In February 2022, the world started witnessing a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions. The beginning of Russia’s special military intervention in Ukrainian territory. Millions of people have been forced to abandon their homes and seek refuge. Triggering a dire need for support and solidarity. That is when, in response to this urgent appeal, SPEAK For Ukraine came into being. The project was born on 12 March 2022, just 16 days after the crisis began.

Many initiatives had the main goal of establishing the essential conditions for these refugees. A new home and new possibilities had to be provided. To ease the language barrier and cultural differences, SPEAK For Ukraine was launched.

The Project

SPEAK For Ukraine aimed to connect as many entities as possible. The objective was to solve any issues that may affect any of the refugees. The strategy used was to identify the needs of each individual and provide the most efficient method. These practices ranged from social inclusion to emotional support. Various organizations, public, private, and volunteer, were invited to support as much as possible. One of the most important results of network collaboration was that geographical and logistical barriers were resolved.
SPEAK together with the Representation of the European Commission in Portugal, Fundação Ageas and Galp launched the platform. The reason for this collaborative effort was to include as many resources and support as possible. The main goal was to show the importance of cooperation between different institutions and communities. The platform itself was dynamic and it would connect volunteers, organizations, and refugees. Through it, language barriers were dismantled and a network of inclusion practices was established. Learning opportunities and social integration solutions were provided by the various entities.

SPEAK for Ukraine
SPEAK for Ukraine – Website

SPEAK For Ukraine: Impact and Reach.

Several milestones were achieved. We were able to establish a program to provide refugees with emotional support, language learning, and cultural exchange. This program was implemented between December 2022 and February 2024. This initiative was implemented both in presence and online.

After two years, SPEAK For Ukraine is proud to have been able to reach the following numbers:

  • 3900 refugees requested help regarding language. 1313 of them also sought emotional support.
  • 2694 refugees from Ukraine joined language groups and acquired linguistic and cultural knowledge in their integrated countries, which mitigated the initial challenges.
  • 408 language groups were organized for SPEAK for Ukraine, with the support of 251 buddies.
  • 30 cities in different European countries had the chance to participate. They promoted a sense of support for the Ukrainian refugees in their communities.
  • 13 languages were taught in the whole project, which delivered a broad array of language choices to the refugees.
  • Volunteers and refugees invested 6000 hours. Both in language and culture exchange. That portrayed a positive result from the project itself by promoting connections between both parties.
  • The initiative drew attention to associations like BeHuman, which joined the project by providing emotional and psychological support to refugees. This project impacted positively the outcome of 79 refugees who successfully participated in all the sessions granted by the institution.
SPEAK for Ukraine - event
SPEAK for Ukraine event – 2024

Meet the faces responsible for the project.

While the initiative benefited many people, it was launched by a small group of individuals from different organizations. The collaboration between stakeholders and SPEAK resulted in different shared perspectives, thoughts, and learnings throughout the process. That’s why on January 30th 2024, all stakeholders gathered at Fundação Ageas. They shared the experience, impact, and learnings from the SPEAK For Ukraine project. This event made it possible for each of these men and women to provide their own experience of the project.

Hugo Menino Aguiar

Founder of SPEAK. Hugo shared his perspective on the impact and essential role of partners, stating: “SPEAK For Ukraine’s journey has been remarkable. Our partners, including the Representation of the European Commission in Portugal, Fundação Ageas, and Galp, have made a difference in the lives of more than 2,000 refugees in 30 cities across Europe. Together, we have created a platform that not only empowers refugees with language skills but also promotes a sense of belonging and community, which Is essential when you’re under relocation.”

SPEAK For Ukraine
Hugo Menino Aguiar – Founder of SPEAK

Ricardo López Páramo

Ricardo is the current Director of Operations at SPEAK. He was involved in the operational part of the project since the very beginning. “When we started the project, there was a lot of uncertainty, we didn’t know the number of people that would arrive, which after all was something gigantic, we now believe that the objectives we initially had were modest, and we have the feeling that we could reach more people. We must pay attention to the definition of success for us, we have to celebrate!”
For Ricardo, one of the key points that made the SPEAK For Ukraine project a success was the agility: “The agility to initially launch the program quickly, but also the agility to adapt the project to the needs, complexities, and uncertainties that emerged. In the beginning, everything was very manual, we had a lot of uncertainties, and there were places we couldn’t reach, we contacted partners, adapted ourselves to solve such complexities, and achieved a solid program. We were able to adapt the experience to be more dynamic for partners.”

SPEAK For Ukraine
Ricardo López Páramo – Director of Operations SPEAK

Sofia Moreira de Sousa

The Head of the European Commission Representation to Portugal highlighted: “Since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine, millions of people have been forced to leave Ukraine. Acting locally through learning the local language and creating a network of personal relationships to welcome and integrate them is one of the ways we can help them rebuild their lives.

This is why the European Commission Representation in Portugal joined the SPEAK For Ukraine initiative from the beginning. It was also a concrete opportunity for volunteering and we hosted some groups at our facilities. From day one, the European Union and its international partners have supported those seeking shelter, and we have provided strong political, financial, and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and imposed tough sanctions against Russia and its accomplices in the war. In addition to the lives of the Ukrainian people, the values ​​we defend are being called into question and that is why we will remain firm against Putin’s aggression against Ukraine.”

SPEAK For Ukraine
Sofia Moreira de Sousa – Head of the European Commission Representation to Portugal

Sandra Aparício

The Head of Social Impact at Galp and its Foundation. Sandra states: “Galp is a big company, and big companies have big responsibilities, such as defending values ​​such as freedom, peace, and humanism. As soon as the aggression against Ukraine began, Galp eliminated its commercial exposure to Russia and created a 6.5 million euro program for humanitarian aid, employment, and education. And we do not forget the integration dimension, as is our participation in SPEAK for Ukraine. So that those who left their homeland behind can, in Portugal, in peace and freedom, create their projects of happiness. Making our home, your home” concludes the head of Social Impact at Galp.

