Friday, March 22nd 2013, I had a few medical appointments in Kiev. First I had to go to the dentist (which I’ll be honest, has been a pleasant experience each time) and then pass a physical exam – let’s be serious…I’m the epitome of physical prowess these days. Essentially I viewed this as a formality and a bridge to cross. Once I had made the decision to extend my service, the real struggle/debate became deciding on the duration I should request: six or 13 months were our options. Not exactly the easiest decision right there.
For the first few months at site, I, like most other volunteers, really had no idea of exactly what we were supposed to be doing. For many of us, we were working with organizations that had never worked with an American before – let alone even met one. For edification, think of any time you have met someone in the states from another country…same thing, only reversed.
Coupled with a new found sense of “So, um, what do I do now?“, we often found ourselves doing a lot of Q&A about America, our culture, why we are here, why Ukraine, and hopefully breaking some preconceived stereotypes. However, regardless of the scenario, it is hard NOT to think like an American: “I need to accomplish something, and it needs to be done by this date, and it this this this and this will happen after.” The reality is, that simply isn’t how the world works.
Over the past two years, a plethora of time has been spent simply getting to know people, forming relationships, and sipping tea. I have eaten more delicious cookies, chocolates, dried and salted fish, sampled more “very tasty cognac,” and heard more jokes only to learn that these moments are sometimes more important in accomplishing tasks than a planning meeting. Not going to lie, I appreciate the style, though it definitely takes some getting used to.
BAM! New Year and all of those moments are starting to come to fruition. My organization is my counterpart, Ivan, and myself (for the most part) and the primary work I’m doing is more coaching/small-business consulting than anything else. Those times we spent at his village dacha discussing politics (well, kind of), in his kitchen discussing food and the differences between Ukrainian and American society, pretending to catch fish at 6am, or any number of other situations planted enough seeds in his head. He has had time to chew on them, spit a few out, and chew some more.
Quite simply, I’m not ready to leave – too much is ready to happen. My work, however, will not just be limited to my host organization – I have a few external projects as well that I am very excited to continue to work on as well. What exactly? Well, allow me to list some of the bigger items:
- Prepare a Peace Corps Partnership Grant (more to come about this later) to aid in funding the renovation of a new work space.
- Develop a strategic plan for Perspektiva designed around the following goals: Individual skill development, Legal Rights and Advocacy, as well as Humanitarian Aid.
- Create a centralized location that can serve jointly as an office, humanitarian aid distribution center, as well as a location we can host skill development workshops, seminars, as well as a working space for people with disabilities.
- Serve as an American co-director for ABC Camp 2013 as well as work with Ukrainian partners to write the funding grant and create a manual for future camps.
- Organize a Professional Skills/Legal Rights seminar through Perspektiva and community partners.
- Co-host a festival for nine oblast orphanages with local government and non-government partners.
- Help to develop and implement a Volunteerism Resource Center with a secondary organization.
- Participate in camps for special needs orphans through the Special Needs Working Group and a partnership with the American organization: Ukraine Special Needs Orphan Fund. In addition, work with the organization to create a manual to make available for other volunteers who wish to host similar weekend camps in the future.
- Develop an online resource/educational database for volunteers who work with the people living with disabilities community in Ukraine.
- Organize a contest to promote inclusion of people living with disabilities through other volunteers.
- Continue to help improve, promote, and expand the Eastern Rinok social entrepreneurship project.
Crunch time. 4th and goal from the one yard line. Bottom of the ninth, game seven of the world series, down one run, bases loaded, full count. Penalty Kick Shootout…Put me in coach!
I decided on six months to feel the sense of urgency – it is needed and welcomed. Time to make moves. Armed with the date I am to leave Ukraine, December 13, 2013, there is no more time to just sit around and talk ideas…though I’ll settle for some sweets, cognac, and a good conversation anytime!