Peace Corps Couple Teaches English to Ukrainians

Peace Corps volunteers Steve McCafferty and Mary Beth Phair of Belchertown, Massachusetts, are teaching local community members English-language skills while serving together in Ukraine. McCafferty and Phair teach English to Ukrainians of all ages through formal classes, English club meetings and conversational activities.

McCafferty and Phair had long been interested in applying for Peace Corps service but didn’t feel the time was right until their daughter graduated from college in 2010. Serving together has had an important impact on their experience.

“It is great to be here as a couple,” said McCafferty, who has been living and working in Ukraine with his wife since March 2012. “We can pick each other up, share our mysteries, discuss our plans and attack our problems together. It makes it much easier than if we were by ourselves.”

Phair works at the city library, where she holds English club meetings for Ukrainians between the ages of 5 and 20. In addition, she visits nearby schools to help students hone their English skills and answers questions about American culture.

“The kids are very shy initially but usually warm up fast. Depending on their age, I try to relate something from America to what they know and like. This is not hard, as they are typical kids with the same interests as American children,” said Phair. “They always ask if I know any celebrities or sports stars.”

McCafferty teaches English at a local university and leads an English club for adults at the city library. “I always encourage my students to interact in English,” he said. “The students are very kind and always make me feel welcome. They are a great group of young people.”

Though McCafferty and Phair don’t work together on their day-to-day projects, they do collaborate on a number of secondary assignments, including volunteer work with children at a nearby orphanage and teaming up with a nongovernmental organization to create cultural maps for the local art museum.

At the end of the day, the two are happy to be in Ukraine together. “Serving as a couple is a great advantage in our minds,” McCafferty said.

More than 2,630 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Ukraine since the program was established in 1992. Currently, about 463 volunteers serve in the country. Volunteers work in the areas of education, economic development and youth development. They are trained and work in Russian and Ukrainian.

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