My name is Sydney MacNaughton, and I was an American volunteer working in Uzhgorod, Ukraine for three months. I was partnered with the TOUCH Project, which provides humanitarian aid and individual child sponsorship to several nonprofit organizations in Uzhgorod.
The organization is based on a sister-city relationship between Corvallis, Oregon and Uzhgorod, Ukraine. Although an American delegation comes every year to deliver aid, it has been over four years since there has been a long term American representative in Uzhgorod.
My voluntary service was a part of my undergraduate university education. I am majoring in Speech and Hearing Sciences, and was studying language acquisition while in Ukraine. It was very rewarding to apply my education in an international setting before beginning my graduate studies. Before this trip, I had never been to Central or Eastern Europe, and had never interacted with the Roma community.
During my time in Uzhgorod, I taught English in several organizations including a Roma school, an orphanage, and an after school arts program. A typical day included morning lesson planning, and then taking a bus to whatever location I was teaching at that day. About 80% of my students were Roma.
Before coming to Ukraine, I was not very aware of Roma culture. Since being here, I have learned much more and now really appreciate the richness and diversity of Roma culture.
I had an opportunity to attend a seminar in Budapest during November, 2013, and found that to be one of the highlights of my short trip. I met volunteers working in Ukraine, Hungary and Bulgaria who were from many European countries. It was so beneficial to meet people who were in similar situations as me, compare experiences, and learn together. We went to a Roma concert together while in Budapest, and met many experienced, knowledgeable people who were open to share with us.