Global Conversation

Ava Durbin tutors Ukrainian students in English


It’s easy to feel disconnected from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, but junior Ava Durbin has found a way to stay more connected than ever with those in the country.
She works with ENGin, a non-profit organization that pairs American English speakers with Ukrainian students aged 13 to 22 to help them improve their English. ENGin was founded in March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s an ESL [English as a Second Language] program,” Durbin said. “Mainly helping them to improve their grammar, but also just being able to connect with a native speaker.”
Volunteers meet with their partners about once a week over Zoom. Durbin, 16, said she and her current student, Milana, also 16, coordinate via Snapchat. Milana is the second student she’s worked with since she started in May 2021.
“I just ask them about their week, how it was, what they did,” she said. “And then the organization will give you materials to structure your session. So for example, there’s stuff about traveling, writing, journaling, stuff like that… But also, you can just do basically whatever you want. It’s kind of just like talking to a friend over FaceTime, but they’re on the other side of the world.”

However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has forced ENGin to temporarily halt their operations for the safety of their Ukrainian employees.
“The night I found out I was terrified,” Durbin said. “I wrote a really long message, just saying ‘I really hope you’re okay.’ It’s just a strange experience because you feel really helpless. What can you do that’s super significant?”
After clarifying with Milana, Durbin said her student was still attending school as usual and had no plans of moving from her city Khmelnytskyi.
“I still am scared,” Durbin said, “but I feel like getting that reassurance that she is safe has really helped me with that.”
ENGin has stopped providing tutors with lesson plans and has stopped assigning students to tutors.
“We talk regularly [over Snapchat], but because of the conflict, we don’t meet [over Zoom] anymore,” Durbin said. Not sure when it’s gonna happen again. But I still check in to see how she’s doing.”
Durbin shared a few ways UPrep students can get involved and help those in Ukraine.

“Definitely donate to [the Ukrainian] army,” she said. “Contact our representatives to push for that support… ENGin is also taking donations to their students, and I guess just joining; it’s really fun.”