This past weekend, my active, in country Peace Corps service came to an unofficial end. After months of preparation, conversations, changes, signatures, and approvals, we held our much-anticipated Eastern Rinok Training of Instructors. I will be honest, as I told Laura (the other Peace Corps volunteer coordinating the training with me) right before hand, I was nervous going into it. I wasn’t nervous that we might not be able to do what we wanted, but nervous because this was the first volunteer-sponsored training of this style in Ukraine – in fact, we had to get special permission just to hold it. Thankfully, Peace Corps Ukraine staff has been and continues to be extremely supportive of this project. I couldn’t have been happier with how our training went!
Eastern Rinok has been steadily growing as a project. We are currently working on creating new, more advanced trainings for current artisans, transitioning to a new, more professional blog, and updating current training material. This is a group effort and each member of the leadership team plays an important role. Currently, there are around 25 active shops on Etsy, a great number! Yet, those shops are only in eight communities, predominantly in the eastern portion of the country. We saw this as an opportunity to really expand the project to additional communities, ideally in the southern portion of the country (Crimea especially for its Tartar population) and the traditional Ukrainian west.
Designed as a step-by-step process with screen shots, videos, “how to’s” and even homework assignments for the artisans to complete, the trainings seem pretty self-explanatory. However, it is inevitable that questions will arise. Trust me, no matter how many times something is read, going through at least one training is much more valuable.
This was what we hoped to accomplish:
We wanted to not just expose Ukrainian instructors and American PCVs to the material, we wanted all of them to approach and view the information from the eyes of an artisan. We wanted to spend time answering questions, explain why something was the way it was, provide tips and nuances not covered in the material so that each pair will be ready to “hit the ground running” once they return to their communities.
I’m trying to contain myself here, but in my opinion, we pretty much nailed it! Our team worked perfect together.
We were able to provide Ukrainian instructors and PCVs the opportunity to see and begin to use the material. In addition, we were fortunate to have two of our most successful artisans come to speak about their experience with the project and how it has positively impacted their lives. Combined, they have sold 40 items!
In addition, we were able to have two dear friends of mine, Dave and Sveta Malenfant present (the day after they were married), to provide additional strategies for holding trainings, discuss problems one might encounter, and show the instructors how to provide a high level of support to the artisans without “handholding.” It is important to mention that Dave and Sveta have been a part of Eastern Rinok since the very beginning. Dave and another PCV, Stuart King, created the material and Sveta undertook the painstaking task of translating all of the material into Russian. Needless to say, without them, there would be no Eastern Rinok.
The project would not have been possible without our two Ukrainian partners, Veronika Sotula and Viktoria Maserskaya. Regardless of one’s grasp on another language, hearing an explanation of something in your native tongue is always more efficient. These two women not just helped with preparation of materials and organization, but they were able to present the information in a way that makes sense to Ukrainians – EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!!
Finally, to our amazing donors, without whom, this project does not happen. We were tasked with raising over $3,000 to financially support this training endeavor and without their support, our undertaking would have been exponentially difficult. We finally have the list of the donors, so they will hear from us soon! For those who anonymously donated, since we cannot send you an email to thank you, we want you to know that your contributions were not in vain, you have my word. We have now doubled our instructor base and I can only imagine how many additional Ukrainians your generosity will benefit from your generosity. THANK YOU!
This was a full circle project for me. The location we chose, Chernigov, was where my Peace Corps assignment started for me. The conference center where we hosted the training was the same place where I spent my first two days in country. I’ll admit, once we had finished our last session, I got really quiet. It hit me: I was done.
In the near future, I will be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) and that will never change. Ukraine and it’s people have given me more than I can explain. I have learned more about myself in the past two and a half years than the previous 28 before I arrived. This has been something I will cherish for the rest of my life and will truly reflect on later. For now, Слава Украине! (Glory to Ukraine!)