The Covid-19 pandemic has led to far-reaching consequences for children and their families in the communities we serve. Volunteers are needed now more than ever to help deliver essential services and support our community partners as they get back on their feet. Those who joined our first programs back or who are registered to volunteer over the coming months say they’re motivated by a wide range of feelings, but share “a true sense of service,” at a critical time. Our recently returned Poland volunteers, all who evaluated the program “100 percent-plus” offered their recommendations to future volunteers in this interview with Marketing Coordinator Millie Pinakoulaki.
BECOMING A TEAM IN SIEDLCE
After carefully reviewing CDC guidelines in light of community partner requests for volunteers, Global Volunteers determined the first service program to resume would be Poland in June. Students, parents, and our community partner enthusiastically welcomed the team of eight volunteers from different walks of life to their two-week conversational English camp program for Polish youth. The volunteers together were the center of attention and included:
- Keith Kresge, 28-time alumnus, retired California attorney and Global Volunteers Board Member.
- Steve Fox, 22-time alumnus (5-time Poland volunteer) and retired Washington teacher.
- Tim Cunniff, 18-time alumnus (once before in Poland) and retired California business manager.
- Leo Pyzynski, 7-time alumnus (twice in Poland) and architect from New York.
- Vicki Sorber, 2-time Poland volunteer from Florida serving with her three grandchildren:
- Nora Simondet (18) from Minnesota, Kent Albert (17), and Brock Albert (16) from Ohio.
CHOOSING NOW TO VOLUNTEER ABROAD
Reason #1: Becoming a pioneer on the first team back to service is motivating.
For Steve, the decision to return to Poland after as soon as he was vaccinated for COVID-19 was triggered by his deep love for the country, the children who want to learn, and the vibrant Polish culture. “I have visited many other countries, but I have fallen in love with Poland and the way the Global Volunteers program operates there. I love volunteering in Poland for two reasons; the students and the culture. What motivated me to come back was to continue working with some of the students I had worked with before the pandemic. I love Poland so much I would do anything possible to come back to the country.”
“I love volunteering in Poland for two reasons; the students and the culture. What motivated me to come back was to continue working with some of the students I had worked with before the pandemic. I love Poland so much I would do anything possible to come back to the country.“Poland Volunteer Steve Fox
While for Keith, after 27 service programs across the globe with Global Volunteers, Keith was excitedly jumped right on the first opportunity to volunteer abroad once he learned that the service program in Poland was restarting. “I served on my first Global Volunteers program in 1998. Since then, I have done at least one volunteer program every year. I was anxious to get back on another program, and Poland was the first that Global Volunteers was opening up. Global Volunteers staff assured me that this program was going to be conducted safely, and I decided to do it. Now, I have already signed up to come back again next year.”
Reason #2: Many more volunteers are needed to help countries recover.
In Poland, like around the world, schools have remained closed throughout the pandemic. All classes were conducted online with many students having difficulties keeping up with lessons, as internet connections in rural areas where our partner communities are located, is spotty. For Vicki and Tim, the importance of volunteering is helping to establish a sense of normality for both volunteers and local people as partner communities resume work toward their long-term goals.
“Let’s face it,” said Vicki, “the pandemic has been tough on everyone. Volunteers can show people that there is a new spark and that people are resilient. Life goes on, and life can be good.” On the same note, Tim shared, “Volunteering and coming back to these communities helps in the healing process. It helps establish that sense of normality for both the volunteers and the communities.”
“Volunteering and coming back to these communities helps in the healing process. It helps establish that sense of normality for both the volunteers and the communities.”Poland Volunteer Tim Cunniff
Reason #3: Volunteering abroad is the most meaningful travel now.
Alumni Poland volunteers, Steve and Leo agree that volunteering abroad is the best way to travel because it combines travel with giving back and connecting with local people on a deeper level. After surviving a global health crisis, this type of travel has even greater importance than before.
“I would say volunteering is the best way of seeing the world,” beamed Steve. “When you travel as a tourist, you are just going through the town observing beautiful monuments. When you join a Global Volunteers service program, you spend the time with the people, learning about their culture, their history, and just about themselves. The stories I have heard from children and parents are more meaningful than looking at a building,” he concluded.
“When you are traveling as a volunteer, more doors open to you than if you were just a regular tourist. I traveled after the service programs to the same countries as a tourist, and how you are treated by the locals is almost like night and day. You are welcomed, but maybe less (genuinely), because you are a tourist and not a teacher. When you are a volunteer, they all understand that you are spending your time and money to come, and you get that back from the people. There is great respect for what we do.” Leo added.
THE ROUTE FROM USA TO POLAND
Traveling during a pandemic isn’t a bad experience!
Leo and Keith explained that travelers who carry the necessary documents; passport, proof of vaccination, and a negative Covid-19 test, enjoy a smooth traveling experience.