SPEAK For Ukraine
Sandra Aparício – Head of Social Impact at Galp

João Machado

President of the Fundação Ageas shared his perspective: “SPEAK is a flagship social innovation project in Portugal and has once again proven its ability to adapt to its context when it changes. In a moment of distress, like the one we experienced at the end of February 2022, SPEAK was quick to act, demonstrating that it had the structure to adapt and the confidence of the public sector to assume itself as a key partner in the integration of Ukrainian refugees in Portugal. I also highlight the ability that SPEAK had to create and execute a plan that did not end in an emergency, but rather in the continuity of teaching the Portuguese language and in the creation of informal support networks in the medium term, lasting well beyond the solidarity bubble typical of situations of this nature.”

SPEAK For Ukraine
João Machado – President of the Fundação Ageas

Meet the buddies

Those familiar with other SPEAK projects know that the buddies are the backbone of any initiative. With the help of these individuals, a strong connection is made with the participants, and ideas that are born on paper are transformed into powerful effective tools.

SPEAK For Ukraine
Buddies Testimonial – Sofia Soares and Nuno Jesus

Sofia Soares

Sofia joined SPEAK for Ukraine in 2022 and had already a connection with SPEAK during her academic pursuits. “ I think that SPEAK is known as an example of social innovation. I always identified with the project and I intended to join the project.”. Through Ricardo, Sofia was assigned to a group that was composed of young participants, between the ages of 13 and 16, for 16 months. “ SPEAK is not a language school, it is a community, I felt a true connection with all of them (participants), there are some that are not in Portugal, and we are friends and still speak today”, Sofia also adds “ We are not so different, we may not speak the same language, but the values are similar. I’ve learned about their culture, SPEAK is all about the person, not the nationality, but it’s the story.”

Nuno Jesus

Nuno’s first contact with SPEAK was also during its university studies, “After a bunch of emails, I decided to join SPEAK, this time as a buddy.” The latter was in early 2020. Affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, small interruptions occurred, however, Nuno’s perseverance carried him through various language groups. At the end of 2022, the persistence continued in SPEAK for Ukraine, the buddy completed 4 language groups successfully. “ In my case, my group’s ages weren’t specific, I always had heterogeneous groups, and the participants’ ages ranged from 15 to 50, maybe 60. More than just learning the language, they also wanted to learn the culture, habits, traditions, and way of life.” Nuno also states that besides the difference in nationality and culture, there are a lot of similarities.

Meet the participants

The protagonists of any story are the reason why SPEAK exists. The participants are the ones in need and who always have something important to share. Exactly like the buddies, participants were invited to the event to share their perspectives on the project.

Galyna Petryk has been living in Portugal for almost 2 years now, she says that during her first days in Portugal, despite the cultural differences, many things already resembled her own country. 

“The most impressive thing about arriving in Portugal was seeing the ocean, realizing how huge it is, and also being amazed by the blue sky of Portugal. When I was on the plane, I noticed the Tejo River separating the city of Lisbon, it reminded me a lot of the Dnipro River, which is the river that separates Kyiv. I felt the similarity with Ukraine.”


Asked about Portuguese Culture “ The thing that surprises me the most is that the culture is centred in the person” Asked about Portuguese music “Fado is very sad, it is similar to Ukrainian music, beautiful, but sad.” she adds “ One thing that I truly value in Portuguese culture, is the will to preserve heritage, regardless if it is musical, art or history. I would love those values reflected in Ukraine, the love to value our heritage.” Galyna plans to return to Ukraine, but without a doubt, she will take the Portuguese culture with her.

SPEAK For Ukraine
Galyna Petryk, a participant from SPEAK For Ukraine

Igor Korneychuk, who arrived in March 2022, is a doctor. Up until 2022, he ran his private clinic in Kharkiv. During the event, Igor provides a small text that explains his journey from Kharkiv to Portugal, and how he had a somewhat peaceful life to suddenly lose everything after a bomb hit his apartment. The full story is available here.

SPEAK For Ukraine
Igor and his wife Irina share their experiences as participants of SPEAK For Ukraine

What have we learned?

Within the SPEAK for Ukraine, several challenges appeared and unexpected situations complicated the normal workflow of the idea. However, many learning opportunities also displayed themselves. Without them, the project would become static and it wouldn’t reach as many refugees as it was supposed to.

1. Partnerships are key

Network collaboration between organizations is essential. There is a big probability that those institutions have faced something similar in the past. Exchange experiences and strategies can easily provide a swift and effective solution to those who need it.

2. Pay attention to the definition of success.

Despite having achieved the objectives that were initially set, the feeling persists that more could have been achieved.  We acknowledged that the numbers that we’ve attained, are good reasons to compliment whole entities responsible for them. For sure a superior number of people helped was desired. Still, the results achieved are far from being unpleasant and unsuccessful.

3. Agility is a vital ingredient.

Lastly, most of the solutions came out of adaptation. Agility both in launching the project and in its evolution became indispensable. To develop a scalable and solid response, mitigating the complexities and uncertainties that arose, was necessary.

SPEAK For Ukraine - event
SPEAK for Ukraine event

Join SPEAK and help others.

As mentioned in this article, the workforce of such initiatives is the people within the project itself. Gladly that means that even when a chapter is getting closed, SPEAK still compromises with its mission of supporting newcomers to integrate. And you can join the impact too! Helping others can be as easy as helping foreigners reach a particular destination. However, you can also help by joining SPEAK as a buddy and contributing to a greater impact.

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