Robert Hite is a former reporter for The Examiner. He is on his second tour duty with the Peace Corps, serving in Ukraine.
I hear that all day long. I’ve been in the U.S. Peace Corps in Ukraine slightly more than one year.
I have gotten to know my community and they have gotten to know me. Many people speak some English, although not fluent. That’s why they greet me with good morning sometimes at 9 p.m.
Communication remains a problem. My Ukrainian speaking skills have improved. In the beginning, I only knew a few words and used them all. Now I know enough words to use the wrong one that sounds similar to the right one or say “left” when I might “right” or “when” when I mean “where.” It’s like I know enough to be dangerous. Sometimes I am, but it’s probably more of a danger to myself than other people.
Even so, I am making progrss with my volunteer responsibilities. I am working with a local college’s administrators, teachers and students to start a community service club. We have painted public railings and are developing ideas for other projects. I am helping at a recently opened HIV/AIDS Center to educate the public about the virus, how it is and is not spread. Three of us attended a Peace Corps-sponsored HIV/AIDS seminar in April. It was divided into five sections:
1 The biology of HIV including the immune system, the HIV lifecycle and health maintenance.
2 Transmission: individual and biological risk factors and HIV prevention.
3 Behavior change: theory and HIV/AIDS, the process of change and stratgies to change.
4 Stigma and discrimination.
5 Introduction to designing and managing an educational or awareness project.
6 Monitoring, evaluating and reporting the project’s progress.
Ukraine has been indentified as one of the countries with the greatest potential for growth of people living with HIV/AIDS. In 1995, the number of test-positive people was 1,526. In 2003, that number reached 62,365. There were 19 recorded deaths from AIDS-related illnesses in 1995. There were 1,285 in 2003.
My limited language skills makes teaching and educating people about the virus difficult. I use interpreters. I hand out HIV/AIDS pamphlets in Ukrainian and Russian to people with whom I am acquainted. I talk to people in English about it when I can.
The importance and seriousness of educating people about HIV/AIDS motivates me to learn the Ukrainian language. It is a matter of life and death.
It is not easy, but then I did not sign up for a 27-month service in the corps because I thought it was going to be.