I believe in volunteering

Our third EU Aid volunteer at Vostok-SOS in Sievierodonetsk was 25-year-old Iuno Mavlea from Romania. She has been a volunteer ever since high school and has volunteered for different organizations such as Amnesty International and several Romanian NGOs.

Iuno is very passionate about human rights and young people and was very eager to come and work for Vostok-SOS in Sievierodonetsk when she saw the vacancy on the EUAV platform on the internet.

With a background inhistory, international relations, security and a focus on global risk and Russia, Iuno had already had several successful deployments working on political issues in Kosovo and on counterterrorism in Tunisia. Now Sievierodonetsk would become her new workplace and her home for the next six months.

She came in the grey and cold month of January, but was not discouraged by the sub-zero temperatures, new circumstances or the language barrier. The staff in the Sieverodonetsk office embraced her and made her part of the team from day one:

“I was really impressed with them, because they are different people from different fields and also internally displaced persons. It must be very hard for an IDP to start doing anything, so I very much admire them,” Iuno recalls her time with our team.

“It’s the best team I worked with so far. Their motto ‘Helping together’ works in practice. They are openminded and help each other. By being this way, they really have an impact in the society. I remember going to schools and I would be so well received because of their reputation. Everybody knows them in Ukraine. I feel very privileged to be a part of Vostok-SOS.”

She started by assisting other projects and activities with the staff in the office, learning the context, the language and the work process.

Iuno worked in the educational field with school-age kids and teenagers. During the time she was here, she did classes on human rights in 10 schools in Sievierodonetsk, Rubizhne, Lysychansk, Sirotino, Komyshuvakha and other towns in Luhansk oblast.

“All of my lectures were very different. We would talk about social media, how to read news, how to see if some news are fake, how to comment and debate and how not become a troll. I thought of it as active citizenship. Everything I did, I did thinking back on what I needed when I was at that age. Kids need to know about these things.”

Apart from lectures, Iuno arranged English Film clubs with discussions, active breaks in schools, English classes for adults and teenagers, and her favorite activity – the Active Picnic which was her own innovation. Every second week on Fridays, Iuno arranged an English-speaking picnic for teenagers in one of the parks of Sievierodonetsk. The kids enjoyed learning English through games, songs, role plays in the outdoors, and each picnic attracted more and more participants. Finally, the event was so popular that the local radio Pulse and TV-station UA:Donbas came to interview Iuno and the participants about the active picnic!

Reportage by UA:Donbas:

The activities Iuno facilitated in Vostok-SOS also became her entry-point to the local people and the eastern Ukrainian society. “I met other people, I discovered what their dreams are, and I discussed everything with them.”

The kids never stopped to surprise her. Energetic, curious by nature, and at times very knowledgeable, they caught her by surprise several times, “I was surprised about what they know –it was in the town of Komyshuvakha. A boy from the 7th grade told me, ‘Oh, you are from Romania.’ And I said, yes, the country of Dracula, and he told me, ‘In reality, Dracula was Vlad Tsepesh.’ And I was so shocked! He was so young, and he knew that it was Vlad Tsepesh! In another town a kid told me he knows the history of Karl II of Romania. Many Romanians don’t even know about it.”

Being from a small town herself, Iuno could easily relate to many of the challenges and problems people, and especially youngsters are facing in Sievierodonetsk. Her hometown, Vanju Mare, was just a village that grew into a town during the industrialization. After the fall of communism, the factories closed down and with them the youth club where she used to hang out as a teenager.

Though Ukraine and Romania share many common traits, the problems in Ukraine are more complex, exacerbated by the ongoing armed conflict in the east and the economic crisis.

Iuno always knew she wanted to work with kids: “I want to continue what I did here in Sievierodonetsk which is very valuable to me. I’ve always dreamed of working for Save the Children or the ICRC or for small in NGO whose values I truly believe. That’s why I loved my experience here because that is what I consider Vostok-SOS to be,” Iuno says hoping she will come back to Sievierodonetsk soon.