Critical Language Scholarship Program | CLS Russian Students Use…

CLS Russian Students Use their Language Skills to Help Refugees in Tbilisi, Georgia

CLS students in Tbilisi, Georgia have found an unexpected way to use their Russian language – to assist the community of refugees and displaced people in Tbilisi. Just a week into his program, CLS student, Colby Santana, began volunteering at Volunteer Tbilisi, an organization that provides medicine, medical care, food, and housing to Ukrainian refugees. Since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, over 189,000 Ukrainians have traveled through Georgia to escape the war and 26,000 remain in Tbilisi.

Colby Santana is using his Russian language skills to volunteer at Volunteer Tbilisi in Tbilisi, Georgia. 

“We receive donated foods and section them out to families in need. I’ve met Ukrainians but also displaced Russians who fled to Tbilisi. I’ve gotten to hear about their lives and why they want to help. I’ve also meet Georgians who volunteer here and heard their perspective on the war in Ukraine,” shared Colby. Through his volunteer role, Colby has found a sense of community in Tbilisi, connecting with like-minded volunteers. “Working with Volunteer Tbilisi, I’ve seen that this desire to help is multinational, it’s without a face.” 

Colby participated in the CLS Russian Program last summer in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and having been given the opportunity again, he has a strong desire to use his time to give back to the local community. “The CLS opportunity is amazing, and if we have the opportunity to give back, we should pursue that, and really strongly pursue that.”

A map at Volunteer Tbilisi's center where families place pins depicting from where in Ukraine they have fled. Each pin represents a family.

In the past few weeks, Colby and his classmate, Lia Sokol, have helped to coordinate volunteer sessions, so the entire CLS cohort has an opportunity to give back. “We got a strong sense that many of our CLS peers really wanted to get involved. Over the course of the last month of the program, over half of our CLS cohort has spent considerable time volunteering at Volunteer Tbilisi. There is regularly at least one CLS student volunteering.”

Colby began his volunteer work by organizing food supplies and has since transitioned to working at the front desk where he distributes food, hygiene products and medicine directly to those in need. “It demands a lot from my Russian-language abilities, but it is such rewarding work. Working with those that have lost so much in the face of such terrifying and asinine violence is serious and melancholic work, but it is important and needed, especially now.”

The wall from which volunteers grab and leave their nametags. Colby's nametag is in the bottom left, Колби.