Happy Women’s Day!!

Happy International Women’s Day to all the wonderful women in my life. I am grateful for each and every one of you and for the ways you enrich my life.  Here’s wishing you (Ukrianian style) health, love, success, positive emotions and spring in your soul all year round! And may all your dreams come true!

On Wednesday, I had finished my classes and everything I needed to do at school and was putting my coat on to go home when suddenly it hit me. Crap! Tomorrow is the Women’s Day celebration. Women’s Day is a huge celebration in Ukraine – so big, in fact, that it’s a federal holiday and schools, businesses, etc are closed.  Since Friday would be a day off, Thursday was the big day at school.

I turned to my counterpart and friend Lena: “I have to dress up tomorrow, don’t I?” “Yeah,” she nodded and smiled the smug kind of smile that makes one understand “yeah” as “d’uuhh.”

“Uggggh,” I shook my head.  I hate the sartorial stress that Ukrainian holidays bring with them. “Don’t worry,” she continued. “I’m not going to buy a new dress.”

Well, great, that makes me feel a lot better. So there will be two of us without new dresses, I thought. She had though, (traitorously) already fulfilled the other two components of the Ukrainian women’s pre-holiday trifecta: manicure and haircut. (Seriously, manicurists and hairstylists are booked straight with no openings for a whole week before the 8th of March.) I was headed for a perfect 0 for 3 strikeout.

Luckily (and thanks to my dear friend Fraz), I had a suitable dress in my closet – well, at least as close as I’m going to get to suitable without showing more leg than my 9th grade boys need to see and without touching satin or mesh.  [Tangent: Yes, really mesh is a thing here. The mesh mock turtle neck simply boggles my mind. WHAT in the world is a the point of such a conservative cut if it’s absolutely see through and what you’re wearing over screams CLEAVAGE?!?!? After nearly two years hear I recently had the revelation that if you think of it sort of like tights (it’s rather small-holed mesh) for the top half of the body, you can sort of (sort of!) come to terms with it.)… sorry, end of rant.]

So I showed up to school on Thursday, dutifully wearing my dress and 3-in heels (hey, they’re high for me). In a surprising twist of fate, I dress up more often, wear heels more often, and am more formal in my day-to-day work outfits in the Peace Corps than ever in the U.S.

Friday was filled with moments of me standing awkwardly as groups kids and colleagues recited minutes-long speeches about their wishes for me, before handing me chocolate, cards and flowers.

My haul... minus the box that I inhaled as soon as I got home because I was starving due to having missed lunch, which itself was a result of being invited (instructed) to have cake with my 10th form.

My haul… minus the box that I inhaled as soon as I got home because I was starving due to having missed lunch, which itself was a result of being invited (instructed) to have cake with my 10th form.

Then of course it was concert time. No Ukrainian holiday is complete without a concert. This involved multiple dance routines, multiple poems recited by memory by kids of all ages, speechifying by our miniscule contingent of male colleagues, and songs – including one by a 10th grader during which all I could do was stare at her 6-inch heels, grip the edge of my seat with white-knuckled, sweaty hands, and pray that her shaky legs and tiny ankles didn’t give out (p.s. she made it). Throughout all of this, a handful of older boys scurried around like ballboys at Wimbledon, ensuring that all of the performers, speechmakers and poetry-reciters had microphones at precisely the right moment. Occasionally the well-choreographed show was punctuated by an exasperated almost shout of “Vannya, get her a microphone!” when one of the microphone ballboys missed a cue. In Ukraine, appearance is of the utmost importance, and God forbid, that the audience at a school concert would have to wait for a moment for the microphone situation to get sorted out.

Some photos:

Yulia and Yulia, two of my students, singing.

Yulia and Yulia, two of my students, singing.

little kids' song & dance number -- my friend Natasha's daughter Katya is on the left with the microphone

little kids’ song & dance number — my friend Natasha’s daughter Katya is on the left with the microphone

All the male faculty that they could round up... that's my director looking over his shoulder to confirm back-up provided by the little guys on stage

All the male faculty that they could round up… that’s my director looking over his shoulder to confirm back-up provided by the little guys on stage

Little kids waltzing

Little kids waltzing

Vika, my friend Lena's daughter, reciting a poem with other 2nd-grade girls

Vika, my friend Lena’s daughter, reciting a poem with other 2nd-grade girls

And a little video (if you’re reading this in email, you may have to actually go to the blog to view)

