Dear Family and Friends,
As I type this message the days I have remaining in Ukraine are sadly few. My how the two years have flown by! My last week in Velyka Lepetykha has been quite an adventure already with goodbye teas, final greetings on the street and a mix of emotions!
Before I close out my service though, I would like to write one more update blog on the activities that have kept me quite busy these last few weeks.
The weekend of October 7th-9th all female PCVs in the Khersonska Oblast were invited to a fellow PCV’s site of Chaplinka, southern Khersonska Oblast. Stephanie is a devote member of the Gender and Development Working Group of PC Ukraine and hosted a weekend mini GLOW camp for our Khersonska female students. GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World and is an opportunity for young female students to learn how to become leaders in their community, gain project development and managements skills as well as work on their self esteem and learn more about sex and women’s health. Stephanie chose Human Trafficking as a main theme for the weekend camp and so we discussed this tough topic in depth with our campers.
The camp was held in Chaplinka’s Children’s Activities Center which has a gymnasium equipped with a gymnastics mat on which we slept! From our oblast we had 9 PCVs participate bringing 17 students with them to camp. I was luckily able to bring with me 3 campers – Yulia, Yulia and Masha of the 10th grade class! These women did an excellent job practicing their English, eagerly answering questions and participating in the lessons! We tie dyed shirts on Saturday, a first time for many of our campers! And we had a special presentation Saturday night made by the local Kozak foundation (Kozaks are ancient Ukrainian soldiers, a tradition which is still held to this day by men who enact presentations of Kozak customs and dishes). The girls had a lot of chances to practice their English and ask questions that the traditional school classroom setting does not offer the opportunity to ask, such as sexual health, a main topic of the extra questioning and time.
My three girls took away with them Jimmy Johns cups from Stephanie and certificates but the biggest gain was the knowledge that they have the power to do something great in both Velyka Lepetykha and in Ukraine. I was so proud of my students and I can’t wait to see what they do with this power and strength!
October for Americans of course means Halloween so once again I brought the Halloween spirit to my school! On October 20th (just before the Fall Holiday) I showed Casper to my 7th-9th graders and had a coloring competition between the 7th and 8th grade classes. In my 10th and 11th grades I brought in the tub and apples and once again hosted a bobbing for apples competition. The 10A class did the best job as they dove right into the tub to get the apples! Quite a sight! I’ve attached a few pictures below!
For my own Halloween celebrating, I traveled to Kharkiv for the annual Peace Corps Halloween party. However, in the afternoon some of the campers from ABC Camp hosted a Halloween Carnival. PCVs who staffed ABC as well as others joined the campers and their friends for traditional Halloween games, traditional ABC Camp games, a repeat after me song written by me! and lots of good times together again. The campers had prepared a song for the PCV Group 37ers who will be leaving this fall semester – it was a very touching moment! They gave each of us a hand made vareneky (Ukrainian dumpling) pin, which are so cute. It was wonderful to see how excited the campers were to see their friends and the staff again and to feel the excitement and energy for this summer’s upcoming camp! One of my campers told me that through her attending camp and participating on my team I have “changed her world” – moments like this show us how much we as PCVs impact Ukraine and its youth. I will greatly miss having ABC in my life and I cannot wait to hear of its success this coming summer!
On a side note – I would like to thank my best friend Page Piccinini for sending me her Starbucks apron, as it was quite a success with the fellow PCVs at the evening’s PCV party!
Upon return to Velyka Lepetykha for my final 2 weeks at site I bunkered down to complete the final portion of my PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) project -- an ongoing project which began as an initial thought in March 2010 and was still not fully complete! The final piece was a traveling brigade performing an educational script/play on the dangers of drug use and having unprotected sex and the rolls of both in the spread of HIV infection. I worked with the Children’s Activities Center’s Creative Director, Aliona, to put together a team of 9 students from the 11th grade class to perform the script that Aliona had written. My grant money paid for fabric and the sewing of identical blouses for the female students as well as lots and lots of red ribbon and pins for each student in attendance of the concerts to wear. After a week of rehearsals and ribbon cutting/pinning on Friday, November 4th we piled into the school van and drove an hour away to the village of Mikolaevka. The concert lasted only about 25 minutes but we had 28 students of the 7th-11th grade classes listen to the words of the performers. Next we traveled to Rubanivka where we presented to schools #1 and #2 with over 100 students of the 7th-11th grades view the concert. It was quite a successful day and the students did an excellent job!
On Monday, November 7th the brigades’ traveling around the county continued with a trip to Mala Lepetykha where we had 50 students from the 9th-11th grade see the concert followed by Velyka Lepetykha School #2 (Shannon’s School!) with 32 students of the 9th-11th grades and lastly my school with a great turn out of 66 in the 8th-10th grades. The costumes looked great and the students did an excellent job. I hope the words on the dangers of drug use and the need to use a condom to protect oneself against HIV infection sunk in to those students in attendance. I am so thankful for the work that the Children’s Activities Center completed as well as my students and it was an excellent project on which to complete my work here in Velyka Lepetykha!
Following the completion of my final concerts the stress and work of closing up shop here in Velyka Lepetykha began. I have already attended 4 goodbye teas with my schedule filled until I leave on Sunday, November 13th. I will then be traveling to Kiev to present to the training volunteers in Chernigiv and Kiev before I fly to Thailand on Friday, November 18th.
As I look back on all the work I have accomplished, all the experiences I have had, and all the people I have met in these two years, I feel so fortunate and appreciative of all that has happened to me in Peace Corps. It has been quite a ride with plenty of ups and downs, but the time in the end has flown by! I would like to thank all of you who have given me the support to complete this adventure! The emails, packages, Facebook messages, letters, phone calls etc, have all helped me to keep pushing forward! I am so appreciative and grateful for the support I have received.
I will be arriving in Minnesota on December 13th and look forward to seeing all of you again then!
For now I would like to wish you all a wonderful rest of your fall season and a very happy Thanksgiving!
Signing off from Velyka Lepetykha, Ukraine and Peace Corps,
GLOW Camp Chaplinka: 14
Halloween Velyka Lepetykha, Bobbing for Apples: 4
Halloween Kharkiv ABC Camp: 6
HIV/AIDS Traveling Brigade: 21
Visiting Vera’s friends for a goodbye tea: 2