helping children and youth with special needs and children from families who are in a difficult life situation. Then I worked in a private school, teaching conversational English. When COVID-19 hit, I worked from home tutoring English online.
How have you grown since working with Global Volunteers?
As I have been very curious since a child, I really like meeting new people. Their stories impacted my life a lot. Working with Volunteers gave me confidence and I felt tremendous support from them. At first, being a translator, then Assistant to the Team Leader and Assistant to Dorota. It kept me busy and distracted from the war in Ukraine. I was able to share my story and the stories of others and to be heard and understood. It worked as therapy for me and other Ukrainian guests and still does.
What part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Meeting new people and being helpful. Every volunteer brings new energy to the program and makes it alive. Their support and kind heart inspire and give hope for a brighter future. Showing support to the community gives it the motivation to keep going and develop.
“From my very first contact with Olga, she created an environment with an open and positive communication culture. Olga in her gentle and positive manner, makes you feel safe and fills you with positive energy-she energizes you! She’s a beautiful woman with a huge heart and love for other people from her country, Ukraine. Olga has superior organizational skills and is a great listener. Also, she’s very inspirational and gave our team excellent motivation to achieve our team goals. Olga was flexible and adjusted plans as necessary.”-Joan Dwyer, a volunteer on Olga’s first team, Retired Federal law enforcement agent
Why should people sign up for a service program in Poland?
Poland program impacts kids’ experience and gives a spark that leads to improvement of their English language skills. Although they learn it at school, speaking English is the hardest part and is often missed in the school system. Global Volunteers program in Poland gives them the opportunity to learn from native speakers, these skills are helpful in their future careers and studies.
What is best about a week or two of volunteer travel in Poland?
The best part of participating in the Poland program is getting to know Polish culture and people. Local partners and the community are accommodating and friendly. Our main location at the manor house in Reymontówka has a great history as many other cultural destinations. I have polish roots, but only when I came to Poland, I felt a true bond with the people. They are very supportive of Ukrainians and help a lot to this day. Forever grateful for their support and Global Volunteers’ work with Ukrainian moms and kids.
How do you spend your free time?
In my free time, I like to do arts (drawing and painting), cook and bake, learn languages, travel, and explore new cultures. I was always fond of languages. I think I have studied English since the moment I can remember myself. The world can be a better place if you try to understand it.
Read more about Olga’s experience working with Global Volunteers: “Their Light Brightened Darkness Above our Heads,” says Ukrainian Refugee