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The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Wednesday, December 21

Peace Corps: You Can Do It

Friends and family ask, "Well, what was it like in Ukraine?"

I say, "It was a grand adventure...one of the best in my life."
Saying goodbye to Luda who hosted me in her home during training
Maybe I add a story about living in a Soviet style apartment or tell something about one of my projects. Usually that satisfies the questioner unless the person is more curious. On those occasions, I get to share more stories of projects and people and living in Ukraine. I try to stop before eyes glaze over...(chuckle!)

Now many of those stories are captured in a video. Before I left Ukraine, actually my last day, the Peace Corps ask me to share my experiences for future groups of Peace Corps Volunteers.

I had given presentations at two Peace Corps workshops. Labeled "21 Tips for Community Integration" , it was well received.
Yelena, Director of Hearts of Love, meets me during Peace Corps swearing in ceremony , June  2009
Douglas, our Country Director complimented me and liked the refrain I used - "Yes, you can do it too" - and a number of new volunteers told me that they referred to the PowerPoint presentation especially during their first months at site.

So I was pleased, although a little nervous, to make the presentation again and this time into a video camera. I felt that I did okay, but if you ever have done anything like this, you know that as a presenter with only a camera as an audience, you don't really know. The camera gives no feed-back and mostly you're just glad it's over. The Peace Corps staff said they would edit pictures and slides from my PowerPoint Presentation into the video.

I left Ukraine in June of 2011. Since then, I wondered from time to time what became of the video. But I never heard a word until this week.

The staff had been working on the video. A final version has been prepared and is being used with new Peace Corps Volunteers.

Iryna Krupska, who directs training for the Peace Corps in Ukraine, shares in an email:

"It felt like you were here, while we watched the final version of the video. I could feel your kindness and wisdom, your big and loving heart in every word you were saying. I just keep being amazed at how inspiring and instructive your tips are. I’m sure that many generations of PCVs will benefit from them and as a result would be able to better understand Ukraine, have more patience and inspiration and have a more rewarding give and take experience here.

THANK YOU for continuing your service to Ukraine!"

The video has been placed on the web and can be viewed at     http://vimeo.com/33968664

Amazingly, the adventure continues...What a ride!

Wednesday, November 16

Leadership at Home

I admit it.  Sometimes, I get fed up and just turn-off the news.  Can you blame me?

Here is a sample from the past week - Occupy Wall Street protesters evicted from park.  Greece and now Italy face economic catastrophe.  Republican Presidential Candidate, Michele Bachmann, favors waterboarding.   Congressional Special Committee cannot agree on budget and taxes.   The House GOP wants to reclassify pizza as a vegetable.  Penn State coach accused of pedophilia.
 
In Washington DC, I get a constant flow of information.  When I was in Ukraine, I was lucky to get NPR’s All things Considered once a week via the web.   Now I have multiple NPR channels and of course, cable news programing each with its own right or left wing slant.  The news even becomes comedy.  Check out the Daily Show if you haven’t already done so.   

News is unending 24/7 with no brake for holidays.   Maybe that’s why I get to feeling over-satiated,  ill like going back to the Thanksgiving buffet once too many times….ugh!

That’s when I like to escape.  I make a cup of tea and turn on the classical music.  Give me the rhythmic precision of a Bach Goldberg Variation to soothe the inner turmoil and the outer clamor.  It’s lovely, nuanced and predicable. 

Today, I am listening to music.  Sunday’s Washington Post lays sprawled across the floor by my reading chair.  I pick it up and cannot resist thumbing through the articles.  I guess I can’t escape from the world of news for very long. 

As I read the following article, my inner voice says, “This makes sense.” The editorial writer, Steven Pearlstein, creates a counter punctual Variation  from the cacophony of weekly  headlines.  I wonder if the Dems and the GOP can put aside rivalries over the next election and focus on the common good?  Do we have the leadership?  Pearlstein gives some plausible hope.  