“There were no changes as long as you had your vaccine card, your negative Covid-19 test, and your passport,” Leo advised. “There is a hospital right near my house where I got my Covid-19 test and my vaccinations. Global Volunteers shared the steps I needed to follow, the paperwork needed to carry, and I prepared extra copies of everything. I had printed out copies for every airport, and it worked out very well,” he said. Leo compared his travel experience in Poland in 2019 with the one in 2021, “You walk through the airport just as though pre-Covid-19. All the protocols were in place. I felt safe at all times. My advice, wash your hands, social distance, wear a mask – keep the same habits wherever you go. They had doctors checking the paperwork, but that was a minor delay, maybe a couple of minutes each way. Everything from my house to my room here in Reymontowka was identical to pre-Covid-19.”
Keith added: “This is the first time we have ever had to prove that we are vaccinated (while traveling) and that we had been recently tested with a negative result of Covid-19 before we could leave the country – this was a pretty seamless operation. I live in Los Angeles, free testing and vaccinations are available. Once we made it through Los Angeles airport, it was smooth sailing the rest of the time.”
Arriving in Poland and settling in was the best part.
“Global volunteers had it all worked out beautifully,” said Steve. “Dorota, our Global Volunteers Team Leader, met the team and me at the airport. They picked us up on the bus and then drove us directly back to Reymontowka. They greeted us with a typical Polish welcoming – salt, and bread. It is a beautiful way of welcoming and immediately put us into the culture of the country.”
Nora recalled her first interaction with the Polish students: “We sat down panel-style in front of the children, and they were all very interactive and happy to see us. We introduced ourselves, and right after, the kids came up to us and talked to us. For the three of us younger volunteers on the team, the barriers are removed. They walked up to us and we just had conversations.”
SUMMER CAMP VOLUNTEERS EASE QUICKLY INTO THEIR ROLES
The Reymotowka teaching assignment agrees with us!
The volunteers taught Polish youth in an informal “camp” atmosphere at Reymontowka Manor House for two weeks. The summer camp schedule calls for English classes in the morning to the early afternoon, and optional organized activities with students in the later afternoons. Students are organized by proficiency level into groups of seven to ten students and are guided by one or two volunteers who prepare daily lessons.
“This program is seamless. It’s put together to work, and it worked perfectly. I would have to rate this one a 10+.”Long-term volunteer and Board Member Keith Kresge
Keith described the teaching assignments: “The eight volunteers on the team paired up with six groups of students. Five volunteers were each given a group and two teenagers joined up to teach another group, with the remaining teen doubling up with his grandmother to teach the final group of students.” The teaching is typically free-form, relying on the volunteers’ creativity and the prepared lessons. After three decades in partnership, Reymmontowka and Global Volunteers’ welcome routine for each day takes over. “It is very active most of the day at the manor house where we stay with and teach the 47 students along with 10 staff members.” Regardless, he said the daily schedule was enhanced by more than 30 years of experience. “This program is seamless; it is put together to work, and it worked perfectly. I would have to rate this one a 10+.”
What’s a day like for a Reymotowka summer camp volunteer?
Steve jumped in to describe the daily schedule. “The typical day at Raymond starts with a great breakfast. Then, we have a team meeting. During the meeting, we read the message of the day and the team journal. After, we have a team discussion about what we did yesterday or plans for the volunteers later in the day. Then, we go to class. We have four classes. Each class is 45-minute long with a 15-minute break in between. Then, in the fourth period, we have some type of lecture or discussion for the students where we present an interesting topic.
“We get up early because we want to make sure that all the lesson plans we prepared the day before are in place, and that you are set,” Vicki shared. “We have maybe four different lesson plans prepared. Sometimes the kids are successful in something, while other times they go through something faster. We always have something else ready just in case what we are doing doesn’t feel right.”
Today, I was the one who did the speaking, and I gave them the story of capturing koalas in Australia,” Steve shared and added, “In the evenings, there is always an event, something that is either put on by the volunteers or by the students.”
“My students were concerned about the fact that in school they don’t have the opportunity to have a free discussion to get to practice speaking. So that is one of the greatest things about this program. The students are eager to have the chance to practice and to speak. It has been a lot of fun.”Poland Volunteer Tim Cunniff
Tim was amazed by the students’ attentiveness and their deep understanding of English proficiency for future opportunities in life. Because the students we teach do not have the opportunity to practice conversational English with native English speakers regularly, Global Volunteers plays a significant role in their education, according to Tim.
“The program here is very well run,” he professed. “Everybody knows what they are doing. The campers are excited to be able to come back to Reymontowka,” Tim said.
“I ended up with seven students aged 14 – 17 with a good level of English. All of my students take private English lessons during the year, but don’t have the opportunity to have a free discussion to get to practice speaking. So that is one of the greatest things about this program,” Tim continued. “The students are eager to practice and to speak. It has been a lot of fun. It is easy for them to talk about any topic and ask questions. They are very polite, respectful of their teachers, easy-going, and willing to laugh.”
