Old Soviet Labor Day postcard congratulating all comrades with today’s holiday.
Maslina is a time to welcome the Spring and say goodbye to the Winter. To commemorate this day, a straw fertility doll is burned and men compete by climbing up a slick telephone pole. I’m not quite sure why either of these things are done, but both are fun to watch. Unfortunately, Romny’s celebration of Maslina was dampened by a think snowfall this year.
Women’s Day, or more commonly referred to as the 8th of March is actually an international holiday. Its a shame I had to come all the way to Ukraine to discover this, but now that I know, I will be sure to bring the tradition back home with me. The day is slightly equivalent to the USA’s Mother’s day, although young girls, sisters, lovers and classmates are also included.
The male teachers at my school celebrated the school’s women by buying all the teachers a box of champagne, heaps of candy and oranges. Of course, nothing was done without wishing each other health, wealth, beauty and love (although Ukrainians are much more poetic about it).
I also personally celebrated the first case of food poisoning in my life by hugging my toilet for a day. That was definitely not the highlight of my week. I blame a jar of home conserved vegetables I bought from an old lady at the bazaar. When I told my colleagues about this purchase, they were very upset and scolded me for even considering to buy this food…so much for integration through food exploration. Last time I tried to chase vodka with raw pig ear, it didn’t work out so hot either. The third time might kill me.
This is the first time I’ve felt so passionate about such an activity and I would love for you to be a part of it as well.
Every 5 seconds, 1 person in the world gets infected with HIV.
There are over 50 million people in the world registered with HIV… How many are unregistered?
Ukraine has the highest growth rate of HIV in Europe.
Ukraine has the highest adult HIV prevalence in all of Europe and Central Asia.
There are 165,405/45,598,000 people registered with HIV in Ukraine.
Men are more commonly affected with HIV than women in Ukraine.
70% of HIV infected people in Ukraine are between the ages of 17 and 25.
The first person to register with HIV in Ukraine was in 1987.
In 2004, 29 children living on the street in the popular Ukrainian city of Odessa were tested for HIV; twenty of them were found to be infected.
This summer I’m participating in a camp different than any other I’ve done. Its a 7 day camp for children ages 9-15 infected with HIV/AIDS. Unique from any other camp in Ukraine, this week provides a safe haven for infected children to talk freely about their illness, build friendships with other children living with HIV, receive accurate health/psychological information, and receive support from PC Volunteers and Ukrainian counselors.
There is a deep stigma against people living with HIV/AIDs in Ukraine. It often results in social isolation, unemployment, poverty, alcoholism, drug use and very often orphaned children. This is partial due to the severe lack of information on how HIV/AIDS is contracted, prevented and how it affects the human body. It often leads to a general fear of HIV-infected people as well as the infringement on the rights of children living with HIV. Many children are not even allowed to attend school.
Between 1995 and 2012, 32,504 children were born to HIV-positive mothers. Among them, 21,916 are HIV negative but 2,814 are HIV-positive. In addition, 6,735 children under the age of 18 months are awaiting confirmation of their HIV status, 752 have AIDS and 287 children have died of AIDS.
I believe, Camp OHALOW does more than provide a loving and educational environment for children infected with HIV/AIDS. I believe its basic existence, sustainability and growing public profile will have huge affects on the way Ukrainians view infected people. My hope is that it will decrease stigmatization and increase the acceptance of them into everyday society. These are the first of many steps that we must embrace in Ukraine if we want to fight this epidemic and mitigate future problems.
Now you know a little more about how AIDS affects the every day life a young person in Ukraine. If it has moved you in any way, please consider supporting this summer camp. Just $10 goes a long way in Ukraine! Your donations of all sizes are welcome and will go directly to purchasing camp materials, lodging, and food They are all 100% tax deductible and you will even receive a hand written thank you note from one of the children you helped.
If you would like to donate, please visit the official Peace Corps Grant website HERE, enter the amount you would like to give in the little white box on the right hand side and hit donate.
The Economist: AIDS in Ukraine, Still no cure for corruption
The Huffington Post: Can Ukraine Lead the Fight Against HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia?
Unicef: Children in Ukraine
The World Bank: Ukraine Launches Information Campaign Against AIDS
The US President’s Emergency Action Plan for AIDs Relief: Partnership to Fight HIV/AIDS in Ukraine
Awhile back, I mentioned that I spent most of my free time in September dreaming, planning and writing a SPA grant with my counterpart. Well, guess what? WE GOT IT!
The grand plan is to host two professional development seminars (1) Project Development & Management and (2) Fundraising, for teachers at my school, students in our student council and active community members. To facilitate the use and further development of these new skills, we will build a resource center in our school that can be used by all community member/teachers/students for miscellaneous projects. To guarantee the sustainability of our resource center and use of our new skill set, all seminar participants will help develop an annual city wide fundraising event in late spring. The groups that participate in this event who raise the most money, will be able to use all the money raised in a way of their choosing.