Also, since they seem to be a hit, here’s a special holiday edition “In others’ words” — (apparently my school is the only one in Ukraine where alcohol is not consumed on holidays)

  • In hopes to create a lesson plan based around influential and awesome women from Ukraine for Women’s Day I typed “amazing women from Ukraine” and the first website to pop up is a mail-order bride website.
  • My hostmom says “You are dressed like an proper Englishman today! This is for the women, yes? [pic of male PCV in shirt, sweater vest, lavender tie, and corduroy jacket.] I call this one “English Spring.” “English Rain” is the same, but with a green tie.
    –  [female volunteer comment] my outfit for women’s day is called “shortest miniskirt i own that i could never wear in america”
  • Oh. My. God. My teachers can drink 5th year senior frat boys under the table. It was so much fun but, I can’t imagine going to this concert today and performing 2 songs. UUUUGGGGGGHHHHHH
  • How have I lived this long without the knowledge that school concerts are infinitely more enjoyable with a heavy buzz? Integration: better late than never. Happy Women’s Day!
  • Women’s Day celebration at school= every teacher asking me how hungover I was, flowers, chocolates, cards, broken English congratulations on being a lady, singing 2 songs, giving a speech in Ukrainian and making plans to go walking and hang out with a teacher’s daughter.
  • Champagne was drunk, toasts were made to happiness and sunshine, happy birthday was sung to me in English, I was forced to dress another teacher blindfolded, and I was asked for the 10th time to take everyone back to America with me. Women’s Day is the best holiday.
  • Got called up on stage to be the ‘pretty lady’ in a magic show, received a record 14 boxes of chocolates, took 7 shots of cognac in the library between the bookshelves with my co-workers, was force fed cake by my director, and had two teachers almost cry and ask how they are going to live without me at school… Oh Women’s Day, I love you so.

What I Love About Ukraine

I feel like I’ve been a bit of a “Debbie downer” about Ukraine with a lot of negative posts on the blog lately.  Some of the time, I really want people to understand that while Ukraine is far from the kind of third world country that’s part of the stereotypical Peace Corps image (you know, the volunteer in tevas and a t-shirt surrounded by adoring African children who have their English lesson sitting on the floor of a hut… or something like that), there’s a lot of messed up stuff that goes on here.  Other times, maybe, it’s just easier to complain than to praise.

So anyway, I thought I’d post a list of more positive stuff about my experience here.

