Monday, February 15, 2010

Some Project Updates

Febrary 7 English Club

PCVS have different ways of integrating into their communities and discovering how they might be helpful. I tend to look at things from the bottom up, so I like working with local organizations serving the community. As you know, the economic crisis in Ukraine has filtered down to these grassroots efforts. Funding has been cut for the library. Local NGOs like Victoria have to struggle to do projects, and rely on a corps of committed volunteers. Their NGO structure is informal. I've thought about ways to address governance and planning issues, but right now the focus is on helping with projects that increase awareness and resources. I've written about these projects in various blogs. Here is an update.

We got the grant! But first, some background. Victoria has been working on helping victims of human and legal rights abuses for a few years. It has assembled a remarkable group of victims and witnesses who are not afraid to tell their stories to public officials, city and oblast officials, elected leaders, village militia and local police. Victoria has also worked to increase awareness among the media, journalists and the general public, no easy task. I've been working with Vera Flyat, the director and my counterpart, to write a Small Project Assistance grant to the Peace Corps to support creation of a Community Resource Center where victims can get help and citizens can research and find out about their legal rights. It was a difficult process mainly because of the language barrier. We missed the first deadline because of it, then submitted again. Thank goodness for the translation services of Natalia Dohadailo.

The good news: The grant was just funded for $4,000! Victoria will now be able to create a Resource Center equipped with computers, a color printer, a projector and screen; create a "Know Your Rights!" booklet and information packages, plus a powerpoint presentation based on these resources for training and public programs; develop a resources library; provide some legal counsel; provide training for volunteers (an important aspect of sustainability); and hold two public forums. It will be a busy and fruitful spring for Victoria.

ENGLISH CLUB and English Language Book Collection
We are in the 2nd year of the English CLub and interest remains high. Attendance continues to range from 6 to 16, with our super core group attending every week and serving as the foundation of the club. Some members attend as often as they can, and we also have new members every week of all ages and proficiency levels. This is a challenge, but it is a good challenge, and we have a variety of games, topics and discussions to accomodate everyone as best we can. This month the theme is "LOVE," and in addition to having fun and creating valentine cards, we increased our vocabulary by 20 words with the game "Love is....." Love is honest, sweet, unconditional, safe, trusting, hearts and flowers, giving, kind, etc. Very romantic!

The Library has received much recognition for hosting the Club. Helping the library increase its visibility and outreach is a major goal. I enjoy Mr. Romashy, who is director of Starobilsk TV, and I let him know about all the good things the Library is doing to reach out into the community.

Part of the English Club's effort is to begin an English-language collection at the Library. We know several boxes of books are on the way and we are awaiting arrival of the first books. I look foward to using the books as the basis for reading and discussing together.

Starobilsk Heritage Project Reborn
Part of the Starobilsk Heritage idea has found a home at the Library. I thought it was DOA. It floated for a while (see 7 December blog). But it now has wings.

It has become part of the Library's Internet Center project: a way to reach out to the community, advertise the Bibliomist project, spread the word about the coming of free internet access, celebrate Starobilsk's architecture and, perhaps, raise a few hrvnias.

How? The Library is going to create a 2011 CALENDAR. The calendar will feature a photograph of a different Starobilsk building for each month, by professional photographer Mikhail, plus a poem by Anton. 12 beautiful photographs of Starobilsk's historic buildings. Poems by a local author. A showcase for Starobilsk's creativity and talent!

Iryna Andreenov, the library's director, is pulling it together. She and Anton are looking for a cost-effective printer in Lugansk. Start up costs are the big factor now. It will be about 2500-3000 UAH to print 200 copies, more if notecards are printed (using the calendar photos). I am going to present an idea to get business sponsors for the calender, but I've been waiting for a good time to present yet another idea!

The calendar is a first for Starobilsk. It is a first for the Library. It is a first for marketing a product to increase awareness of Starobilsk heritage while raising resources for a larger project of value to the entire community.

Tap into a community's assets, find its strengths, go beyond it's problems, and you will uncover a treasure trove of talent and creativity, leadership and commitment. A new Internet Center is being born for Starobilsk. The Heritage calendar is now part of it. There's still a long way to go, and several issues to address, but now the idea has wings.

I think the most important thing I do as a PCV here in Starobilsk, however, is make connections between people. I am always meeting people and introducing them to one another. These are more intangible but equally important aspects of my work, I would say. It's the Amerikanka meeting and greeting and connecting people along the way. I'm new, a fresh face, and a curiosity, and it all adds up to a fascinating convergencce of people, place and time in this wonderful community in far-eastern Ukraine. Connecting the global village on a people to people level is what the Peace Corps is all about.

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