Alumni Spotlight: Rox Chwaluk

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Rox is an educator, artist, and activist based in Toronto, Ontario. She has participated (organized, facilitated, led, volunteered) in over 20 service-learning and volunteer trips around the world. She also wrote her Master of Education thesis on International Volunteering and models of charity vs. justice.

Why did you choose this program?

I grew up as a Ukrainian-Canadian, which shaped a lot of my youth experiences and identity. Friday nights were spent Ukrainian dancing, 15 years of Saturday school, and Sunday was church. We spoke Ukrainian at home. In my 20's, I distanced myself from that identity to "find myself". Today, I would identify as a cultural Ukrainian. I joined GO CAMP because I wanted to see Ukraine, give back to the country, meet my family, and spend time with mom (as she was retiring from teaching that year).

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

I was a last minute addition to the team, so I am happy that GO CAMP accepted my application. They supported with in-country training sessions, booking trains, placement and home-stay family organization, and logistical support. We were responsible for booking our own flights, criminal background check and a few other personal (logistical) things.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I wish I was more excited! At first, I was bit unsure of what to expect. But I ended up making friends from all over the world (during the 3 day-training). Make sure you make yourself available for the 3-day training, and wrap-up final session. It's totally worth it!

As a vegetarian, with a placement in a tiny town, it was very hard for accommodations to be made. I wish I brought more snacks :)

Talk to your teacher ahead of time and ask how you can best support. Can you bring books? School supplies? Take risks, and take control of your own volunteer experiences. Bring your skills and strengths, and offer to share them. For example, I teach "leadership" as a career. I asked if I could take the older students for 1-hour a day during "camp time" to teach basic leadership skills (teamwork, communication, problem solving etc.). I also took advantage of my time there, and gave it 100%. Each night, I would walk back to the school and play volleyball for 2 hours with a bunch of the kids.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

I think it depends where you get placed. If it's a school or a day camp, it might look different. Some people were volunteering 3 hours a day, some 6 hours. Mine was 8am-2pm (to finish before the heat was very intense), with a lunch break in between. The teachers (lead teacher - who was my homestay family mom, and 2 other support) were amazing, and really stuck to a routine. We had morning songs, games etc. I would then leave for an hour with the older students to do leadership modules, while the younger kids worked on basic English skills. We would then work on the summer project, which was all about "healthy food". Some days we would take field trips (to the forest, or the caves). Each experience will be different - be flexible!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest worry was that the city I was placed in would not speak much English or Ukrainian, or they would not understand my Ukrainian language (stemming from 1910). They spoke Surjik (Russian/Ukrainian mix). I did my best and communicated in various ways (in writing, non-verbal communication etc.) and we made it work!

What are the top 5 tips for volunteers participating in GO CAMP?

  • Be flexible and open to change.
  • Take initiative of your own learning/teaching - put in the effort and jump right in!
  • Extend your trip to Ukraine by 5 days at least!
  • Bring a journal. Reflect often on your experience.
  • Use your skills and strengths - you're there for reason!