  • I love Ukrainian hospitality and generosity. It’s truly unmatched. If you are invited to someone’s house for dinner, you will undoubtedly be served at least ten different dishes and will eat more than you would have thought possible. Plus, you will be sent home with more food… maybe even more than just leftovers. If you compliment some item at your host’s house, they may give it to you. (Really, this happened to me, and that’s further supported by what I’ve read in lists of cultural tips.)
  • I love borshch (Ukrainian beet soup), fried pies (like mashed potatoes inside fried dough… how can a carb-lover go wrong?), and varenyky (dumplings).
  • I like that if you’re patient enough (admittedly, “patient enough” sometimes means 36-hours-patient), you can get just about anywhere in Ukraine using public transportation.
  • Also, you can get on or off buses just about anywhere along the route that’s convenient for you if you ask the driver.
  • I admire the way Ukrainians carefully evaluate the quality of any item before buying it, and then take excellent care of what they own.
  • I think it’s great that Ukrainian homeroom teachers remain with the same group of kids from 5th grade until the kids graduate, so they really know the kids, their learning styles, and families well.
  • I also think it’s great that Ukrainian schoolchildren take turns sweeping and mopping their classrooms at the end of each day of classes. I think (hope) it helps them develop a sense of responsibility and ownership. Last week I walked into my counterpart’s room to find her 9th-grade boys with wrenches and screws in hand, fixing the wooden chairs.  One of my PCV friends who works in a village has told me that her kids have to help plant and harvest potatoes that the school then sells to earn money.
  • I love the sunflower fields in summer.
  • I love the care with which the babushkas feed and look after the stray cats, and that my kids will sometimes collect uneaten food from the cafeteria to give to the stray dogs.
  • I love that just about every female in the country (or so it seems) can sing and dance wonderfully. (And I’m horribly embarrassed that I absolutely cannot.)
  • I think it’s an amazing feat that my fellow English teachers speak English nearly perfectly despite the fact that almost all of them have never left Ukraine.
  • I deeply respect the way Ukrainians are quick to remember what’s most important in life: family and health.
  • I love the availability of really local and really fresh produce (especially in the summer, when it’s also really cheap), and that in Ukraine, pretty much everyone who owns their home has a garden – often with grapes, cherries, apples and apricots as well as vegetables – and that Ukrainians conserve everything to have homegrown food all year long. (And of course, they share with me because they’re so generous, which is usually a good thing, except that I’m not a huge fan of pickles, and I have no idea how I will possibly finish off 6 jars of jam and 2 of honey in the 3.5 months that I have left in Ukraine).
  • I appreciate the reverence that Ukrainians have for churches and all things related.
  • I admire the resiliency of Ukrainians.  I love their self-sufficiency and inventiveness.
  • I love the colorful, quaint little houses that one finds in villages on the outskirts of town. Inevitably, they are immaculate inside.
  • I like that I can wear the same clothes two or three times in a row and it’s completely normal. It certainly takes some of the hassle out of getting ready in the morning.
  • I love the culture of ice cream and picnics in the summer. It’s wonderful.
  • Kindergarten boys in three-piece suits are suuuuper cute. And I get to see them every day.
  • I don’t know Ukrainian winter footwear hasn’t caught on in the states. It’s simply brilliant. They take normal styles (Ok, I don’t think 4-in heels should ever be “normal” in winter, but otherwise…), line the inside with warm, fuzzy fur, and add a bit of traction (sometimes) to the bottom. So I’ve been wearing nice riding boots (flat, of course, to represent American practicality with pride) all winter. They look great with jeans and my feet have never been cold. Really – even when my gloved fingers start to go numb, my toes are still toasty. The same for men – nice-looking dress and/or casual shoes that are as warm as clunky Sorels.
  • Trains and busses are amazingly on time. In fact, given Ukraine’s bad winter weather, awful roads and the simple fact that so many other things in the country are disorganized or treat plans as a formality, the consistency and accuracy of the transportation schedules is pretty amazing. Despite the previous post’s complaint about the 8-hour trip to cover less than 200 miles and despite those 200 miles being riddled with potholes craters, the bus left on time, hit every stop on time, and actually arrived a few minutes ahead of the schedule.
  • I’ve become a true believer of the everything-is-better-with-sour-cream theory

Ukraine Keeps Racking up the Rankings

… the not so good ones that is.

Ukraine was recently ranked among the 10 worst countries (out of 144) for road quality.  This helps explain why a 308 km/191 mile trip I took back in October took 8 hours by bus. It also explains why some days it seems (to someone lucky enough to come from a country with better roads) that maybe everyone on the road is drunk.

Europe (left) vs. Ukraine -- Green is sober, red is drunk.

Europe (left) vs. Ukraine — Green is sober, red is drunk.

And now for the big accolade… drumroll please… Ukraine has been named the world’s number one copyright pirate in the world.

This second one helps explain why it’s really, really hard to convince my kids that cheating and plagiarizing are bad, and that lying about it to the teacher’s face is even worse. Shortly after I arrived in Ukraine, my friend Yulia discovered that I ran a – gasp! – licensed copy of Windows on my computer. And Microsoft Office. Double gasp! For a while after that, when I met people I was introduced as “Catharine, from America. She’s a volunteer teacher. And she has a licensed copy of Windows.”

What I think this article does a good job of conveying, though, is that most Ukrainians just don’t really get what the fuss is about. And, they don’t really care. A couple excerpts:

Ukrainian society, poor and with short traditions of copyright protection, has little sympathy for the US concerns.

When in January 2012 the authorities tried to shut down ex.ua, the country’s main file-sharing website, numerous government websites, including those of the central bank and the state security services, were shut down through distributed denial of service attacks. Public pressure finally prevailed, with police officials allowing ex.ua to continue operating and later closing a criminal case against its owners.

Volodymyr Polishchuk, the Interior Ministry’s spokesman, acknowledged that police are also at fault as almost half of the software on their computers is illegal.

And:

But any punishment would be useless in a society that knows little about persecution for piracy, lacks available alternatives to pirated copies and fails even to understand why this is wrong.

In a country where people have been – excuse my language – screwed over by the authorities and those with power and money for so long, and still are consistently, it’s hard to make a case for not screwing them over in return whenever one feels like it.

