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Осенью в Украине: Fall in Ukraine v1

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:

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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.

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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:

Counselor Introductions (Kym, Lukas, me, Jill, Nik, Jamiei)
Counselor Introductions (Kym, Lukas, me, Jill, Niki, Jamie)…I think I’m actually speaking. Sorry Jill.
Green Crocodile Family (Jill's and my team)
Green Crocodile Family (Jill’s and my team)

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Lukas and the Blue Smurfs
Lukas and the Blue Smurfs
Just look at the sign...
Just look at the sign…
They girls came up with this entirely on their own
They girls came up with this entirely on their own…according to Kym
Niki and the Pink Panthers
Niki and the Pink Panthers
Matt and the Purple Pandas
Matt and the Purple Pandas
Jamie and the Yellow Crazy Chickens
Jamie and the Yellow Crazy Chickens

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Niki going through a translation of terms
Niki going through a translation of terms
THE Kym Starno...
THE Kym Starno…
Showing off the artist skills while explaining the biology of HIV infection
Showing off the artist skills while explaining the biology of HIV infection
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Niki and I teaching half of the students about the biology of HIV
Matt also taught biology of HIV...he's a much better artist
Matt also taught biology of HIV…he’s a much better artist
Kym prepping for her lesson
Kym prepping for her lesson

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!

HIV infection skit. Kym and Jill as babushka's (Ukrainian grandmothers)
HIV infection skit. Kym and Jill as babushka’s (Ukrainian grandmothers)
HIV gopniks. Google for an explanation. This is a parody skit, remember...we are trying to relate things they know to things we are trying to teach
HIV gopniks. Google for an explanation. This is a parody skit, remember…we are trying to relate things they know to things we are trying to teach
Post lesson team debrief
Post lesson team debrief
Some of the lovely ladies of the Green Team making red ribbons to share with HIV infected orphans. More to come.
Some of the lovely ladies of the Green Team making red ribbons to share with HIV infected orphans. More to come.
More ribbons
More ribbons
Jing and Anya doing the "Anya Pushkarenko face"
Jing and Anya doing the “Anya Pushkarenko face”

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Kym teaching everyone how to properly moonwalk...I wish there was video of this
Kym teaching everyone how to properly moonwalk…I wish there was video of this

Kym provided a fantastic intro into our next activity, something we did this past summer that was a huge hit…

Yup...we taught them dances. Yes, this is Soulja Boy
Yup…we taught them dances. Yes, this is Soulja Boy

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Cotton Eyed Joe
Cotton Eyed Joe

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.

Trying to decide on which leadership challenges to plan with returning students.
Trying to decide on which leadership challenges to plan with returning students.
THE Kym Starno teaching project planning
THE Kym Starno teaching project planning
Jamie discussing HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination
Jamie discussing HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination

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:

Memory maze. Have to use sounds or signals - no speaking/pointing - to get everyone across. 15 total moves.
Memory maze. Have to use sounds or signals – no speaking/pointing – to get everyone across. 15 total moves.
Toxic Waste - or any number of names.
Toxic Waste – or any number of names.
Larochka...remember this name
Larochka…remember this name and face

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Human knot: always a fan favorite...and Niki's
Human knot: always a fan favorite…and Niki’s
Crossing the river
Crossing the river
Let's just say, Jamie had fun with this and the students got creative.
Let’s just say, Jamie had fun with this and the students got creative.
Niki teaching prevention
Niki teaching prevention of HIV
Bananas...Why, you ask?
Bananas…Why, you ask?

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.

Niki and Matt prepping.
Niki and Matt prepping.
Matt showing that oil-based lubricants will cause a condom to break.
Matt showing that oil-based lubricants will cause a condom to break.
Wondering what is going on
Wondering what is going on
Practical application of knowledge
Practical application of knowledge
Kostya being a gentleman
Kostya being a gentleman
Anya and Jenny
Anya and Jenny
...and now that the sex is over...
…this is a happy banana, ready for sex…
...it is time to remove the condom...
…and now that the sex is over…it is time to remove the condom…

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.

HIV positive speaker
HIV positive speaker addressing the students
The students had so many more questions. This is also proof that what we are doing is working.
The students had so many more questions. This is also proof that what we are doing is working.

Ukrainian youth love fashion shows and opportunities to dress up. The Condom Fashion Show is always full of surprises and hilarity.

Condom fashion show
Condom fashion show
The camp fell on Halloween, so it was only appropriate...
The camp fell on Halloween, so it was only appropriate…to dress up and have a disco
Most of the counselors
Most of the counselors…
Green team...guess where Jill is from.
Green team…guess where Jill is from.

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Halloween Disco...was awesome
Halloween Disco…was awesome

Costume contest winners...not shocking

Costume contest winners…not shocking
Larochka...I had no idea who this was until she took her nose off. No joke. Not a clue.
Larochka…I had no idea who this was until she took her nose off. No joke. Not a clue.
Kym and Jill photo sessia. Big fan of this picture.
Kym and Jill photo sessia. Big fan of this picture.

Finally, we wrapped up with Human Trafficking and Human Rights presentations by Jill and Lukas respectively.

Jill discussing human trafficking
Jill discussing human trafficking

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Some statistics concerning HT. The first time I heard these, I was surprised.
Some statistics concerning HT. The first time I heard these, I was surprised.
Lukas showing a human rights video during his presentation
Lukas showing a human rights video during his presentation

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.

First ever mini Camp HEAL Ukraine. Boom.
First ever mini Camp HEAL Ukraine. Boom.

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!

Счастлива!

Go Dukes!
#Labor
#GSR
#PBLG

2 thoughts on “Осенью в Украине: Fall in Ukraine v1

    1. Haha thanks man! There are others and thankfully no video. Kept it educational and fun at the same time, introduced some slang…stuff like that. Appreciate you checking it out! Happy Holidays

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