NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- A teacher with the Charleston County School District and her husband have opened up their home to a Ukrainian family who fled the war-torn country.
Tanya Burrill, an ESOL teacher at Hunley Park Elementary School, was born in Dnipro, Ukraine, but has been living in the United States for a few years. Before moving to the U.S., Burrill and her husband met while teaching English in Ukraine.
Burrill said she was always drawn to the teaching profession.
“It is very common to learn English in Ukraine,” Burrill said. “I taught young children while I earned a degree to teach adults. It was fun and enjoyable but I wanted to take it to the next level.”
Burrill’s husband expressed he wanted to return to the U.S., so the couple packed up and moved to North Carolina in 2016. There, Burrill found that her passion for teaching English and helping others could work hand-in-hand.
I was able to see what teaching English looked like in the United States,” she said. “We moved to Charleston a year later and I researched opportunities with Charleston County School District.”
She was assigned to Hunley Park as they were in need of a substitute teacher. Shortly after, COVID-19 hit. Burrill used the time in lockdown to begin the state’s Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE).
She is still finishing up that certification but teaches K-5 ESOL in the meantime.
“Some of these children are vulnerable and face challenges American children may not, Burrill said. “Having been an English learner myself I know how they must feel. Being able to help these students is like being a part of something really big. It’s very rewarding.”
“When you meet Ms. Burrill, you know right away that she genuinely cares for people,” Principal Katchia Gethers said. “She has a calmness and gentleness to her and makes everyone feel at home. That’s a rare quality for a person to have.”
It is not just Burrill’s professional life that has been rewarding as of late, it is her personal life too.
Having grown up in Ukraine and with family still in the country, Burrill and her husband decided they needed to take action to help where they could following the Russian invasion.
The couple came across the website ukrainetakeshelter.com which allows those fleeing the country to request a place to stay and connect with hosts around the world.
“We’ve always been open in terms of our home,” said Burrill. “We’ve hosted people before and when we learned of this international site helping Ukrainians who were seeking a place to stay, we knew what we needed to do.”
For several months now, the Burrills have shared their home with a grandmother, adult daughter, and eight-year-old daughter who left Ukraine as conditions worsened. The family initially fled to the border and entered the U.S. through Mexico, eventually ending up in Georgia.
“I told them they could stay as long as they needed to stay,” said Burrill. “They don’t speak English, have very little belongings, and no transportation. So we are serving as the middle man and helping them with anything they need to start their new life.”
The eight-year-old enrolled at Hursey Montessori where she has thrived, according to Burrill.
While the grandmother has decided to return home once the fighting ceases, the two others plan to stay in Charleston. Burrill said the outpouring of support from the Charleston community has been overwhelming.
“We have had a lot of help from the community and my husband and I are fortunate that we have what we need to support this family,” she said. “We were even able to secure employment for the young mother so she can begin earning money.”
Burrill said her parents, siblings, and extended family are still in Ukraine, and while they are in a safe location, she hopes someone would do the same for them if necessary.
“If my family had to leave and needed a place to stay, I would hope someone on the other side would do the same for them and take them in,” said Burrill. “We are honored to be able to help.”