Roedean’s Project 125 Moldova

10 July 2023

In the first week of the summer holidays, twelve Roedean students and two members of staff travelled to Chişinău in Moldova, to teach English for four hours a day over the course of one week to over fifty Moldovan children and Ukrainian refugees.

Read more

Roedean’s Project 125 Moldova

In the first week of the summer holidays, twelve Roedean students and two members of staff travelled to Chişinău in Moldova, to teach English for four hours a day over the course of one week to over fifty Moldovan children and Ukrainian refugees.  It was an unforgettable experience, facilitated brilliantly by Chris Lomas and his remarkable team from the NGO in Moldova, Hope4, who quite simply made everything happen.  ‘This project, teaching English to Ukrainian refugees and Moldovan children, pulls together three elements, the powerful social conscience of the school body, the fact that we currently have eight Ukrainian refugees at Roedean, and a Moldovan scholar, and it is brilliant that it has come to fruition.’ – Dr Ross Barrand, Deputy Head, is delighted with the success of this transformational project.  Gaby has found the experience so rewarding: ‘it has been so amazing seeing how encouragement affects the kids, their enthusiasm for learning, wanting to learn more, to achieve more, how rewards and a simple smile affect the way they learn.  It’s just been so incredible, and so great to see their reactions to care and love.

Although the Roedean students are not teachers, they have loved leading their classes and have thrown themselves into the experience, gaining so much from it:  Queena said, ‘I think the most valuable part of the journey is seeing the children growing in confidence, and them feeling happy to speak in English – for some of them, going from nothing, to being able to speak in full sentences in English is amazing’, and her teaching partner, Portia, added, ‘with English being such a global language, if they can learn the language, even bits of it, they are going to go on to use it in the rest of their lives, and knowing that we can have that impact on them has been so enriching for us and amazing for them.’  Alongside the English lessons, the children have had the opportunity to play some games and have fun too – Maria enjoyed the variety, saying ‘despite the language barrier, we’ve been able to play football, sing songs, dance, make friendship bracelets, even just communicate with hand-signals’.

Sixty students from Years 11 and 12 applied to take part in this project, and, following their selection in December, the twelve students then began the process of learning the basics of teaching and planning their lessons.  Sarah Howson, Head of EAL, has worked closely with them: ‘Since January, the girls and I have been working on exactly how we are going to put together a week’s worth of English language classes.  A wonderful privilege we have at Roedean is that we have a group of Ukrainian students, who have been instrumental in planning how we were going to cater for these young people, really helping the girls with cultural understanding.  Together, we have built this programme for a week, which, hopefully, is going to be really impactful for the children.’  Their reaction confirms that this preparation paid dividends, and the children simply couldn’t get enough of the lessons, which is particularly important because proficiency in English can open so many doors for them: Amelia said, ‘it’s great to see the passion, and we know how powerful education in English can be for the children – it will open a lot up for them in the future, and it could be a life-changing experience for us and for them’, and Mairi added, ‘learning English is so important to be able to experience so much more of the world.

In pairs, the girls taught three hours of lessons each morning, to three classes of Ukrainian refugees and three classes of underprivileged Moldovan children.  Ella said that she had not appreciated how tiring and sometimes challenging teaching is, but the rewards made up for this: ‘Seeing the children grow day by day, from not being brave enough to share what they know to asking us ‘how do you say this in English?’ and trying to communicate – I feel that this is one of the most precious experiences that I have had in my life.’  Her teaching partner, Hannah, commented, ‘the highlight for me was definitely hearing all the positive comments from the parents about how the children are so happy and excited about the lessons.  It is so rewarding to see each and every one of them make progress.’  After lunch, there were activities which included sports, drawing and crafting, music and dancing, and drama games, and they had lots of fun – Nettie said, ‘I feel that the kids have also grown in confidence – it’s evident in their enthusiasm, their laughter in the corridors.  It’s been amazing, and I think that laughter, although we don’t speak the same language, laughter is something which transcends all languages.  This has been one of the best experiences of my life.

