Mya Gary and Fhrynée Lambert met with Rose Tatum– the volunteer coordinator of ENGin– to give the Smith community a better understanding of the mission, vision, and values of ENGin. ENGin is an English language acquisition program for Ukrainians to improve their spoken English and intercultural skills, be better equipped to access academic and professional opportunities, and connect to the world. As ENGin empowers its students to rebuild their lives, they are also creating a generation of English-fluent, culturally competent Ukrainians ready to rebuild their nation. Here’s some of what we discussed:

  • What led you to working at ENGin?

Fhrynée: So we’ll just jump right in! Really broadly, what does your organization do, and how did you become a part of this organization?

Rose: That’s a good question! So I actually came across a posting about an opportunity to work for ENGin almost two years ago on I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for many years. I have a degree in nonprofit management and also international studies. I saw this job, and I had been a consultant for several years prior to that helping other organizations develop and scale their volunteer programs. And this seemed like a really great opportunity to get involved with an organization kind of at the beginning of its journey. Knowing it was growing quickly, I knew it would be a challenge and it would be exciting, so I decided to apply. 

Actually, I had an interview– the interview went really well. And then, I was scheduled to have a second interview with our country director in Ukraine, and that’s when the full scale invasion happened. That exact same day. And so, my interview was canceled. ENGin took a month or so to regroup– decided how to move forward. And I ended up joining the team in early April. So yeah, that’s how I found Engin and got on board. My role shifted a little bit, and also the organization shifted some due to what was happening in Ukraine, but our core mission is still there. 

  • How has Russia invading Ukraine impacted ENGin’s mission and strategy?

Mya: So ENGin has been around since before Russia invaded Ukraine?

Rose: Yes. Yeah, yeah. We were launched in early 2020. 

Mya: Has the reason for ENGin’s existence changed since then?

Rose: The core reason is still there. ENGin was originally established to help young Ukrainians with their spoken English fluency and have better access to academic and professional opportunities. And also have a deeper cultural awareness of people outside of Ukraine with the ultimate goal of connecting Ukraine to the world, bringing more global infrastructure and trade to Ukraine through language and cultural understanding. 

We started out serving just teenagers. We were connecting teens in Ukraine to teens in the US, and because we were launched just before the pandemic– like right before the pandemic– our numbers grew very very quickly both for our students and for our volunteers because everything we do is virtual. So people could volunteer virtually and Ukrainians could have this additional learning opportunity virtually. And then, we decided to expand to include college students up to the ages of 22. We were seeing growth, and we were able to still have lots of people in that age group that wanted to volunteer and of course lots of students as well in Ukraine. And then, when Russia invaded, we saw a lot of people– young professionals that were losing their jobs at unprecedented levels in Ukraine, many who were being forced to either move to a different part of Ukraine or leave the country temporarily, many who were struggling with their English skills– coming to ENGin asking if they could participate in our program. So we raised the age limit for students up to 30 and opened our volunteer program up to all people aged 14 years and older. And eventually, we raised our student age up to 35 once we had enough volunteers in place to do so. So currently, we serve Ukrainians ages 9-35. 

That’s kind of how our program changed. In addition to our core program which is connecting Ukrainians one-on-one with volunteers who are fluent in English for that English practice and cross-cultural exchange, we also provide additional opportunities for professional growth, so we have corporate partners and even volunteers who lead group sessions based on different topics revolving around professional development. 

Fhrynée: That’s so cool!

  • What do you think sets ENGin apart from other language acquisition programs?

Fhrynée: So what would you say sets ENGin apart from other language acquisition programs?

Rose: I would say the largest thing is the connection. So we currently have close to 30,000 participants in our program. We have over 13,000 active Ukrainian students, and we have around 12,000 active volunteers from every state in the US and 130 other countries. These people are meeting one-on-one and having one hour conversations every single week with each other. And what comes out of that are deeper cultural understandings of one another, lots of friendships, and many volunteers and students go beyond friendships and consider each other family. I have been a language learner and have participated in different programs to try to practice speaking Spanish or German and work on my fluency, and none of them have had the same effect as ENGin does on our participants because it just goes beyond the sole focus of language. The connection is just so much deeper.

Fhrynée: You may not know this, but where does this framework for ENGin come from? How did it begin, how did it develop, and how have you guys been able to grow it to such a huge size?

Rose: Yeah so, our founder is Ukrainian-American. Her name is Katerina Manoff. She graduated from Harvard with her graduate degree in education, so she already was interested in working in education, but she also had some experience working with a couple of startup companies. So she kind of knew what that world looks like when it comes to trying to develop something and grow it rapidly. She used that knowledge that she had to build ENGin. 