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In Others’ Words #4

Enjoy!

  • I wonder if there’s a color code/rank system for these babushka’s and their headscarves. I bet bright orange means they’ve killed a man.
  • I asked my Russian tutor if there are any puns in the Russian language. She said that people rarely “play with the Russian language, it is a serious language.” A few days later I told a group of students to “blow me.” (during a lesson on Valentine’s Day) Practically every Russian word is only a mis-stressed syllable or vowel sound away from being a sexual word or a normal word with a sexual connotation. I screw up unknowingly so often that I must be the Tobias Funke of Northern Ukraine. Serious language, riiiggghhht.
  • Ukraine – Fix your educational system. It is a hot f%@ing mess.
  • i don’t have the heart to tell my ukrainian students that ice cube, green day, and nickelback are no longer popular musical artists in america.
    on the other hand, i have no problem secretly rejoicing in the fact that i’m cooler than my 7th graders.
  • At my school, between lessons there is always a teacher on duty to prevent kids from smoking. Today, it was Vova. Vova told me that he lets the kids smoke because he doesn’t think smoking is a big deal, because the body needs nicotine. I told him I disagreed and I think that smoking is unhealthy. He told me it’s only unhealthy if you smoke more than 4 cigarettes a day. He followed this up with, “this is only my opinion, but it is the opinion of all mankind.”
  • Looks like it’s a potatoes with a side of potatoes sort of evening dinner.
  • It must be spring time soon- there are 40 baby chicks now living in my bathroom.
  • Dr.’s follow up appointment:
    “Doc, what should I do and what shouldn’t I do to heal faster??”
    “No heavy lifting. Limited movements based on how you feel. Thorough cleansing. Take antibiotics. And mix one part water with one part vodka every night.”
    “Doc, I’m not going to do that last part.”
    “Why not?”
    “I’m just not.”
  • I drew a plane with big round wings ascending into clouds today to explain the English phrase,”up in the air.” When I drew the little window at the tip of the plane my students started laughing hysterically at my drawing. It turns out that I drew a giant erect PENIS with accompanying balls and peehole. Take a moment and picture the drawing for your self. It was by far my worst English lesson to date……….
  • Rockabilly shows attended in the US: 0. Rockabilly shows attended in Ukraine: 2. Incredibly bizarre to be in the midst of American culture from 60 years ago as envisioned by Ukrainians. Music videos of teenagers dancing in abandoned Soviet buildings wearing cat eye sunglasses playing during the break.
  • Today I learned that while you’re getting your hair cut (in the salon, in the hotel, where my NGO is located) you can buy leather jackets, leather pants, sunflower oil and cosmetics. Those go together, right?
    – comment: yep, kind of like buying your laundry detergent and toilet paper at the post office
  • Ah, the perils of using interns to translate documents. My organization’s latest report came back from the kids with the title “Tender Darkness in Ukraine.”
    It is a literal translation, and has to do with our lack of an adjective for “government tender” in English.

 

I wonder if there’s a color code/rank system for these babushka’s and their headscarves. I bet bright orange means they’ve killed a man.
I asked my Russian tutor if there are any puns in the Russian language. She said that people rarely “play with the Russian language, it is a serious language.” A few days later I told a group of students to “blow me.” (during a lesson on Valentine’s Day) Practically every Russian word is only a mis-stressed syllable or vowel sound away from being a sexual word or a normal word with a sexual connotation. I screw up unknowingly so often that I must be the Tobias Funke of Northern Ukraine. Serious language, riiiggghhht.
Ukraine – Fix your educational system. It is a hot f%@ing mess.
i don’t have the heart to tell my ukrainian students that ice cube, green day, and nickelback are no longer popular musical artists in america.
on the other hand, i have no problem secretly rejoicing in the fact that i’m cooler than my 7th graders.
At my school, between lessons there is always a teacher on duty to prevent kids from smoking. Today, it was Vova. Vova told me that he lets the kids smoke because he doesn’t think smoking is a big deal, because the body needs nicotine. I told him I disagreed and I think that smoking is unhealthy. He told me it’s only unhealthy if you smoke more than 4 cigarettes a day. He followed this up with, “this is only my opinion, but it is the opinion of all mankind.”
Looks like it’s a potatoes with a side of potatoes sort of evening dinner.
It must be spring time soon- there are 40 baby chicks now living in my bathroom.
Dr.’s follow up appointment:
“Doc, what should I do and what shouldn’t I do to heal faster??”
“No heavy lifting. Limited movements based on how you feel. Thorough cleansing. Take antibiotics. And mix one part water with one part vodka every night.”
“Doc, I’m not going to do that last part.”
“Why not?”
“I’m just not.”
I drew a plane with big round wings ascending into clouds today to explain the English phrase,”up in the air.” When I drew the little window at the tip of the plane my students started laughing hysterically at my drawing. It turns out that I drew a giant erect PENIS with accompanying balls and peehole. Take a moment and picture the drawing for your self. It was by far my worst English lesson to date……….
 