On February 26, 2013 our project team successfully hosted our first seminar on Project Development & Management (PDM). In attendance were two administrators of School Number One, four student representatives, one member of Romny’s Center for Handicapped Children, one member of Romny’s Orphanage, and twenty teachers of Romny’s School Number One.
We had two trainers, each from the Lugansk Center of Postgraduate Education located ~20hour train ride to the east of Ukraine. The main trainer was a professional methodist who executed the training the Russian Language. Her assistant was a Community Development Peace Corps Volunteer who has extensive experience in business and strategic planning.
The seminar started with a bunch of wide eyed participants completely overwhelmed with the PDM theory upchucked in their laps. Myself, I was worried we started our project with the wrong seminar, that it was too abstract or theory based for the concept to be introduced in our first round. However, about 45 minutes into the seminar, the practical application began. We divided the participants into 5 groups who were each responsible for creating their own project ideas, goals, SWOT analysis, and objectives. At this stage, all the smiles came out. Great ideas were flying around the room and each participant seemed to enjoy being there.
In the end, our project team considered the day a success. We gave ourselves big pats on the back and turned our eyes towards the next step our our grant implementation…building the resource center.
My school’s Coverdell World Wise match is finally progressing. After a couple set backs, we have been able to establish a regular Pen Pal exchange between the most active of my 5th, 6th & 7th formers with a 5th grade classroom in North Hollywood, California, USA.
I am so excited about this program because it gives my students an opportunity to use their English language skills outside the classroom. Not only is this an excellent communicative activity for them, but they can also interact with students their same age on the other side of the world!
So far, we have received two batches of ~25 personally addressed letters, pictures & drawings from our partner classroom in California. Our school has sent them a video introduction of our school/English club as well as a batch of reply letters.
It is so exciting to see the expression on the students’ faces when they receive their letters. At this early stage of the exchange, most of their conversations are basic and only discuss simply likes & dislikes. However, I hope that these kids will be able to continue this exchange far after I leave Ukraine and maybe one day, be able to meet each other in person!
February 11-15 was a week of love. This is, I’ve never felt so loved and appreciated at my school.
The week started like any other. Everybody was slightly depressed due to the slushy, cold, dark weather, the load of learning and teaching non-stop every day from 8-4 was taking its tolls on my fellow English teachers and I was getting more and more stressed each day from the many projects I had climaxing in the next month. However, Thursday finally arrived and brought with it so much Valentine’s day cheer, the whole school was shaken from its monotony.
The day before, I had taught a special lesson on how we celebrate Valentine’s day in the USA. In addition, we chose special pet names in English for our valentines then learned how to write similes and acrostic poems. On Valentine’s day, we spent the whole lesson making Valentine’s day cards out of construction paper into which we wrote our poems and sent them to our Valentines.
I had a blast working with the kids and was constantly blown away by their spontaneous poetic skill. I think my favorite simile is still, “I love you like a cup of hot tea after sport training”. However, I nearly died laughing when one student almost wrote his mother, “I love you like I love any other women”.
Though out the lessons, I received more Valentine’s day cards and chocolates then ever in my life. I didn’t even know what to do with them other than start collecting them in a little bag.
However, my favorite valentine wasn’t a card but a necklace that one of my 5th form students had just made in her handicraft class. It is a little heart made from small strips of curled paper that form an image when combined with other curls. I can’t believe she is only 12 years old and made something so beautiful!
Of course, my day wasn’t complete without a skype date with Breno
The next day, thanks to my students’ obsession with social media, everybody knew it was my birthday. I walked into every classroom to a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you….’. I received big hugs from all my colleagues and so many well wishes that I gave up trying to translate them all. My wonderful fellow English teachers even gathered some money and presented me with a traditional wooden Ukrainian necklace. It is beautiful and I can’t wait to wear it around the USA.
Growing up, I always enjoyed my birthday the most when I had a friend whose birthday was close to mine so we could celebrate together. Therefore, I was extremely happy that not only was I born the same day as one of our assistant directors, but also a fellow English teacher as well as on the holiday when Ukrainians celebrate the winter season meeting spring. With so many things to celebrate in one day, our Director called a school wide meeting of the teachers in order to congratulate the three of us as well as the rest of the school with the holiday. I have never felt so appreciated during my service.
On Saturday, I traveled to Kiev for a Technology for Development Working Group meeting. Afterwards, I continued my family’s tradition of eating Indian food on my birthday by splurging at a restaurant I’ve been eyeing on the main street of Kiev since I arrived in country. Mmmmmm.
I was finally able to visit my training host family for the second time these past 13 months of service. It was so great to see them again! Since I’ve been living alone for so long now, I forgot how comforting it feels to be at home with a family that really cares for you and considers you one of their own. Another PCV who lived with the same host family during her training 6 months after me was also able to visit at the same time. It was like one big family reunion! I spent three days with them which included a sauna party, home cooking, rabbit killing, and of course, being taken to the club by my 16 year old host sister…ekkk. I can’t wait to visit them again.