The idea came to her because she was volunteering with Ukraine Global Scholars as a mentor for a young woman in Ukraine who really wanted to attend university in the US. And her English skills were just not there. She wasn’t ready to do so. Although she was top of her class in many levels, she just didn’t have the English fluency. So that’s where the idea came from. Katerina started doing some research and realized that most young Ukranians had low English fluency. She noticed that many Ukrainians study English in school, but they focus on a rote style of learning which is basically memorization. There’s not a lot of opportunity to practice speaking. Katerina thought about how she could create a program that could reach mass numbers of young Ukranians. So obviously she wanted to make it virtual, and this is kind of what was born out of that. And we do operate much like a quickly growing startup company where everything moves fast. We’re rapidly scaling, we’re constantly trying new things– trying to see what’s gonna work and what’s not gonna work. We have a very small team– only about 30 employees. And the majority of them are in Ukraine. So there’s only a few of us here in the US. 

  • How have ENGin’s operations been affected by the war?

Mya: I guess that kind of leads into my next question. What do the on-the-ground operations in Ukraine look like right now all things considered?

Rose: We have team members throughout different parts of Ukraine, and some of them are affected more often by the war than others. One of my direct team members is in Odesa. She deals with air alarms and attacks on a regular basis several times a week. Our teammates there work around the current situation that they’re in on a day-to-day basis. A lot of time, the hours that they work vary depending on what’s happening where they’re located. Sometimes they lose power or internet. But I will say, they’re probably the most hard-working and determined people I’ve ever met. 

Fhrynée: How do you deal with the issue of internet? Is it a big issue for your organization? Or for the most part is it stable?

Rose: For the most part it’s stable. We have very few issues with our students not being able to connect with our volunteers due to lack of electricity. The only time this has been a major issue for the organization and our students as a whole is when last winter Russia attacked Ukraine’s energy grid and severely damaged it which caused a widespread electricity and internet outage across the country. And Ukraine surprisingly worked very very quickly to repair their energy grid every time an attack happened, but we created some ways for students and volunteers to still practice their spoken English asynchronously where they wouldn’t have to necessarily meet like we’re meeting today virtually via zoom. They could send text messages through Telegram back and forth to one another. And that still kept them in touch, and they were able to continue speaking with one another until things got better, which they did in January or so. So we’re already kind of prepping for that going into the winter knowing that that could possibly happen again. But our students and volunteers made the most of it.

  • What would you say is the biggest success(es) of ENGin? The biggest challenge(es)? 

Mya: Here’s a question I have. So we’ve kind of already touched on this a lot, but what would you say is the biggest success of ENGin and the biggest challenge?

Rose: Personally, I am very proud of ENGin for reaching as many people as we have with such a small team on such a small budget. I think it’s a very special thing to have so many people connecting with one another every single week and developing these relationships. In addition to that success, the sheer number of people that we’re able to serve [is also a success]. We can see through the feedback that we receive from our students, through our volunteers, and we’ve also created a progress tracking system– we can see that our students are making real time improvements in their English fluency. Even after just three months of meeting together, the impact is clear. They are increasing their English fluency by a lot just from having these weekly conversations. So that is, I would say, a huge success for us because we’re proving what we’re doing works, and we’re doing it in scale.

We have two major challenges. It’s a consistent challenge that we are always dealing with. One is the volunteers. We always have hundreds of students applying to our program in Ukraine every single week. There’s a need. They keep coming. There’s more and more and more that want to participate in our program. But we match one-on-one, and we do that because we want every student to have a full hour of conversational practice every single week, and if they meet in a group setting, that’s not possible. So that means we have to have a volunteer to match them to. And how do we do that? So we have lots of different initiatives that we are doing such as connecting with colleges and universities and high schools, connecting with corporate partners. We’re on every single volunteer recruitment website you can think of. We talk to the media. We have an ambassador program. We do all these things to reach volunteers, but we always need more. The second challenge is although we operate on a small budget given what we do, all of our funding for the most part comes from individual donations. We get very few grants, so the challenge is always finding enough money to keep our program running, fundraising enough, and receiving enough donations to keep us moving forward. And as our program continues to grow, we have to have the staff capacity to support the program, so that means our budget will continue to grow as well. So those are the challenges.

Mya and Fhrynée: Thank you so much for meeting with us!

Fhrynée: This has been so informative and so helpful!

Rose: I really appreciate what you guys are doing! I think it’s really great that you are connecting with people like me in different organizations to have these conversations because I think it creates a better understanding of what people are doing out there and how you can get involved. So I really appreciate you giving me your time today!

Fhrynée: You as well! Thank you for making the time and speaking with us!

We’d like to express our sincerest appreciation to Rose for this amazing interview, and we hope to see many of you become volunteers for this stellar organization. To learn more about ENGin volunteer placements, head to the ENGin page, and if you have any further questions, feel free to email or contact Maria Wood at

“We help Ukrainian youth connect with the global community by empowering them to speak fluent, conversational English. Our work breaks down borders to catalyze Ukraine’s postwar reconstruction and longer-term economic and social development.” 

-ENGin, 2023