Rockabilly shows attended in the US: 0. Rockabilly shows attended in Ukraine: 2. Incredibly bizarre to be in the midst of American culture from 60 years ago as envisioned by Ukrainians. Music videos of teenagers dancing in abandoned Soviet buildings wearing cat eye sunglasses playing during the break.

Today I learned that while you’re getting your hair cut (in the salon, in the hotel, where my NGO is located) you can buy leather jackets, leather pants, sunflower oil and cosmetics. Those go together, right?
comment: y
ep, kind of like buying your laundry detergent and toilet paper at the post office
Ah, the perils of using interns to translate documents. My organization’s latest report came back from the kids with the title “Tender Darkness in Ukraine.”
It is a literal translation, and has to do with our lack of an adjective for “government tender” in English.

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Just a Normal Week

Sometimes I feel like there are so many random, kind-of-crazy things – little and big – that take up my energy here, that I couldn’t possibly sum up everything in a nice way for the blog. I often feel like it’s hard to explain what I do, and I also feel overwhelmed myself by what seems like a lot of pretty different things to juggle. So, I thought I’d give you a taste of some of the slightly out-there things, that are, for me, not really that surprising or out-of-the ordinary anymore. Here a recap of the past week, which was pretty par for the course.

 Monday
- I didn’t eat breakfast because I knew that I had the 2nd period free and I could go to the cafeteria for coffee and a pastry. Went there during 2nd period, but was waved away by the woman who works in the room for teachers. (There’s no microwave or mini-kitchen or anything like that in the teachers’ room, so I love that my school has a separate room for teachers in the cafeteria.) The teacher whom I work with in the 3rd period had been out sick for two weeks, but still wanted me to take half of her first class back with her 7th-graders so she could go to the school nurse (still sick), so I went to the cafeteria again during the half of 3rd period I wasn’t working. Again, they told me they weren’t serving food. Finally after the 4th period, I went back and figured out that the cafeteria was now serving food only during the breaks between classes (in the past, teachers could eat during free periods). With 100+ teachers trying to eat in 10 or 15 minutes and only one person (previously had been two) trying to take orders, serve, calculate the bill for each person and make change, the result was inevitable chaos. Dear Ukraine, next time please feel free to warn me of major changes in the cafeteria before I decide to skip breakfast. My rumbling stomach interferes with my students’ ability to learn.

- My Director returned from his health leave, worked the day, and was fired around 3:00. (Remember, they tried to fire him right before New Year’s, but he was warned and ran off to the hospital, because in Ukraine, it’s impossible to fire someone who’s on health leave… and because in Ukraine, logically, if you’re about to be fired you should go on health leave.)

- A new director was announced by the city officials at the faculty meeting

- Received a package of donated books for my school.

- Bought a printer for my school with some of our last remaining grant money and carried it a third of a mile back to school. And we’re not talking a dinky little thing….we’re talking a 4-in-1 home office printer/scanner/copier/fax.

- Talked to my sitemate around 10:00 pm and was asked to teach an open lesson with her the next day at a different school (not hers) as part of English week. Topic? Don’t know. Age? Don’t know. Grade? Don’t know.

- Prepared for all my classes anyway since I wasn’t sure I’d be allowed to go.

Tuesday
- Visited the other school with my sitemate… first order of business, of course… tea and food! Taught an open lesson with very little preparation to a group of kids in grades 8 through 11. Not pretty, but survived. Received a beadwork flower for my trouble to help me remember the school.

- The city cancelled the order to fire the director, and he returned to work.

- Taught art history in German to 20 7th-graders…the color wheel, complimentary colors and how to describe pictures.

- Interrupted myself speaking in German to yell at a couple boys in Ukrainian (a first for me, I think).

