Lauren and I traveled from St. Petersburg to Moscow in June via the fast train. Little did we know all that we missed along the way. The New York Times produced the following News graphic about this very journey by car. The presentation is spectacular and it offers a great insiders view into the culture and sights on this road trip.
To view the full article, click on this link: The Russia Left Behind
Today my school participated in the local Euro Club contest…Essentially to find the best Euro Club in town. For the past week, 10 of our most active students have been pulled out of school to prepare their speeches about designated topics as teachers run around preparing materials and power points for the presentation.
However, once we got to the contest, we realized there were only three other schools who were even participating and our activities, preparation and general awesomeness would blow the other schools out of the water. Our students also presented their entire program in English of which the judge didn’t understand a word. In the end, we also learned that EVERYBODY was a winner as each school received a certificate of participation. Oh well…so it goes.
We presented the following topics:
- Our specialized training in the international language of English
- information technology classes to aid our students’ future careers abroad
- Ukrainian culture days
- University of Michigan’s ICS Earth Odyssey program participation & skype date with University students
- SPA grant PDM and Fundraising trainings
- European Day Fundraising Fun Fair with 4 guests from the EU.
- Five day Free Kick & English camp
- Worldly Wise School’s pen pal exchange with a school in California. We highlighted and showed clips from the videos we exchanged showing our cultures and schools to each other.
- One World Classroom’s International Art Exchange program
- The traveling PC Oblast camp, Camp Excite
- The numerous travel destinations our teachers and students have been to this past year (including Germany, France, Turkey and Italy)
- Our singing ability of “The Ink is Black the Page is White“. (although a Ukraine version)
Although many of the topics don’t deal directly with the EU, we emphasized that our practice and knowledge of the English language directly prepares us for international communication with the EU.
The past 10 days have been some of the best in my Peace Corps service. I participated in a 7 day leadership camp for 60 Ukrainian children with HIV/AIDs. These children came from all over the county with the hope of being surrounded in a unique environment…a Ukrainian environment devoid of sigma and discrimination for their positive status.
Unbelievably, this type of camp is unique in Ukraine. It not only provides an opportunity for these kids to be surrounded by love, but they are also surrounded by their peers who struggle with the same difficulties in life. In addition, the camp curriculum provides daily group sessions with a youth physiologist and specialist doctor. This structure seems simple and obvious, but the effect it had on the mentality of these kids was anything but simple and obvious.
The camp staff consisted of about 10 American Peace Corps volunteers and 10 Ukrainian volunteers. As an international pair, each of us were responsible for the daily schedule of about 5-10 kids. In addition, each region of Ukraine that had kids attend the camp also had a social worker stay with them throughout the seven days. They were responsible for making sure the kids took their medicine everyday, exactly at their scheduled times as well as participate in trainings of their own that the camp administration organized.
I cannot post photos of the kids or our activities in order to keep their identities private, but I can assure you they were some of the cutest I’ve seen. Of course they ran wild, got in trouble and did silly things, but these kids were also some of the most grateful and well behaved I have met in Ukraine. They humbled me and I fell in love with each of them. My only disappointment was that none of them lived in my Oblast so I couldn’t keep a close relationship after the camp ended.
Camp OHALOW is now in its fourth year. Without the support of PEPFAR, donations of PCVs’ friends and families and the countless hours of planning by PCVs, Ukrainian social workers and the AUNPLWN, this amazing opportunity would not exist. It makes me so proud to be a PCV, inspired to work in Ukraine and yet sad that such a camp must exist. However, I have found a cause I will support for the rest of my life. I urge you to be aware of it as well.
HIV prevalence by regions in Ukraine (per 100,000 population)
Reported New Cases of HIV in Ukraine, 1987-2012
My namesake and popular Victory Day song. It tells the story of a woman longing for her husband who is off fighting in WWII. After it was written in 1938 it was quickly popularized and as a result became the of the nickname of the BM-8, BM-13, and BM-31 rocket launchers used by the Soviets.
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.
I signed Lesia’s 5th form class up for a really cool art exchange program with One World Classrooms and the experience has been great. It was even free to participate as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine. The program connects classrooms from all over the world by gathering and sending out collections of K-12 student traditional artwork. So for example, 25 of my students each drew a traditional picture of Ukraine. We took photos of each student with their piece of art, wrote a description in both English and Ukrainian and then attached it to the picture. We then sent them all into the One World Classroom headquarters. In a few months we will receive 25 pictures form throughout the world along with a picture of each student who drew it and a description in English and their native language.
I love this program because it gives my students a chance to proudly share their culture and use their English as a truly global language. When receiving artwork and English messages from children their own age in China, Africa, Mongolia and South America, how can they deny the potential their languages classes can provide them? We are scheduled to receive our global collection in June.
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.
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!