HOUSTON, Texas — “I wake up and hear explosions,” Yaryna, an ENGin student, recalled the first day of the war in Ukraine in an Instagram post by ENGin. “We didn’t understand what had happened. My mother said, ‘The war has started, we are being shelled, and you don’t go to school today.’ We didn’t think our life would turn upside down that day.” Unfortunately, Yaryna wasn’t the only student in Ukraine affected by the Russia-Ukraine war. The U.N. estimates that up to 90% of Ukrainians could face poverty by 2023 and the war could undermine almost two decades of economic progress. Amid the job losses and disruptions in schools, ENGin, a nonprofit organization in Ukraine founded by Katerina Manoff, aims to build a generation of Ukrainians who can help rebuild Ukraine. ENGin supports Ukrainians by alleviating poverty and encouraging economic growth through English learning.
Why English is Key
In an increasingly globalized world, English is the language for international communications in business, media, the internet and more. In 2021, more than 60% of internet content from the “top 10 million websites” utilizes English. Furthermore, 63% of newspapers and magazines and 98% of scientific publications are in English. Thus, learning English is key for international collaboration in today’s world. However, Manoff noticed that although many Ukrainians learn English, Ukraine ranked 30 out of 35 European countries in English fluency in 2021, according to EF Education First.
ENGin supports Ukrainians by giving them the opportunity to learn with free and personalized English lessons. “Very often you have students who memorize grammar and vocabulary,” Manoff explains in an interview with The Borgen Project, “but they never actually use it because there’s just no opportunity for them to do that.”
ENGin: Methodology and Accomplishments
“International communication is how you become an ambassador for your country, your traditions,” Anastasiia, an ENGin student, writes about the impact of English on her life. “The ENGin program gives you this opportunity and contributes to your speaking confidence, making this international experience more effective.”
ENGin supports Ukrainians by establishing a fully online program that offers free peer-to-peer English-speaking lessons. Often, the volunteers come from countries outside Ukraine, helping foster intercultural exchange. The one-on-one lessons also make it possible to personalize learning to the student’s level of proficiency.
ENGin strives to make its program accessible and flexible by having few restrictions for volunteers and students as well as running the program 365 days a year. “What we are doing is really unmatched,” Manoff explains. “ENGin is universally accessible…you could be located in your room or evacuated as a refugee in another country.”
By 2021, ENGin had served nearly 20,000 participants, including over 10,000 students and 9,500 volunteers.
The Russia-Ukraine War and ENGin
“Okay, we got the person out of the hotspot where the fighting is happening. We put them in temporary shelters, great. But what’s next?’ They’re not going to get a job if they don’t have the skills… that’s kind of an undervalued space that we operate in.”
With the Russia-Ukraine war, the need for English became more apparent as Ukraine’s economy took a severe blow. By May 2022, due to the Russian invasion, close to 5 million Ukrainian people lost their jobs. Moreover, by early March 2022, about half of Ukrainian businesses had to close their operations completely and Russian troops had demolished “$100 billion worth of infrastructure, buildings and other physical assets” at minimum.
ENGin supports Ukrainians by expanding its age limit from 22 to 35 in hopes of preparing adults to work abroad. ENGin’s speaking practices and communication opportunities allow working-age students to prepare for interviews and communication with colleagues. In the long-term, creating a multilingual generation fluent in English would enable more multinational companies to hire Ukrainians and spur more international collaboration within fields of studies like STEM.
Amid the Russia-Ukraine war, ENGin supports Ukrainians by using its platform to amplify Ukrainian voices and empower students by giving them outlets to share their stories. “From the first days of the war, we were helping our students get on the news in the U.S. and sharing videos with our community.”
Moreover, ENGin gave resources to volunteers to talk about the war with their students in a sensitive manner. The program also encouraged volunteers to set up events in their schools or online to give a platform for Ukrainian students to discuss the war and their personal experiences.
Manoff explains how empowering students to speak would not only show solidarity for Ukraine but also have positive mental health effects. “It’s very powerful to be heard and to be the narrator of your own story. It really helps them not feel like a victim but like a survivor.”
– Samyukta Gaddam