- On my way to teach my next German class – Post-impressionism with my 10th-graders – I found the teacher I work with and asked for the key. She responded with a puzzled look, so I asked if she was planning to teach that day. (We alternate week by week, but she taught last week, so logically it was my week.) Yes, she said, she needed to take the class that day to prepare for some contest. Dear Ukraine, again, next time more than 5 minutes’ warning would be nice before I spend hours preparing for a class I won’t have.

- I’d also prepared to teach about the Harlem Renaissance in my American Art History class, but ended up just giving the materials to the teacher I work with because I was at the other school.

- Wrote a cover letter and sent out my first job application (for an English teaching job) of this new round of job searching

- Bought train tickets for closing my grant in two weeks.

 

Wednesday
- Double period literature class on O. Henry

- Researched possibility of hosting a training on human trafficking at the school. Ukraine is a source, transit, and destination country, and it’s a pretty big problem. In fact in countries like Turkey and Greece, prostitutes are commonly known as “Natashas” because so many of them are Ukrainian. I doubt we’ll set up the training.

 

Thursday
- Lesson in German with 11th-graders on the Nazis’ use of art as propaganda and discussion about state control of the Arts. The kids debated actively. They got the moral issues. A small victory.

- Lesson in German with 8th-graders on Gothic architecture. Seriously. They can’t say much, but they understood enough to be jaw-droppingly impressed by the architectural advancements and how quickly cathedrals were built without any semblance of modern technology.

- Lesson on job interviews in English for my 10th-graders

- Got some sweet valentines from kids

- Taught two groups of 8th-graders at the same time. I teach 3 groups of about 10-12 each, and each has a different regular English teacher. One was out sick, and it was my normally scheduled time to work with one of the other teacher’s groups. So there were two Ukrainian English teachers and me. What happened? One Ukrainian teacher taught one group, I taught two groups, and the third Ukrainian teacher graded papers in the teachers’ room. Dear Ukraine, sometimes your “logic” seems very illogical to me.

- Had a conversation with two of my favorite 9th-graders in a combination of Ukrainian, German, Russian and English, with a single Spanish word thrown in for good measure – in which I taught them the meaning of “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket” in response to their insistence that I really could sing if I tried.

 

Friday
- Taught class on the three branches of government, checks and balances, comparison of American and Ukrainian systems of Government (sometimes I just nod and say “Good!” when the kid sounds confident and I have no idea if they’re right or wrong) and the American education system.

- Shocked (horrified?) their prejudiced, closed little minds (Ok, yeah, that makes me a hypocrite for generalizing them all as prejudiced, but the majority are certainly far less sensitive to differences than Americans) by highlighting the diversity of our current congress: 6 openly gay members, 1 bisexual, 2 female combat vets, 45 jews, 2 buddhist, 2 muslims, 1 hindu, 43 African-Americans, 32 Latinos, 30 Asian-Americans, four Arab-Americans; white men no longer the majority among house dems, etc.

- Lesson with one of my favorite groups of kids – super enthusiastic and cute 7th graders who also happen to love me – on present simple and present continuous. When I made them “teach” the grammar rules to each other, one girl’s response was “Oh, I love it when we do games with you!”… I didn’t tell her that it wasn’t actually a game, but it was nice she thought so. Had fun showing them postcards from different places, figuring out what time it was there at that moment (8:30 pm in Sydney, 7:30 am in Rio de Janeiro) and asking “what are people there doing right now?”

- Helped a kid prepare for a debate competition in German on the topic of video surveillance in schools

- Talked to a vice principal I’d never spoken to before (besides ‘hello’) about getting a mini-grant for art materials.

- Finally got a bit of recognition for the work I’ve done creating websites for my art courses.

 

Saturday
- Woke up to no water and no Internet

- Caught a bus at 5:45 to go judge the regional English Olympiad competition

- One girl, responding to a speaking prompt about what to tell a friend who wants to drop out of school, described how, in her town, some pupils have dropped out of school and – despite the fact that it’s illegal – get away with it because their parents pay off the police.

- Had the following conversation at the Olympiad: Another American and I: “It’s unfair that we introduced a 2-minute time limit on the speaking part after half of the kids completed their speaking without a time limit.” Ukrainian judging with us: “But we should have a time limit. It’s good.” Americans: “Ok, but it’s unfair to start halfway through the group of kids.”  Ukrainian: “But you know, it’s unfair that one girl has a British mother so her English is better.” ….uhhhh…. Ships. Passing. In. The. Night. Dear Ukraine, please refer to above memo about logic.

