Yes, it has been a while. Truth is, I get distracted. The fall has absolutely flown by – I mean today is December 12 already. Since I last posted, four volunteers from my city have departed. Rang the “end of service” bell in the Peace Corps Office and gone home. A little something that has become increasingly apparent with each departure: members of mine, Group 41, are facing some pretty serious decisions – now.
We are coming up on a full two years in Ukraine – March 23rd to be exact – which means the end isn’t far off. A friend pointed out, just the other day, that she can count the number of months left in Ukraine on one hand. Cue music screech (which, right now, is Rick Ross’ “Hustlin'”) and enter Adam West’s Batman:
I’m not going to lie, she made that statement and it that woke me up. Here I am, kind of coasting, experimenting with variations of delicious cuisine, pondering ideas about my future when BAM! Some friends have already or are taking the GRE’s, filling out grad school applications, or waiting to hear. Some have applied to jobs while some are just beginning their search back in the states. Some are so deep into projects at site they rarely come up for air or have already made a decision on an extension. Then again, some are like me, jumbled in the middle of all that.
I am not saying I am jealous, I am not saying that I am nervous, nor am I saying that I should be doing the same thing. These are just realities. At some point, I am no longer going to be a Peace Corps Volunteer and that means a new chapter starts. Come March, I need to have a decision made (I don’t think that is the technical date, it is more self-imposed). At this point, I believe I have it narrowed down to two immediate possibilities. However, I hear it is good to leave the people wanting more (also, I’m just not ready to make those public yet). That time will come, I promise.
Speaking of chapters, those who know me know I love to talk – if you’ve met my mom, you understand where this comes from – but I also really enjoy writing. Unfortunately for those who aren’t looking for a mini-novel, sometimes I tend to write like I speak: in copious amounts. As with every chapter here in Ukraine, I experience some form of change or enlightenment. This one has been highlighted by a great amount of self-discovery and reflection: why do I do the things are do, what are my motivations, what makes me tick…things of that nature – more on those and how they relate to my New Years Resolutions later. Of course, I would be remiss to mention that without showing some highlights of that enlightenment manifesting and progressing. With all of that being said, the most recent part of my experience is probably best explained in picture form (plus, it’s more fun too, right?).
I have posted in the past about Camp HEAL. For the past six years, it has been a week-long summer camp focusing on human trafficking prevention, the biology of, stigma and discrimination associated with and prevention methods of HIV/AIDS, human rights issues, leadership, and project planning (design, management, evaluation). Yes, that’s a lot. However everything isn’t strictly lecture-based – classes are designed using the communicative method. Two of the volunteers from this summer decided to organize a miniature version using some left over funds.
Ukraine has the highest HIV infection rate in Europe and the education people receive is minimal (for a number of reasons). We spent a long weekend at the end of October in Okhtyrka, Sums’ka Oblast. It was a beautiful area, deep in the woods, at a fun campground, Bymerovka. This was, again like most Peace Corps camps, predominantly an English-speaking camp with six teams for about 50 campers (aged 14-20). At times, we would use Russian/Ukrainian because, let’s be honest, the most important thing is that the students understand the information – which is surprisingly easier in one’s native language. That being said, I’m still insanely impressed with the level of the language of students here. Those that really want to learn foreign languages here, they learn them. I am constantly amazed that I can have in-depth conversations about a plethora of topics with these kids. It is a real testament to their desire to learn. I’ll stop with the gushing and get to the good stuff. Here are a few highlights to tell the story:
After Matt, Niki, and I had completed the first lesson. It was time for a skit to review what they had just learned as well as a great hands-on activity. Another volunteer had come up with the idea to make AIDS ribbons this past summer to send to HIV infected orphans. Each student made four ribbons: two in Russian/Ukrainian to be shared with Ukrainian orphans and two in English to be shared with students world-wide. Simple words of encouragement and support from your peers can mean a lot to a person, regardless of the circumstance. I am really glad we showed the students how easy it is to do something like this for another person. They loved it!
Kym provided a fantastic intro into our next activity, something we did this past summer that was a huge hit…
The second day began with a meeting of the minds to determine which leadership activities we would organize for the day. Weather is always questionable, so our outdoor plans were shifted indoors. Thankfully the students were able to come up with some great ideas that would be relatively challenging, but fun at the same time.
After the first batch of classes on day two, it was time for some leadership and team-building activities for the teams. The competitions were a memory maze, toxic waste, and crossing the river. Seriously, I wish I could have done these myself. Some of my favorites. Dizzy bat races just seemed inappropriate for the situation…though they are always a good time. I digress:
Sexual health is not commonly discussed here. It is a touchy subject that some feel is best discussed privately. However, we feel that it is better to educate students on the fact that if you are going to be sexually active, the condom is the best method to prevent the spread of disease and avoid pregnancy. Since putting condoms on fake penises would just be pushing it a little too much, we invest in multiple bananas. Not only are they…well…they are nutritious and serve the purpose we need.
A unique experience for attendees of Camp HEAL is that they get to hear from someone infected with HIV first-hand. This is done for many reasons – all of equal importance. For me, I think one of the best things to come from this is not that the students are scared of specific behavior, but 1) that they hear prevention methods and 2) that they come to realize it is ok to be in the same room with someone infected with HIV. We are lucky to have a great working relationship with multiple support organizations in Ukraine and the speakers are Ukrainian, so this discussion takes place in the native language of the attendees.
Ukrainian youth love fashion shows and opportunities to dress up. The Condom Fashion Show is always full of surprises and hilarity.
Finally, we wrapped up with Human Trafficking and Human Rights presentations by Jill and Lukas respectively.
Success. Another fun camp with awesome students and volunteers. If I’m being honest with myself and others, working camps has been the highlight of my experience. When I was a kid, I didn’t get why people would be counselors year after year. However, now I completely understand now why people enjoy(ed) doing this.
That was just a small sample of the pictures that were taken (most from Matt Brady). The whole album can be seen here.
Much more to come for the Fall, this is just a start. Up next: Camp TOBE (Teaching Our Boys to Excel), Thanksgiving, and a Perspektiva Project. One of those resolutions is to write more. This time, I intend to stick to my resolutions. Feel free to call me on it if I don’t!