It has been such a privilege to work with Hope4 – eye-opening, thought-provoking, exciting, rewarding, all in equal measure.  Chris, Zoe, Olena, Ivan, Natalia, and Iuliia looked after the Roedean team brilliantly, and we are proud to have contributed in some small way to the remarkable and transformational work they undertake every day in Moldova and Ukraine.  In a social media post made while Roedean was in Chişinău, Chris wrote, ‘12 extraordinary young women… This week we’ve welcomed 12 extraordinary young women form the equally extraordinary Roedean School, Brighton.  Around 4 months ago, Deputy Head, Dr Ross Barrand, contacted us, seeking assistance in facilitating a trip for 12 of their most talented pupils who wanted to travel to Moldova to teach English.  Now 4 months on, and to celebrate the school’s 125th anniversary, Ross’ dream is now a reality, with children drawn from the Moldovan and Ukrainian community joining us for what has already been an incredible week.’  Paloma and Amelia said, ‘it has been truly inspiring to be involved in working with Moldovan children and Ukrainian refugees to increase their social mobility’ and ‘everyone at the Hope4 NGO has been so welcoming to us – it has been an absolute pleasure working with the whole team – it’s so much more than we could have asked for.’  The group was also lucky enough to be joined by Sabina, an HMC East European Scholar, who has been at Roedean for two years: ‘I had the honour to study at Roedean for the past two years, and, now that I have done my A Levels, I have come back home to Moldova.  I am so excited that the group has come to my country to teach English, and I have loved helping them and translating for them, and just being part of such an incredible project.’  As result of this experience, Sabina will be volunteering with Hope4 over the summer, before she starts her undergraduate studies in Austria in September.

The teaching required the girls’ full focus and attention, but there was also some down-time in the capital, Chişinău, to counteract the tiredness and challenge:  the group visited the breath-taking Căpriana Monastery, with its stunning and elaborately painted interior, we ate traditional Moldovan cuisine, following recommendations from Sabina to try the sour cherry pie, we stood beside the evocative eternal flame at the Eternity Memorial Complex, and had our photo taken in front of the ‘I❤Chişinău’ sign.  The group was also proud to visit the British Embassy and be hosted by the Deputy Ambassador, Edward Inglett, as well as stepping onto Ukrainian soil at the Ukrainian Embassy, where Marko Shevchenko, the Ambassador, shared his perspective on the current situation in his homeland and how this impacts Moldova.

On the last full day in Moldova, the group travelled out of the capital to visit an orphanage, which we hope will become a focus of our project in the coming years.  On the way, we passed a sign which indicated that Odesa on the Black Sea in Ukraine was only 175 kilometres further along the road, and we also drove over a bridge crossing Moldova’s River Nistru, which is of such strategic importance that it is guarded concurrently by Moldovan, Russian, and Transnistrian soldiers.  The day was draining, sobering, and upsetting in equal measure, but the children at the orphanage were smiling and welcoming, and so pleased to see us and everyone from Hope4.  After looking around the building, we played games with the children, and had lots of fun – despite their previous experiences, it was clear that they felt safe and cared for in the orphanage, and they enjoyed strong bonds with their staff and each other.  Fifteen minutes further from Chişinău, we visited the home of a family supported by Hope4.  The juxtaposition of the buzz in the capital city with rural life was stark.  Two lovely children greeted us alongside their father, who clearly always puts their needs above his own, and together they welcomed fifteen visitors into their spotless two-room home.  The toilet is at the top of the garden, running water is in short supply, and onions were drying by the door to be ready for the cold winter months.  Despite having very little, they were warm and open, and asked if we would visit again.  Eva reflected on this humbling experience and the visit to the orphanage, saying ‘meeting the children and the family in the village has made me all the more determined to make things happen to support the amazing work of Hope4 when I get back’.

Roedean’s first Project 125 Moldova trip has been an eye-opening and uplifting adventure – the students were outstanding ambassadors for the School, and they have set the bar high for their successors in the coming years.  We are confident that this is just the start of a strong and meaningful partnership with Hope4, which will allow us to be part of an enduring and fruitful programme of empowering young people in Moldova.