Saturday, October 24, 2009

Peace Corps Headquarters

It's a bustling place, 24/7. I never realized it. PCVs come from all over Ukraine at all times of the day and night. They come for doctors visits, medications, routine check-ups, shots. They stop here when they are traveling around the country or abroad. It's only a few blocks from the Voksal, the train station, and not far from the airport. Almost all international flights leave from Kiev.

They come for required visits, meetings, workshops and seminars. The working groups of Peace Corps UA meet here--grant review committees, the environmental group, the gender group, the gay and lesbian group, the IT group, the "Give me your Best Shot" committee (we send photos and they pick 12 for an annual PC calender, for sale).

Kiev, the beautiful capital, is the hub of the country, and it is also the hub of all PC activity. I have been here since 21 October and have met at least 40 PCVs. That part's been great. Jason made it here from his little town in Crimea, in a cast, and has already left. He fell over his bike going down a mountain, admiring the view. His break is near his wrist, and he's mending fast.

I've met several PCVs I had communicated with when I learned I was accepted into the Peace Corps, like Ken Mattingly (KY) and Chuck McConnell (TX), and now I've seen them in person. A real treat. I've greeted friends from group 36, whom I haven't seen since we took off for our sites on June 19. A nice chance to compare notes about our work, our challenges, our successes. I was especially happy to see John Guy Laplante, at 80 the oldest PCV in Ukraine. He's been in Chernigov for 2 years andwill be going home to Connecticut soon, a real trooper!

Many PCVs, like John, are at COS, Close of Service. It's their last three months in Ukraine and they are in Kiev for COS conference, final medical exams, reports and debriefs. Lots of paperwork, one couple said. These PCVs have served for over 2 years, learned a lot, grown and changed, and now they are excited to be going home. Erica, a young woman who served in Dnipropetrovsk, said "my world has been completely opened." A few are extending their service, staying here in Ukraine or going to another site.

Many younger PCVs are taking the GRE and LSAT tests and hope to go to graduate school or law school. Lindsay wants to go to Columbia Law School and work in international human rights law. Her experience in an orphanage in Jankoye, where they kick kids out on their 16th birthday, is one motivator. "It's our worst birthday," one child told her. This young girl has to go back to her drug addicted mother, who also abused her, or live on the streets, which many do. Lindsay is heartbroken about this situation.

Carey will get his PhD in international business development. Laura is extending for a year and will then go to nursing school; she wants to work for a group like Doctors Without Borders. Ken is applying for the Foreign Service. Amy is applying for jobs with international companies, hoping to use her Russian language skills. Andi wants to continue working for the Peace Corps in an administrative capacity. Evan is going back to Concord, NH, where, we just discovered, he and his family are friends with my cousins, the Kings. Small world. Evan is thinking about teaching English in South Korea. Seth will study environmental education in Minnesota, then teach around the world.

In his timeless song, John Lennon sings: "Imagine all the people, Living life in peace....You may say I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, And the world will live as one."

These dedicated and thoughtful Americans are making the world a better place. They have a world of experiences under their belts. With John Lennon, they imagine a world united, a world at peace. They imagine they have a part to play.

Peace Corps headquarters: command central for world change and world peace, from the bottom up.

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