The following week I attended (as a student, not a teacher) a four day Russian language refresher camp that is hosted bi-annually by Peace Corps Ukraine staff. There, I was able to take Russian language lessons all day long, participate in Ukrainian handicraft classes and listen to lectures on topics such as the Ukrainian elections and life during the USSR. It was also a great opportunity to see other PCVs that I haven’t seen since training in 2011. The PC Ukraine staff did an amazing job of organizing the camp and were such an inspiration to be energetic, creative and communicative teachers!
Ever heard of the Polar Bear Plunge? Well, in Ukraine they celebrate this event on a whole new level. Its called водокрещение (Vodokreschenie) and is celebrated every January 19th as an Christian Orthodox holiday. The event commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist on the Jordan river.
As a result, the most important ritual of this holiday is the blessing of water which is brought to priests in bottles of all shapes and sizes that many Ukrainians keep for years to repel evil forces in their homes. In addition, it is believed that this blessed water has healing powers and therefore many ceremonies take place on local rivers or lakes into which one can safely jump. The only catch is that most rivers and lakes are iced over at this time of year. If the dip is done correctly, honestly and fully, 3 times, you can expect health and happiness for the rest of the year.
I prepared to experience Vodakreshenya to its full extent this year, despite dubious warnings. However, when we arrived at the river and I realized the majority of my experience would involve a wine and shashleek after party during which I would be standing outside in the sub zero temperatures for an unknown amount of time with long wet hair, I eagerly volunteered to photograph the event instead of participate.
My sitemate, Garrett, wasn’t as easily disuaded as me and even decided the experience might remind him of his Alaskan motherland.
Here is the result of our day’s adventure…
In many Orthodox countries around the world, a cross is thrown into the water and the first swimmer to retrive the cross for the priest will receive a special blessing. Here is a collection of photos from the holiday across the globe…Beautiful and Otherworldly Photos of Orthodox Epiphany
You can see how a traditional Greek Orthodox family celebrates the holiday in Tarpon Springs, Florida HERE.
On Saturday, my school and I hosted the traveling PCV Sumska Oblast traveling English language immersion weekend camp…Camp EXCITE! About seven volunteers from around the oblast came to help out, teach lessons and play games. Although the camp is normally for 8-11th formers, I begged the camp directors to have some of our best younger students attend as well. Turns out, the youngest group was the most behaved, learned the most information and all in all had the best time. In total, we had 43 students attend, the majority from the 6th and 7th forms but also five from the 5th form and even one from the 4th form who regularly learns better than many of my 7th formers!
This year’s camp theme was ‘American Road trip’ and we had lessons on California, Alaska, Washington D.C. as well as a special holiday handicraft lesson on how to make Christmas Cards. In addition, we played camp games, leaned the cupid shuffle (which our school dance teacher witnessed…and I think was a little flabbergasted by its rap video origins and 5 min circular repetition), ate cookies and of course, drank some tea.
One of the best parts of the camp for me was that seven of my English teacher colleagues came to help out. However, when debriefing with them afterwards I was a little shellshocked when one of them summed up her experience with the sole statement of, “the camp was fine, but it was bad that it was on Saturday.” This hurt me a lot yet and I couldn’t see the point of it, so I’ve decided to add constructive criticism to my list of teaching goals. However, they are awesome girls and I am so happy to be working with them. They’ve definitely made my last year much more fun
After the camp finished, the volunteers and I gathered for a collaborative meeting. Although it was little rushed and easily turned off topic, I think we shared some valuable advice. Despite seeing other volunteers in Sumska Oblast very often for Camp EXCITE, community projects and other social events, I feel like we never discuss our work as volunteers on a professional level. On a regular basis, we talk plenty about funny things that have happened to us or cultual moments that took us off guard, etc., but it felt good to reflect on some good projects and/or interactions other volunteers have experienced.
In the late afternoon, we all ventured out to Garrett’s (my site mate) village a few miles outside of Romny. It was my first time visiting his place despite living so close for the past year. Yep, thats right…December 15 marked my one year anniversary of living in Romny. I can’t believe I’ve been in Ukraine for 15 months. It seems like I just arrived, yet I feel completely at ease and comfortable in Romny and Ukraine in general.
The Sumska gang celebrated at Garrett’s flat by cooking shashleek (slow cooked, pork, shish kabobs). It was super cold outside while cooking the meat over the smoking coals, but in the end, it was delicious.
There is only one and a half more weeks of school until winter holidays start on December 28th. However, I have already stopped teaching many of my classes since the students and teachers are preparing for end of the semester exams. Most of my free time is now spent reading or taking hot baths to stay warm. There was a real feel of -7 F today…Brrrrrr.
Today, December 19th, many Ukrainians celebrated St. Nicholas Day. This is a favorite among many kids because it is the first of three winter holidays they wake up to find presents. Families celebrate this holiday in the evening with dinner and congratulate all the men/boys in their lives who have the name, Nicholas.