I could die happy right now. Or at the very least, leave Ukraine feeling full of satisfaction — with the knowledge that I did a few things right.
Last week I attended Camp IKnow, an environmental-themed camp organized by the PC Ukraine Environmental Working Group, for the third and final time in my service. I brought two of my most motivated first-year students and another girl from another school in Chortkiv. The girls had an absolute blast and were wonderful to have there all week long. I’d been looking forward to bringing them to this camp all year and knew that they’d take a lot away from the experience.
During the week the kids learn all about environmental problems in the world and in Ukraine and they also take project design and management classes to learn how to develop and complete projects. During the course of the week they actually create a project together as a large group and go through all the steps of project design and management, eventually completing their project in the host community.
This year the kids created a combination clean-up and educational campaign project, and they created posters to hang up at the local lake they wanted to clean up. Then on the last day of the camp, they cleaned up the beach, staked their posters in the ground, and then went into the center of the village to educate the local people about what they’d learned during the week.
It’s so exhilarating to watch the kids do projects like this — and if watching kids go out to speak to strangers with so much passion and enthusiasm doesn’t fill your heart up with optimism then I don’t know what will.
We’ve only been home for three days, but my girls (Olya, Khrystyna, and Yarina) were already ready to get started and called me last night to find out when we could meet to begin our project. So we decided to meet today at noon to go out and do a community needs assessment. They were nervous about interviewing people in Chortkiv about environmental problems — it had been easier at the camp location, where they didn’t know anybody and didn’t feel as close to the situation. But we marched forth into the city and began our interviews. Within the first two interviews, the girls lucked into meeting a woman who works on environmental issues, specifically related to water. She gave the girls her card and told them to keep in touch with her because she was really supportive of what they want to do. That filled them with just the excitement they needed to continue interviewing strangers about environmental problems in Chortkiv.
Once we finished our interviews, assessed the general situation of the city, and located as many recycling bins as we could, we headed back to my place to make an action plan. The girls had no trouble listing all the community needs and the goals of our potential projects and they definitely have no shortage of ideas for projects. They were shooting off the names of people they knew who might be able to help them, they were brainstorming possible projects, and making to-do lists for themselves with absolutely no pushing from me.
I’m pretty sure my heart swelled to twice its normal size and almost exploded inside my chest. These girls are beyond ready to do something like this — they have all the motivation they need to get started, they have connections, and more than anything, they really have a great grasp on what exactly they need to do to complete a project — more than any other students I’ve ever brought to a camp, these girls get it. They understand that it might take a while, they understand how to make an action plan and a timeline. Usually it takes a few rounds of explaining for my students to understand that planning a project entails much more than just planning when you’ll do something.
And so although it’s absolutely breaking my heart to leave here, I am leaving filled with so much hope for the future of this country, my students, and my site.
Young people like Yarina, Olya, Khrystyna and all the amazing students I’ve taught over the course of the last two and a half years make me believe that things here will get better — that everything I’ve done here as a Peace Corps volunteer was not done in vain.
What wondrous luck.