Published: 31.08.2023

Eighteen-year-old Solomyia Strelbytska is not only fulfilling her gold level Duke of Edinburgh's International Award while studying at the Paul Tigrid Language School, but she is also one of the first successful graduates of the Stand By Me volunteer buddy programme. She didn't hesitate to get involved because a few years ago she too found herself in a situation that changed her once and for all. She was subsequently rewarded for her efforts with a unique opportunity to meet His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh in the gardens of the British Embassy in Prague.  

What are you doing in the gold level of the DofE?

As part of my movement, I practice archery on a national level, and I have chosen creative writing in six languages as a skill. For volunteering, it was the buddy program Stand By Me and helping to establish the first Ukrainian Scout Center in Ostrava, which already has 15 members to date. I come from a family with a long history of scouting, so I am very proud of its creation and the events we regularly organize.

Why did you choose these areas of volunteering?  

I moved to the Czech Republic with my family in 2019 and this change in my life has not been easy. I still remember being lost, not knowing the language and being far away from familiar surroundings. Words can't even describe the feeling of confusion when everything changed overnight. Everything was cancelled, the rules didn't apply. I wouldn't wish that feeling on anyone who has just moved to the Czech Republic. So when my teachers Demlová and Hrbáčová, who are also the DofE coordinators at our high school, offered me to participate in the Stand By Me buddy program and make friends with the newly arrived students from Ukraine, I didn't hesitate. Moreover, the programme gave me the necessary courage, strength and motivation to continue helping the Ukrainian community and to realise my dream of more than three years to start a Ukrainian Scout Centre.

How did the Stand By Me programme work?  

Together with my best friend Barča, I connected with Ira from Mukachevo and Dáša from Kiev, who were new to the school and struggled a lot with the Czech language and the new school environment. Although at first we did the program as two pairs, we eventually joined up and met as a foursome. We tutored the girls in our spare time, motivating them to attend tutoring sessions to catch up as quickly as possible. As a mini project we chose to create a Czech-Ukrainian dictionary for geography together. We also introduced the girls to their friends so that they could make more new friends at school.

What have you managed to achieve together?  

In the end, we did not stay with geography alone and extended the creation of the dictionary to most subjects. The girls have made incredible progress and it shows in their report cards. Previously, some subjects were difficult for them, and we spent almost three hours preparing for the physics test. But when I see their grades now, I'm really proud of them. Moreover, the Buddy Program has convinced them that they want to stay here and continue their studies, they have a lot of opportunities here, they are welcomed and made many friends here.

 What did you take away from the program?  

I think the most valuable thing we can gain at our age is experience. Participating in the program has allowed me to improve my leadership skills, communication and flexibility to adapt to challenges and unpredictable situations. Perhaps the greatest experience then was the opportunity to meet Prince Edward in Prague and have a brief conversation with him about my experience with the DofE and Stand By Me. It was great to see how enthusiastic he was and together we agreed that we look forward to expanding the buddy programme to other countries (The Stand By Me programme is now only available in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania, ed.).

What would you say to all those who are hesitant to participate in Stand By Me?  

They should definitely go for it. It's a unique opportunity that will change your life and the lives of your peers. The program is not only great for fellow foreigners, but perhaps for anyone transferring to a new school. Everything will go easier then.

Do you want to join a community of young people who want to share their time with others? Sign up for the Stand By Me volunteer buddy program by the following form. Participation in the project is free of charge and is not necessarily linked to the achievement of any DofE level. So you can join even if you are just thinking about joining the DofE or just want to make new friends. If we can't find a buddy in your city, we'll be happy to connect you with your new friend online. 

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