- Driver of the bus (with all the kids from Oleksandriya schools) smokes while driving.

- Organized (sort of) a seminar for teachers at my school with a volunteer who trains English teachers.

- Went to bed at 9, exhausted.

 

Sunday
- Slept till 10 (13 hrs). yay!

- Haven’t done anything else productive

 

Sunday – What’s on the to-do list
- Bake something yummy for the teacher who gave me homemade juice and jam on Thursday.

- Post this on the blog

- Update the Euroclub blog (in Ukrainian)

- Prepare a presentation on my project and Human Rights education to give at a meeting of the new PC Law and Justice Working Group next weekend in Kyiv

- laundry (by hand, naturally)

- try to get ahead on next week’s prep-heavy lessons (highly unlikely that this will actually happen)

- work on the completion report for my grant

 

Teaching sports… but with only chalk and a blackboard

First off, I owe a huge THANKS and ДЯКУЮ to everyone for checking out the website for my school’s Euroclub. The kids were really psyched to learn that so many people had visited and that some had even commented. Getting/keeping them motivated is still a challenge, but I appreciate your support!

Now, sports fans, a request from a friend that I wanted to pass along. Can you imagine learning how to play tennis or badminton… but never actually picking up a racquet? Unfortunately, sometimes the only equipment a gym teacher has here in Ukraine is chalk and a chalkboard. My good friend Jenny is trying to help combat this challenge at her school and needs help.

Girls weekend in Eastern Ukraine two weeks ago for Jenny's (second from left) birthday.

Girls weekend in Eastern Ukraine two weeks ago for Jenny’s (second from left) birthday.

Please watch this video for a better idea of Jenny’s project (plus, it’s simply a great video):

A bit of background and a disclaimer… There are a couple different types of grants that volunteers can apply for. One type – the kind I did – is for civic society/civic participation projects. A second type is for HIV/AIDS related projects. The money for both of these comes from the government. The third type can be for any kind of project (which is good)… BUT, volunteers have to raise the money themselves from family, friends, alumni organizations, rotary clubs, etc. back home.

Personally, I hate that type of thing (who does like asking for money?), so I didn’t even tell my school there was such an opportunity. However, a lot of volunteers go the third route, simply because what their schools/organizations need can’t be covered by either of the first options. As you might have guessed, Jenny’s project is this third kind.

So, as much as I hate asking for money, I also hate not even trying to help a good friend in need, so I thought I could at least offer free advertising. Also, those who know me well that sports have been, are, and likely will always be an important part of my life, and that I’m a firm believer in the value of sports for character development.  Jenny’s project is still looking for a lot of help with funding.  She’s an awesome volunteer (the video should be evidence of that), works with some really dedicated Ukrainians, and there’s a legitimate need at her school.

And here’s the official description from the Peace Corps website:

According to the United Nations Sport for Development and Peace, “sport and play are human rights that must be respected and enforced worldwide…” and “has a unique power to attract, mobilize and inspire.” Sports are a huge part of life here in Ukraine. During sport lessons at school, children are taught about a variety of sports such as badminton, table tennis, basketball and volleyball however, only in theory. They do not have the resources necessary to actually learn and practice the sport.

The current facilities at our school in Gorlovka are outdated and honestly, somewhat dangerous. The football field is scattered with glass and large rocks. Every year, more and more students are taken out of sport lessons because of injuries that could be prevented with safer equipment. With this project, we are attempting to improve the current state of sport facilities at our school which will create a safer environment and help students develop the skills needed to be active and competitive participants. The money raised from this grant will provide students with proper sports equipment while ensuring variety of athletics and after school opportunities.

Another goal of this project is to transfer project planning and implementation skills to Ukrainian community members in order for them to take initiative and understand how to solve problems within the communities themselves. The community has been working hard and has come together to provide over 30% of the total project funds themselves through donations, volunteerism and networking.

So, if you’re feeling generous and aren’t in debt from buying flowers and chocolates, you can click the link below.  Or, feel free to share with others if you think it’s a good cause, but can’t help right now. If not, no worries.  I hope it was at least interesting to see what some other volunteers do in terms of projects.

https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=13-343-011

Youth Sports Developmentb2