Team Leader, Dorota Wierzbicka pulls the team together.
Director of International Operations Dorota Wierzbicka manages all aspects of Global Volunteers’ service program in Poland including the logistics, project assignments, and cross-cultural experiences – making sure that all volunteers have a safe and meaningful experience. She routinely is rated at the top of a 10-point scale for her leadership and volunteer management abilities.
“Dorota is a person that I wanted my grandchildren to meet because this woman can interact successfully at every level. She is compassionate and she has been able to work with all three of my grandchildren and they adore her. She’s my role model!” Vicki stated.
“I worked with Dorota on a volunteer program in Tanzania back in 2017. That’s when I first got to know her. She was instrumental in my deciding to come to this program because she puts together such a great experience and it’s just very exciting working with Dorota.” said Keith.
MAKING LIFELONG MEMORIES AND FRIENDSHIPS
Interacting with Polish youth is the program highlight.
Nora reported that because most of the “campers” are also teens, she felt comfortable teaching and interacting with them in broad and stimulating conversations. “I’m having a great time just sitting down and talking to them about music, school, cultural differences, and more!” She said she’s enjoyed one student in particular, Martha, who’s taken volunteers out sightseeing around the city. “I am becoming close with her and then some of the kids like Bartek and Ola. I have made a lot of friends!” Nora added. “I hope I can keep in touch with them. It is not the place itself that I am attached to, it is the people. I enjoy hanging out with them.”
“I have made a lot of friends! I hope I can keep in touch with them. It is not the place itself that I am attached to, it is the people.”Nora Simondet
Steve shared that his weekend experience included a visit to one of his student’s home. “I usually take our free weekend and travel to one of Poland’s outstanding cities. This time, I had a beautiful weekend with one of my students and his family. They picked me up, drove me to their house, and when I walked in, they showed me around their apartment. We had a meal and just sat down and talked like old friends. I am close with some of my students. I also had some of my past students even come to Reymontowka, just to spend a couple of hours with me,” he chuckled.
Full immersion in the Polish culture every day.
Volunteers had the opportunity to experience a “Polish night” and other cultural events organized by the campers.
“We enjoyed this cool, pretty dance (Polonez) with students performing in pairs featuring a lot of foot movement, circling, and interacting with different partners. Even if you don’t know the dance, somebody will just grab you, and they will try to teach you how to dance. I tried a little bit.” chirped Nora.
Tim pointed out the presentation included a history lesson. “We learned a lot about how the country had changed hands and sizes so many times when it was invaded. It was really important. My impression is that the Polish people have great pride in their country. And the students seemed genuine when they were describing this.” Tim shared. “They also sang the Polish national anthem, which was beautiful.”
A MESSAGE TO POTENTIAL POLAND VOLUNTEERS: DO IT!
Keith advises all interested individuals to think seriously about joining a Poland program. “I think any concerns a potential volunteer might have who hasn’t traveled with Global Volunteers will find out that the staff is very helpful – providing information and resources to fully inform volunteers about what to expect.
“The way the organization is set up makes it very easy,” Keith continued. “For me it was everything worked well on my first service program in Italy; a great team, a great team leader, a great location, and the next 20 years just followed that,” adding, “There was certainly some concern about traveling with the pandemic in different parts of the world. But Global Volunteers is very careful about following the advice of the government and keeping track about what is going on in the communities they serve. I’ve seen nothing on this program that led me to believe that I was put at risk for coming here.”
“There was certainly some concern about traveling with pandemic being a problem in different parts of the world, but Global Volunteers is very careful about following the advice of the government, keeping track about what is going on in the communities they serve, and I’ve seen nothing on this program that led me to believe that I was put at risk for coming here.”Keith Kresge
Tim emphasized Global Volunteers’ “cautious and conscientious” approach. “I think Global Volunteers always take care of the volunteer, and they are very concerned about your health and your safety, and this is still the same. They are very concerned, and they make sure that the volunteer is comfortable and that things are going to be safe.”
Vicki asserts: “I think the advice is to be open-minded and compassionate. Try to understand and respect the people and the cultures of the community you serve. My grandchildren (saw) how similar they are with children in other parts of the world, and that has been fabulous for them. I feel that this has helped them all before they go to college, understand people and it’s so rewarding.” she concluded.
“If you want to have a great experience, join Global Volunteers and involve yourself in the people and the culture.”Poland Volunteer Steve Fox
“If you want to have a great experience, join Global Volunteers and involve yourself in the people and the culture,” said Steve. My only concern now is (my age at 85), but as long as I can stay healthy, I will definitely be joining Global Volunteers, and I will be coming back to Poland.” Steve shared.
A number of Global Volunteers programs have already restarted in countries where the government advice, local health guidelines and border restrictions allow, and partner communities request. Visit our resumption program page for more details or contact us for any questions or inquiries.
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