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ASU honors student connects with Ukrainian refugees through volunteer work

Photo of Sarah Martin with Ukranian children in Poland

Sarah Martin, a sophomore in Barrett, The Honors College, does face painting with Ukrainian children in Poland as part of her volunteer work abroad this past summer.

November 14, 2022

Sarah Martin, a sophomore political science major in Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University, used hip-hop dancing — a uniquely American art form — to connect with Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

Martin spent a week in May working with international organization Global Volunteers in Siedlce, Poland, teaching English and participating in activities with Ukrainians who fled their homeland amid the Russian war on Ukraine, which began in February. The refugees were mostly mothers with young children.

“I told the mothers I was a dancer, and that immediately piqued their interest and broke the ice,” said Martin, who participated in competitive hip-hop dancing for seven years in Washington, D.C.

“These small connections are important for breaking through. It was something I wasn’t expecting: to form connections in Poland with moms and kids who were in such a difficult situation but who were so open and accepting. It was really a life-changing experience.”

According to Emily Johansen, Global Volunteers director of strategic partnerships, her organization offers domestic and international programs in which volunteers serve for one, two or three weeks. Global Volunteers has programs in 14 countries and five U.S. communities.

Programs focus on delivering essential services to eradicate hunger, improve health and enhance cognition; teaching conversational English; supporting community development; serving as classroom resources for gifted learners; and providing individual or small-group tutoring.

Global Volunteers also supports communities by working hand in hand with local people on projects that they have identified as important to their long-term development, Johansen said.  

When the war broke out in Ukraine and Poland received hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees, Global Volunteers’ community partner in Poland asked for assistance in supporting these visitors in their country, Johansen said. That’s where volunteers like Martin came in.

Photo of Sarah Martin reading with Ukrainian children in Poland

Sarah Martin reads with Ukrainian children in Poland. Photo courtesy of Sarah Martin

Martin was involved in providing activities for Ukrainian refugees, with the aim of offering some comfort, relaxation and a temporary respite from the worry and heartbreak brought on by conflict in their country, Johansen said.

The Ukrainian mothers and children came to Reymontówka Manor House, a community center and lodge for volunteers, to participate in activities in the afternoon and share meals with volunteers, she said.

For over 30 years, Global Volunteers has taught conversational English in Poland, and now that project continues with the Ukrainian refugees.

At a local elementary school, Martin worked on conversational English skills with Ukrainian students in grades 1–8. They used flashcards, picture books and worksheets and wrote every new word on the chalkboard. They also incorporated songs and games to reinforce learning and participated in dance lessons and discussions about American culture.

“I have always wanted to do something like this and go abroad to try to make a difference. This was a really fulfilling experience,” Martin said.

Martin said her experience in Poland also solidified her interest in working globally in the future.

“I want to focus on global affairs with my political science background, as well as human rights,” she said, adding that she’s interested in ambassadorial work.

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