Building Ukraine Together NGO, or BUT, was engaged in organizing volunteer camps to rebuild the war-damaged Ukrainian cities and villages since 2014. “We are working not only to support Ukraine recovery but to boost networking and youth development. Ultimately, those who come to us overcome internal barriers and stereotypes, meet new people, or get familiar with new regions of our country. It is a way out of your comfort zone, which gives you a sense of importance, because you are involved in rebuilding the infrastructure that was destroyed,” says Anna Borschuk, BUT Camp Leader Community Manager.
To organize a youth camp, you need to be welcomed by the community. Anna Borshchuk believes that communities should be fully motivated and understand the value of the facility they want to rebuild: “When the community is open and friendly towards us, it is already half the success of the camp.” Most of the volunteers are young people. Yet, occasionally, it happens that their parents, inspired by their stories, decide to register as well. And very often the team of volunteers consists of both BUT participants from other regions and local residents.
Building a Community of Leaders
Each camp has a camp leader. This is a person who organizes leisure activities for volunteers, an educational program, team building, and makes sure that all participants feel comfortable when interacting with each other, working, and discussing their volunteering experience. Basically, this is the person who sets the rhythm for the entire camp, and that is why it is so important for an NGO to support their camp leaders and promote their self-development.
Thus, BUT decided to participate in the Spilnodiia Program, which is implemented by East Europe Foundation in partnership with the Ukrainian Independent Center for Political Research and the Together Against Corruption nongovernmental organization with funds from the European Union. Anna Borschuk said: “This grant helps us strengthen our volunteers who have taken on more responsibility and become camp leaders. We organize congresses and additional training for them to build a better community. In addition, we were able to improve the methodology of our interaction and support of the camp leader in and out of the camp.” As part of the grant, BUT was able to hold five events to strengthen the capacity of both current and future camp leaders.
Where to Get Strength From?
Ivan Diachenko became a BUT volunteer in 2021. Since then, he has been a camp leader nine times and has made a total of 15 visits to camps. He says that being a BUT camp leader is pleasant because he always feels the community support. There are regular meetings, discussions, and facilitation courses. When asked about the challenges in his leadership work, he recalls a camp that included non-binary people. “The community is formed on the basis of difference. Equality and difference. That’s why it was necessary to communicate with everyone so that they feel comfortable working together,” said Ivan. Another case is engaging volunteers with mental disabilities in community participation. To consider their needs and make their volunteering experience as comfortable as possible, Ivan consulted with social workers.
To keep camp leaders encouraged to continue with their leadership role, you need to create opportunities for exchange of experience and growth. To ensure volunteers keep on coming back, Ms. Borschuk believes the organization must create a space for interaction. There must be a place where volunteers can meet, socialize, and get back into “volunteer mode,” even if it is only once a year.
It is crucial to create an atmosphere of trust to understand what kind of people you work with, what drives them, what their motivation is. “Based on this knowledge, you can clearly see in what direction you need to improve, and what traditions you need to establish. Besides, you determine what will define you as a community. This gives people a sense of belonging to something bigger. And people need to feel this in the present-day world,” said Ms. Borschuk.
The space created by BUT helps volunteers not only to engage, but also to regain their strength. A vivid example is Arysia Chernobai, an IDP from Sievierodonetsk who joined BUT two years ago. What Arysia values most about volunteering is the people, the atmosphere and sense of community they create together. “I really appreciate seeing my fellow countrymen and supporting them with my hands. Like, for example, helping a local granny make a bed because her back hurts.”
The village of Busha in Vinnytsia Oblast, where Arysia had come may times to build a house for IDPs, is her place of strength. She says that during a pause in her volunteering, she felt that she was missing something. So, when she returned to the BUT camp, she called her mother and said: “Mom, I’m at home in BUT.” “At home, because I have my own people there,” Arysia said, smiling.
Ms. Borschuk says that volunteers experience a problem with burnout. That’s why we need assemblies without any intensive training or self-development, but rather an opportunity to just be together and share experiences. Anna Borschuk gives an example of a volunteer who felt that she no longer had the strength to do camp leadership and wanted to quit. But after the BUT congress, she got a second wind, so now she is going to two camps: “It’s important to hear from people what they need to make them feel better. In the end, I think that volunteer communities help to realize such basic human needs as the need to be heard and feel like you belong somewhere.”
For Ivan Diachenko, being a volunteer means not only giving, supporting, but also feeling the return. “The fact that I take a vacation from work to do this says a lot,” he said. “And it is very valuable for me to see how people who were participants in my camps grow, develop and become leaders themselves,” said Arysia Chernobai.