“Childrenʼs Education is an Investment in the Countryʼs Future”

An interview with a volunteer of the “Angels of Freedom” project

June 28, 2024

Natalia Khomyshyna
Natalia became a volunteer for the foundation in February 2024. She was born in Ukraine but has been living in the Dominican Republic for over ten years. Her family and friends remain in Ukraine. The distance did not prevent her from helping children in Ukraine. We talked with Natalia about the Dominican Republic, the necessity of supporting schools and kindergartens during the war, and the importance of childrenʼs involvement in volunteer activities.
— Natalia, tell us a bit about yourself.
— I was born in Ukraine. Iʼve been living in the Dominican Republic for many years now. I am a marketing and communications consultant. I primarily work in the B2B (Business-to-Business) sector and have extensive experience in the legal markets of Ukraine and Latin America. I also engage in political communications. Most of my clients are in Latin America and the USA, though this has never been a limitation; I am open to collaborations in other countries. I have almost 20 years of experience in marketing and public relations across various industries. I have led marketing and business development departments in leading law firms in Ukraine and the Dominican Republic. I have also worked in marketing and PR agencies. I have extensive experience in crisis communications. I have managed various projects related to politically sensitive issues and government relations, including litigation PR projects for law firm clients. Additionally, I assist in creating the image and positioning of politicians, parties, organizations, and managing the reputation of public figures.
— What an interesting and rich career you have! Please tell us, how did you end up in the Dominican Republic?
— I was fortunate to participate in a project of the Ministry of Tourism of the Dominican Republic back in 2006 when I worked at a Ukrainian PR agency with clients from the tourism industry. I really liked the country back then. I decided to move in 2013, and I have never regretted it. I immediately started working as the head of the marketing department at the countryʼs leading law firm. The country revealed itself to me differently: besides the tourism industry, there is also a highly developed mining industry, renewable energy, construction, large infrastructure projects, the banking sector, free trade zones (zonas francas), agriculture, and a highly developed film industry—many Hollywood films are shot here. And of course, the fantastic tourism sector, with thousands of hotels already established and the industry expanding. The country is very small but has 8 international airports, 16 seaports, and 5 terminals that receive cruise ships.
— Have you had any previous volunteer experience?
— I havenʼt had any volunteer experience before.
— Why did you become a volunteer for the foundation?
— I became a volunteer because I was interested in the foundationʼs activities. I believe they address very important issues, as childrenʼs education is an investment in the countryʼs future, and in wartime, many probably do not consider this a primary task. It was also very important to me that the foundation engages exclusively in humanitarian projects, not related to funding military actions, and this is their principled position.
Seeing the results of our work is very motivating, especially when a school or kindergarten is equipped with a shelter, particularly for health-critical aspects like ventilation.
— Do you have many relatives and friends left in Ukraine?
— My mother, brother with his family, and my uncle with his family. I have many friends in Kyiv, Odesa, and Western Ukraine. Some friends left Ukraine for a while and then returned. No one expected the war to last this long.
— Is that why you decided to help children in Ukraine?
— Yes, children suffer the most from what is happening. I have family in Ukraine, and two of my nephews go to school. I know firsthand that during air raids, children cannot stay in shelters for long, let alone continue their education. These shelters usually lack comfortable conditions and can even be harmful to health. It’s also important to note that for Ukrainian children, nearly two years of the pandemic and two years of war mean four years of education under abnormal conditions. Four years in a childʼs life is a long time. I have a nine-year-old daughter, and for her, four years is almost half her life. This undoubtedly affects their normal education and life.
— What exactly do you do in the foundation?
— My main role in the foundation is to develop communication on the professional network LinkedIn. Recently, Iʼve also been involved in other projects, such as communicating with foreign media and crisis communications. Overall, Iʼm ready to help with any communication-related issues.
— Is distance an obstacle to volunteering?
— Even though I am on the other side of the world and the foundationʼs main office is in Kazakhstan, I think we manage to work quite effectively remotely. I also appreciate that our team has many great professionals and wonderful people. I am pleasantly surprised by the support for Ukraine in Kazakhstan. I would like to learn more about the country and participate in more projects.
— How much time do you dedicate to volunteering for the foundation?
— As an independent consultant, I can plan my own time, so I manage to find a few hours a week for volunteering.
— Are you familiar with volunteer activities in the Dominican Republic? Can you tell us about the specifics of local charitable foundations?
— I don’t have much information about volunteer activities in the Dominican Republic. But having worked with lawyers for many years, I can say that almost every law firm here has pro bono projects, where they provide legal support for free to those in need. Large companies also implement social projects in various fields: education, environmental protection, and culture. I’ve often seen people come together to help those affected by natural disasters. This is the Caribbean, and while the climate may seem idyllic, we have a hurricane season and heavy rains, leading to frequent floods. In the companies where I worked, we usually supported those affected. My daughter’s school regularly collects food and toys, engaging children in such projects from an early age.
— Does your daughter know that you help “Angels of Freedom”?
— Yes, we discussed it. She asked if she could send toys to Ukrainian kindergartens from her. Iʼm still figuring out the logistics. She has never been to Ukraine; first the pandemic, then the war prevented us from visiting. She constantly asks when the war will end.
— Do you think itʼs important to involve children in volunteer activities?
— I think itʼs very important. I love when schools organize donations or participate in charitable projects. Children are usually very engaged and often come up with great ideas.
Despite being on the other side of the world and the foundation’s main office being in Kazakhstan, I think we manage to work quite effectively remotely.
— Does your professional experience influence your perception of the current situation in Ukraine?
— My perception of the situation is influenced more by personal aspects, as my family and many friends are in Ukraine. Professionally, I understand that there is war propaganda on both sides and many fakes. Therefore, I am very critical of the information being spread. Of course, there is some “professional deformation”: I cannot help but analyze the situation from a communication standpoint, especially politiciansʼ statements.
— Has the war in Ukraine impacted your professional activities in any way?
— Most of my clients are in Latin America, so I canʼt say much has changed. But I have a few clients from the Ukrainian legal market, and of course, marketing has to take into account the conditions of the Ukrainian market. So far, I have been able to successfully consult remotely, which has been common practice in Ukraine for a long time.
— Have you had any experience dealing with people who support the war? Has your professional background helped in such interactions?
— I havenʼt met people who support the war. At least, no one has directly expressed such views to me.
— Can you share an event in the foundation that motivated you to continue helping?
— It is very motivating to see the results of our work, such as when a school or kindergarten is equipped with a shelter, especially for health-critical aspects like ventilation. I also appreciate the thank-you videos and drawings sent by the children to the foundation.
— Have you ever had doubts about the necessity of your help after you started volunteering for the foundation?
— Never. I understand that every volunteerʼs contribution is important, just like every donation, even a small one. Together, we are strong!
— Complete the phrase: “Angels of Freedom” is…
— “Angels of Freedom” is kindness and care for the future of Ukrainian children.
Angels of Freedom
Interviews with volunteers