One of my proudest accomplishments while serving in PC Ukraine, was the successful implementation of a bake sale. I know this doesn’t sound like much to be proud of or a reason to validate my 2+ year existence in a small town in Eastern Europe, but it wasn’t just your traditional bake sale and it wasn’t conceived through your traditional methods.
It started and ended with our USAID Small Project Assistance (SPA) grant. As I mentioned in previous posts about SPA, my counterpart Lesia and I wrote and received a $5000 USAID SPA grant to develop the capacity of our local community by building a project resource center and train its users in project management & design (PDM) and fundraising. Both training sessions were successful as we trained almost 100 youth leaders, community members and secondary school administrators & teachers. After that, the hard part started; the inspiration for the actual implementation of their new skills and ideas.
It was April and the last quarter of my service in Ukraine. It was the time to show results and prove the sustainability of all my work through the actions and reactions of my host community. Well, long story short, there was no action and only negative reactions. I felt like my colleagues and trainees were avoiding me so that I didn’t bring up the subject with them. Some encouraged me to extend the project implementation goals to next semester when there would be more time and energy. I was heart broken and felt immensely betrayed; once their personal creativity, energy and motivation were called upon, they wanted nothing to do with the project. They were tired, overworked and underpaid so I understood their perspective but I couldn’t accept it. As a Scandinavian, Axelsen and woman, I am stubborn, but sometimes this dangerous characteristic can have positive results. I wasn’t going to allow the project to fail and if I had already failed inspiring those around me to pursue its benefits, I needed to do something about it.
I didn’t give up on the project’s implementation but I let the topic rest for the better part of the month. I knew the school administration wanted to see results as much as me, but I also didn’t want to tattle-tale on my colleagues as the culprits of why no action had taken place. Finally, after a month of seeing only closed doors of opportunity, I found an open window: the class President, Valeria.
Valeria is a rockstar, brilliant, ambitious and stubborn like me. She was also expected to implement a class project as President and liked the idea of working with me to the same goals. We brainstormed some project ideas but I explained that my resources were exhausted and I needed her help inspiring action and choosing a project. It didn’t matter what we did as long as we used our new PDM and fundraising skills. Within the week, she had her entire student council of almost 50 students asking their teachers if their class could participate in Ms. Katherine’s European Fair!
WOooo! I was stoked!
In the meantime, my teacher colleagues had been tasked by the school administration to celebrate European Union Day on May 19th. Usually, this involves a school concert, a flashy powerpoint show, lots of missed class time for the students and headaches for the teachers. Therefore, we all quickly saw the benefit of working together to reach our common goals: the class president’s yearly project, the teacher’s European Union Day celebration and Lesia and I’s USAID grant project.
Within a fortnight, about 600 students, 70 teachers, 4 European Union volunteers (guests from the Region’s capital), 2 Peace Corps volunteers and 1 Ukrainian counterpart gathered for Specialized School Number 1’s first annual European Union Day Fair. Each of the participating classes represented a country of the European Union and created a booth with traditional food from that country, decorations (and sometimes handicrafts), costumes and a trivia game. Each class had to develop a system of sales and monitoring of their booth so that they could sell their products while also enjoying the fair themselves. The top 3 classes/countries who earned the most money were given prizes of sport equipment from the administration to be used during recess.
The weather was perfect and everybody had a marvelous time. Not only did each class learn about a country in the European Union through hands on experience, but the creativity and marketing skills of the kids completely wow-ed their teachers as well and the fair raised 100x the money that the administration, students and teachers expected. (A bittersweet result since the administration had promised to double whatever the students were able to raise at the fair.) They were speechless by their own success and amazing that the process had been so fun and rewarding.
After the fair, we offered a “Living Library” where kids could take optional lessons from each of our European Union guests and practice their French and German with native speakers. Our German and Belgian volunteers presented their cultures and our two French volunteers presented a special dance lesson and analysis of French sterotypes.
The student government and school administration agreed to use the funds to better the school facade and garden (an idea that originated in our Fundraising Training). They bought 7 new benches with a flower box and spring flowers to match each of them.
I can’t tell you how proud I am of everybody who participated in this project. Not specifically because of the money they made or the successful conclusion report I was able to write to close the grant, but because in the end they amazed themselves and were proud their abilities.
I left the resource center’s future in the trusted hands of my counterpart. She is an amazing woman and I know she will do her best to keep its goals and sustainability alive. However, if its potential fades away, I just hope that one day the project’s participants will remember what they are capable of and believe in themselves to accomplish anything and everything. That possibility makes this bake sale one of my proudest accomplishments in PC Ukraine.