August proved to be just as busy as June and July were! I left at the end of July for another Peace Corps run English language camp, this one in Nikolaev (near Odessa). It was another really great camp with other Peace Corps volunteers, students will high levels of English, and interesting classes to teach (leadership, international studies etc). I had a fun few weeks before I returned to Rovenky to start my own two-week girls leadership and empowerment camp at my school.
To give you a little background, I decided to use the materials and lesson plans from a popular Peace Corps camp called GLOW – Girls Leading our World. Peace Corps volunteers around the world use these materials and it was designed for young girls to learn about healthy lifestyles, self-esteem, confidence building, leadership, and HIV/AIDS. My school and I started working almost a year ago to write a grant to fund this camp, in addition to the renovation/creation of a historical center in our school. My school was an important hospital during World War II and they had many artifacts but no location to preserve or commemorate them. We were able to write a combined grant that would provide funding for the historical center and this camp. We intended for the campers to be involved in the creation of the historical center, which would allow them the opportunity to become leaders in their community by providing them firsthand experience in planning a community project. Due to the long grant process, it was about 9 months of writing and re-writing before we officially were approved and received funding in June. At that point, I left Rovenky for two months travelling, working at other camps, visiting friends etc. I came back excited and eager to start spending our grant money and getting our GLOW camp going.
For many reasons, the project did not go as planned. I came back to school to find that my principal decided to go ahead and finish the historical center without me or my students. And even though I knew this wasn’t the end of the world, it still frustrated me that she ignored the plans we had made and took the project out of the hands of my students. I later learned that this wouldn’t matter much since only six students (out of the twenty who signed up) showed up for camp each day. I planned to have four lessons a day with twenty students who were going to be excited and ready to go. Instead, I had six students who preferred to play Uno. After a few days of struggling and frustration, I decided to redo completely the day-to-day schedule of camp. The original camp schedule included four hours of lessons, one hour of historical center work and preparation, and one hour of team building activities. And the modified schedule included two hours of Frisbee, one hour of lessons, one hour of watching an American movie and discussing, and one hour of Uno.
I had such high hopes for this camp and it about broke my heart to accept that I basically wrote a grant for a Frisbee/Uno club. Adapting to the surroundings and letting go of expectations has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn. Unfortunately, whenever things would go poorly during the school year, I kept telling myself not to worry because I knew that I had my awesome GLOW camp in August to look forward to. Even if I didn’t change lives teaching English, I might have a chance to make a difference during camp. And so when I didn’t get to teach those lessons, when my students didn’t appear to care about the lessons I did teach, or when my school wouldn’t support what we were doing, it really upset me. Because I know I’m leaving Ukraine soon, I catch myself looking for those moments or experiences where I really feel like I was successful, that I made a difference. I want to remember the good times, the successful moments instead of the times that I struggled. And as the time winds down, I can see that as hard as I might try, I will always remember the good and the bad times about Peace Corps and Ukraine. It was unrealistic of me to think that two weeks of a girls leadership camp would erase any negative times that I’ve had.
On a more positive note, I know my official date that I’ll be returning to Atlanta – November 16! It’s hard to believe it’s finally here. Some days, it feels like I’ve been here for years and other days, it feels like I just got here. Today was the official first day of school, and it was sad knowing that I won’t finish this school year with my students. As my students greeted me with flowers and hugs, I was overcome with all these emotions. It’s hard to express but I feel equally sad, happy, nervous, and excited about leaving Ukraine and returning home. But whether I’m ready or not, November will be here before I know it, so Mom and Dad, get the sweetwater and spicy foods ready!