Let Students Lead

Last weekend was probably one of the most important weekends of my Peace Corps service. I’ve been talking a lot about the grant I wrote with my school and the ensuing project that came from it. A few weeks ago we ordered and received our textbooks and it was cool to see things start to get off the ground with this.

Quick background, Chezara and I have been actively working on this project since the beginning of the school year. It’s been a huge source of stress and anxiety for me because I really see this project as kind of the legacy of my service. This and the fact that I knew that the things we were looking to do with this project (provide our students with effective technology resources, give them communicative textbooks, arrange training for them to use in the community) are things that incredibly important to my school and my students and I don’t want to make too big of a deal of myself, but it felt like a lot of pressure.

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When we were going through this details of this and trying to fundraise and a long every step of the way, I was also going through a period where I was questioning what exactly my purpose was here in Ukraine and in my sweet little village especially. There was a lot riding on this, in ways that weren’t super healthy for me.

I was able to talk to other Peace Corps Volunteer friends and my ever-patient family as I talked through the project and they offered suggestions and critiques and talked me out of my crazy. I was also lucky enough to have an incredible counterpart who, although we have different learning and working styles, GETS THINGS DONE in ways that I would never have thought about. I also have a community that was very willing to chip in and help when this project got going.

This weekend, students came to a seminar on Saturday and Sunday. I was very impressed to have students show up because it was absolutely beautiful outside and the last thing I wanted to do was spend the whole day inside, but I was excited to have them there.

Two of my friends from nearby towns came to help and I am so grateful for them. It took them 3 hours on a bus followed by 2 hours on a train to get to my village and they were incredibly helpful at keeping me sane all weekend. I also loved being able to share my village with them as well.

Training started with guests from a Chernivtsi organization called Local Government Development Center. This organization works with communities towards the goal of decentralization. Decentralization means moving control from central governments to local ones. LGDC usually does trainings and activities all over Ukraine but usually works with adults, in fact this was one of their first trainings for students and it was a success. They gave presentations on Project Design and Management and Volunteerism. I enjoyed seeing my students engage with these two trainers and think about some of the challenges in our village.

For one of the activities, they had to draw our village. After they added the store, the school, stadium, post office, train station and all of that, they had to take note of where things were good or bad, dangerous, places that made them happy and other categories. I loved seeing the village through their eyes and seeing what things they noticed as challenges to the village.

After that, we took a break for pizza, which is probably one of the bigger reasons that I got kids to come to school on a Saturday. We spent the afternoon playing and unpacking a few team-building games. My students loved one of my dad’s favorites “flip the tarp” one that you’d be familiar with if you went on any Mexico or Cambodia trips with my family. For homework, I asked them to think about a project idea for our village or school then I sent them home and Chuck, Alexandra and I went to my house and spent some time in the sun.

On Sunday, we started with another team building game and then I gave a presentation on leadership skills. Chuck gave a fantastic presentation about giving presentations in his charming mix of Ukrainian and English and we played improv games. My students were SO FUN and SO CREATIVE and it was really cool to see some of the kids that don’t normally talk much in class come out of their shell a little bit.

After that, we talked about their project ideas. They read all of the ideas and voted for the ones that seemed the most realistic. We eventually settled on two projects. I gave them a time-limit of six months and gave them some parameters for writing a project idea.

They needed to include a project title, goals and objectives, action steps that included who, what, when, where and other details. They wrote two fantastic ideas and presented them to each other. While the other group presented, the listening group offered some critiques and they worked through their ideas. We ended up pausing some of the discussion because they were so enthusiastic about their ideas and we needed to make sure we had time to pass out certificates and take a few pictures.

We planned another time to meet and work on their projects a bit more and I am excited to work with these students on these projects. I’ve only got a few months left here in Ukraine and this is one way that I can see the impact of my service extending beyond my time here.

I’d like to say thank you to everyone that contributed toward our project, we could not have done it without you.

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