Teachers bring help, hope to Ukrainian students


Imagine having to start school in the midst of a war in 2022. This has been the reality for students in Ukraine since this February, when Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, invaded Ukraine. 

Fast forward to summer of 2022 before students began school in the fall is when Ukraine needed help from overseas the most. To be more specific, they needed help in the education field. They wanted to ensure that, despite the horrific circumstances going on in Ukraine, students received the best quality education possible. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, visited Poland and saw many teachers from other countries helping there, but not any American teachers. She asked herself why aren’t there any American teachers? At that moment hundreds of teachers would volunteer, but two teachers from Salinas – French teacher Patricia Mason from Alisal and science teacher Gabrielle DeVilla from Washington Middle School – would be fortunate enough to go.

 Being able to volunteer was an easy call for Mason and hit very close to home. Her grandmother was Polish and her great grandmother was a Jewish midwife in Poland. ¨When they said they needed people to go teach and help, I was like ’Oh God I´m in,” she said.

Mason had always dreamed of being able to do humanitarian work, but this opportunity really checked off all the points in her book. She was able to receive support and donations from her community and colleagues. With the money raised, she was able to get a lot of American goods like board games, footballs, candy, and school supplies to provide the best teaching experience possible. 

In Ukraine, Mason was able to interact and build relationships with the students there for two and a half weeks. ¨It was harder for them to connect with each other because the Ukrainian language is so different than the Polish Language,¨ she said. 

Despite the language barrier, she said she connected with them instantly. “They really enjoyed the American teachers; it was so different than what they were used to,¨ she said. 

During her stay Mason taught middle schoolers and tried to be very upbeat and positive. She said that many of the kids described them as loud, animated, and really positive, it  was a completely different experience from teachers in Ukraine to teachers in America because she felt as if teachers in Ukraine are more serious and don’t praise them as much. Although many students had to be in uncomfortable situations and difficult circumstances, they sacrificed being comfortable for the sake of getting an education. ¨Ukrainian kids crossed the border into Poland and they slept on mats in the school and the Polish kids, some of them, slept at the school, [and] some of them their parents took them home every night,”  Mason said,

Like the students, the teachers had to be in uncomfortable situations, but their desire to help and teach was much greater. ¨It was like five of us teachers in a tiny cabin without hot water and stuff, it was rustic,”  Mason said. Despite these circumstances, they all couldn’t have been happier to have the privilege to be there and help. Mason said that being there built a deep connection with the teachers there. “Their schools had been destroyed, I’m still sending money to help them get basic supplies to be able to teach over there.” 

In the end, the trip was successful and impacted both the students and teachers in a positive way. It gave a lot of teachers an opportunity to grow and achieve the dream of helping other students that were at a major disadvantage. It gave them a glimpse of another world and, more than anything, gave those kids comfort, strength, and perseverance when it was needed the most. Mason says ¨It was probably one of the greatest experiences of my life…if I could I would take them here in a heartbeat, I would; they´ll always have a home with me.¨  

Corrections: Patricia Mason was identified as Patrician Mason and Vladimir Putin was identified as Vladmir. We apologize for the errors.