Jump in and volunteer
Service to your community is a widely accepted American concept. We ask our youth to volunteer and to bring their parents into the classroom to help. We have PTA’s and room mothers, and our churches and community organizations have dedicated partners who enjoy giving service.
This is a way of life for most of us. Now imagine being in a country that has only celebrated independence for twenty years, a post-communist country where volunteering remains a stigmatized activity. This dates back to Soviet times, when people were forced to “volunteer” during “subotnikis” — working to clean or garden on Saturdays. The label “volunteer” is not a coveted one in Ukraine. The Ukrainian people do not understand why we would give up our “easy” lives to come to their country.
They do not understand that by working together we can improve our communities. The concept of volunteering for their own skill development, to meet others, to make contacts for possible employment, and to have fun, is not understood here. Consequently, we are an anomaly. People are kind, but they also shake their heads at the “crazy” Americans and they are perplexed when they visit our country and see the number of volunteers organizations have recruited.
Community service is the goal of our Peace Corps service in Dolyna, Ukraine. We are here to help our community develop a healthy local community and environment while respecting their cultural pride and heritage. My husband and I are not here to teach the “American way” but to teach and share best practices which have been tested and developed in the western world and which could benefit Ukraine. These are concepts that the surrounding EU countries engage in but because of the closed borders, Ukrainians are just discovering. We work for a wonderful mayor who has enabled us to utilize our talents and allowed us to develop a variety of community enhancing projects. We run an English club at the local library for a large youth group, we write grants, and we provide training in volunteerism, fundraising, journalism, networking, teamwork, developing community partnerships and currently, European Union grant management. We provide a glimpse of another world, a world that provides opportunities for its youth and a world that shares the responsibilities of community development with community members.
You might be thinking, “The little bit that I can do will never help much!” or, “What in the world can I do?” If you’ve ever spent ten minutes reading a book to a lonely child, you know that even that small amount of compassion and attention can make a world of difference.
No one person can solve the world’s problems, but what little you do can make your little corner of the world — or one far away from yours — a happier, healthier and safer place to live for those who need your help. Just jump in and volunteer!
Robin Eleazer is a Peace Corps Volunteer currently working in Dolyna, Ukraine.