A U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer cannot be meek or passive. This life just does not work that way.
The job requires persistence, creativity, tenacity and desire. This is especially true when working through a difficult foreign language. I found Ukrainian tough when I started studying before I arrived “in country,” as they say, in March last year.
My new job and assignment is working at an HIV/AIDS Center to help educate people about the virus. Ukraine now has the fastest HIV-positive growth rate in Europe. It is now about 2 percent.
If unchecked, an estimated 20 million Ukrainians are expected to die from its complications in 50 years and the percentage of HIV-positive people is 20 percent to 25 percent. There are about 46 million people living in Ukraine now.
Still not speaking Ukrainian fluently, although it is much better than I ever expected it would be and is improving, does not help. The ability to communicate non-verbally does.
I arrived in my community about 16 months ago. I made acquaintances and friends in my former office building, at the arts center, the Post Office, the grocery store and other places. I attended an HIV seminar with two others from the center. We each got training manual. Mine is in English. Their's is in Russian.
I made photocopies of the HIV/AIDS quiz from their manuals. I then gave blank quizzes to people that I knew. I graded them, corrected their wrong answers and gave each person a piece of candy. Positive reinforcement works with kids and adults.
I copied other information from the Russian manual and handed them out over time. I distributed brochures and taped up posters.
Volunteers from foreign countries can do something unusual, out of the ordinary and take calculated action to get the job done. It’s a freedom we have and can use if we use our creativity and persistence to do it. It is part of what makes being a volunteer fun and challenging.
I’ve wondered if the people I gave the quiz, candy and brochures to thought to themselves “what is this crazy American doing now?” I know they appreciate it. I am certain everyone learned something from it.
It’s satisfying knowing I persevered. This is especially true while working on HIV/AIDS projects because it is a matter of life and death.