Story written by World Link alum Nataliia Kalantaienko (FLEX ’19; Ukraine/CA)
The Value of Volunteering
I started volunteering in the United States thanks to the FLEX Program and World Link. For me then, volunteering was a way to adjust to a new country and make connections, as well as help others in need. I understood how volunteering is a powerful instrument of change that everybody can do to make the world a better place. So, I volunteered in many organizations, like every Monday at the Adventist Health Hospital.
This volunteering experience was my inspiration for the Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) project I organized back in April 2019. I wanted to create a project to show the patients, their loved ones, and the staff that they are not alone and that their life matters. My project, Art with an Open Heart, a paint night, and ticket raffle event, was an outstanding part of my exchange year. It gave me a chance to believe I can change the world starting with myself and my community. This project, along with my success in other World Link PAL Program leadership activities earned me a seat at their PAL Advanced Leadership Conference in New York City.
The PAL Program was one of my biggest motivations. Not only because I dreamed of New York a lot, but also because it was such an honor to become a TOP exchange student of World Link. I still remember how proud I was to travel to that conference. I was crying for a couple of days. And I do believe that it was some of the best few days of my life. The PAL Advanced Leadership Conference provided us with instruments and experiences of successful alumni about project management, fundraising and just being somebody to change your community. I was really inspired to implement it.
Mobilizing Hundreds of Thousands of Volunteers in Wartime
So, coming back to Ukraine, graduating, and entering the university, I started thinking about the ways to join the Ukrainian volunteer movement. Together with my parents, we helped homeless animals, but I was looking for something more. I found the opportunity to become a part of the wonderful team of Ukrainian Volunteer Service in the role of CEO Assistant. Ukrainian Volunteer Service is a non-governmental organization whose mission is to develop a culture of volunteering and mutual assistance in Ukraine.
In times of war, our organization has mobilized more than 100,000 volunteers to help Ukrainians survive and hold on. We are providing consultations to Ukrainian people on the Volunteer Hotline which is a chatbot where the civilian population can ask for help or join volunteering. We are helping other organizations and foundations find volunteers and fill their needs while supporting our own local coordinators and volunteers. We are securing volunteers in occupied and frontline cities and sharing educational materials on effective and safe help to others.
The first month of the war I spent under Russian occupation as my town, Konotop, was occupied. It was a tough and mentally challenging month, but I found myself helping others as much as it was possible at that time. I consulted civilians who were seeking help, who had questions about evacuation, humanitarian aid, and so on.
Right now, my role in Ukrainian Volunteer Service is to manage our Patreon and fundraising campaign donations which are used to buy and deliver food and medicine packages for the people in need on the frontline and occupied territories. I also coordinate the psychological and legal support of volunteers who help others in the frontline and temporarily occupied cities of Ukraine.
So now I find myself in fundraising, which to be honest is quite surprising for me. I remember when we talked about fundraising during the PAL Advanced Leadership Conference, and I was really overwhelmed! And now I’m managing this huge campaign!
I would be extremely grateful if you are reading this and have the means to please donate. You can also read more about our activities:
- Donate to support Ukrainian Volunteer Service once: https://bit.ly/3vsieAj
- Subscribe on Patreon to support Ukrainian Volunteer Service regularly: https://www.patreon.com/ukrainianvolunteerservice
Supporting Displaced Ukrainian Youth
Currently, I am also the project manager of the Krylati project which we implement within the framework of the project “Sustainability Formula” of the Institute of Leadership of Ukrainian Catholic University with the financial support of UNICEF Ukraine and the Government of Korea.
In the project, teenagers who were forced to leave their houses and move to other communities because of the war and Russian occupation, have an opportunity to get psychological support, mentor support, and join volunteering to adjust to a new community.
As a project manager of Krylati, I coordinate mentors who help teenagers, as well as coordinate the teenagers in their volunteering and communication with psychologists and mentors. I help all the participants in times of difficulty because with the blackouts and constant bombings of our infrastructure, a lot of participants do not have stable Internet access and electricity. For this project, I was once again inspired by my exchange year as I remember how volunteering helped me to stay positive and adapt even if it was hard.
From December 5th-11th, I am in Strasbourg, France on a study visit and seminar with the purpose of bringing together youth and representatives of youth centers who provide youth work during wartime in Ukraine. Its goal is to strengthen their competence and motivation for youth work based on the Council of Europe values and resources of its youth sector. Together with my colleagues, we exchange our experiences of helping others in times of full-scale invasion as well as visit the European Youth Centre, Council of Europe, and so on to build the capacity to develop youth work in Ukraine.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. It seems the media has somewhat shifted away from talking about the invasion of my home country. I want to thank World Link for reaching out and publishing my story as a reminder the war is ongoing, while we all wish for an end in sight. I hope my story demonstrates the importance of global exchange and how it can inspire one life to change the life of thousands of others.