After a very intense 10 weeks of training, 53 other volunteers and I were ready to “swear in” as official Peace Corps volunteers. But, first, we attended a 3 day conference in Kiev.
On Monday, the 15th of June, we left our host families in Baryshivka. We were very sad to leave, but excited to begin our lives and work in our new communities. In Kiev, we met up with the other Peace Corps volunteers from Group 36 – the 36th group of volunteers in Ukraine. That afternoon, we all found out where we would be living for the next 2 years. Our regional manager, Oleg, told Alex and me that we would live in a small town named Sofiyivka, and that we would be working at the lyceum and school. We were very excited to live in a small town that was located close to some bigger cities like Krivoi Rog and Denipropetrovsk. There are other PC volunteers that live nearby, also, and we were happy to know that we could visit some American friends every now and then.
On Monday and Tuesday, we attended a lot of sessions to teach us how to fill out Peace Corps paper work, how to manage the small amount of money we get every month, how to get involved in working groups with other volunteers, etc. Finally, in the afternoon on the 16th, Alex and I got to meet our Ukrainian partners who we will be working with! Jenya and Olya were both very excited to meet us, too. They were very friendly and told us more about Sofiyivka. On Wednesday evening, we went into downtown Kiev and walked around. It was fun to spend some time hanging out in the big city with them!
On Wednesday, we attended a special training about HIV/AIDS. We learned about the biology of HIV, how it affects the human body, and how it is transmitted. We found out that Ukraine has a very high rate of people with HIV and AIDS. We also talked about some problems that exist in Ukraine because it is a topic that people rarely talk about. A lot of people, especially youth, don’t know much about HIV and how to prevent it. Because of that, more and more people are contracting the virus. Another big problem is that people who do have HIV or AIDS are often discriminated against and treated badly. Jenya and I are both very interested in attending a larger conference in September to learn more about how we can help Sofiyivski Rayon. Hopefully we’ll be able to implement a community project here in Sofiyivka to teach youth about this horrible disease. We can also apply for a grant and receive money to help start some sort of project or program.
Finally, on Thursday, we had our big ceremony and became official PC volunteers! A man from the US Embassy led us in an oath, swearing to work hard and fulfill the goals of PC. Alex and two other volunteers gave a speech in Ukrainian, Russian, and English. Alex spoke in Russian, and he did a great job! I was very proud of him! Some representatives from Ukraine also spoke, as did the Country Director of PC. After the ceremony, they held a banquet for us, and volunteers started leaving for their new cities and villages. We had to say good bye to the many friends we’ve made, but hopefully we’ll be able to visit them or see them at training sessions and conferences.
Thursday night, Jenya, Olya, Alex, and I got on a train from Kiev to Krivoi Rog. It was a little difficult to get on and off the train, because we had a lot of bags! We brought a lot of things from the US, since we will be living here for 2 years, and PC gave us a lot of training books and materials. This was our first long train ride in Ukraine, and it was very comfortable. Jenya and Olya had some good food, so we ate and talked for a couple of hours. I wish the trip had been longer so we could have slept more after that! Early Friday morning, we arrived in Krivoi Rog, then rode to Sofiyivka by car. We were exhausted, but happy to be at our new home!