Here is the editorial as it appeared in the Washington Post and syndicated around the Country.  Give it a read and let me know how it strikes you.   I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

By Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post
Posted Nov. 13, 2011, at 6:41 a.m.
The global financial system teeters on the edge of collapse because European politicians refused to tell citizens of their crumbling economies that they could no longer guarantee them “la dolce vita” — the sweet life — they had come to expect.
Top executives at Olympus, one of Japan’s leading companies, resign in shame after acknowledging that for nearly 20 years they used a complex accounting scheme to hide billions of dollars in speculative trading losses.
A revered coach and a respected president at Penn State are fired because they were more concerned about protecting their own reputations, and that of their school, than protecting young boys from an alleged sexual predator.
And a former governor, senator and head of Goldman Sachs resigns as chief executive of MF Global after bankrupting the broker-dealer with overleveraged bets on European sovereign bonds.
Welcome to this week’s exciting episode of “Failures in Leadership.”
Leadership is difficult to define but easy to notice when it’s gone missing. Surely any definition of leadership includes the instinct for seeing the big picture, the ability to get people to acknowledge unpleasant reality, and the willingness to take the personal risks necessary to secure the common good. By that definition, the world would appear to be suffering from a profound leadership deficit.
In hindsight, it seems perfectly obvious what should have been done in each of these instances. Everyone knows it’s crazy to play Russian roulette with the nation’s economy or a company, university or industry. Except that they did.
Why?
“At the time, it seemed like we didn’t have a choice,” says the Demi Moore character in “Margin Call,” a new movie about the recent financial crisis, as she recalled her firm’s fateful decision to disregard warnings about a mortgage market crash.
“It always does,” replies the Stanley Tucci character.
I’m guessing that’s how it seemed at the time to the political leaders of Greece and Italy, who couldn’t imagine a world where public employees couldn’t retire at 55. Or the top brass at Olympus, who couldn’t imagine the shame of reporting huge trading losses. Or coach Joe Paterno, who couldn’t imagine allowing a moral stain on his stellar record. Or Jon Corzine, who couldn’t imagine clients would mind his using their money for just a short while to keep the firm afloat. They each had a choice, and they made the wrong one.
To politicians in Washington, it now seems they have no choice but to stick with their party as one more blue-ribbon panel — the congressional “supercommittee” — tries to come up with a bipartisan compromise to rein in the runaway federal budget deficit.
For reasons that have mostly to do with ideology and political gamesmanship rather than economics, Republicans have been insisting on a plan that relies solely on cutting spending on domestic programs and entitlements. They offer Americans the promise of growing our way out of the economic hole we now find ourselves in simply by repealing regulations and lavishing more tax cuts on corporations and those heroic “job creators” in the million-dollar bracket.
What you’ll notice if you listen to Republicans describing their plans is that they involve no pain for anyone except overcompensated, underperforming government workers and the undeserving poor.
Among the Republican presidential candidates, the race to wipe out entire government departments has become so intense that one of them couldn’t even remember all the ones he plans to ax.
Do those who propose to eliminate the Commerce Department plan to do away with the Census Bureau and the National Weather Service? If there are no federal funds flowing to local school districts from the Education Department, does that mean Republicans are in favor of raising state and local taxes to make up for the lost revenue?
Of course, these bold proposals are nothing more than political talking points meant to satisfy the mad hatters at the Republican tea party, not serious proposals by serious leaders. As Republicans see it, there is no need to talk about shared sacrifice because there’s no need for sacrifice. Just give them the chance to spread a little free-market fairy dust and America will magically be back on top again, where God had meant her to be all along.
As a group, Democrats have been better only by comparison. They offer their own version of painless budget solutions that they’d have you believe puts all the burden on millionaires and oil companies. They pander to the elderly by telling them there is no problem with Social Security that can’t be solved with higher payroll taxes on the rich, and no problem with Medicare that can’t be solved by government price controls on hospitals and prescription drugs.
They pander to the middle class by promising to lower their taxes, make college more affordable and use the words “middle class” in every third sentence. Although Democrats think more infrastructure investment is vital, it’s apparently not vital enough to warrant a modest increase in fuel taxes to pay for it.
Along these lines, a special shout-out goes to the AARP, the seniors lobby, which has been busy with a TV campaign threatening both parties with political retribution if they dare to slow the growth in spending for Medicare and Social Security. The ads feature a seemingly kindly gentleman who summons up indignation as he declares that seniors won’t stand for being denied the programs they’ve already paid for. Too bad it’s not true: They take out more than they put in to either system.
The ads also are based on the false premise that if we slow the runaway growth in Medicare spending to something closer to the growth in national income, seniors will be denied the care they need. Along with most everyone else in America, seniors are getting hundreds of billions of dollars worth of unnecessary care, or the wrong care, which can be eliminated with no harm to anyone other than doctors, hospitals and drug companies. Failing to slow the growth in health-care spending won’t just bankrupt Medicare — it will bankrupt the country.
Just like the Greeks and Italians, just like the Olympus executives, just like the folks at Penn State and MF Global, the United States is at that “profile in courage” moment when our leaders have to be willing to risk their careers in order to prevent a disaster. Whatever downsides there might be from raising taxes on small-business owners or asking seniors to wait another year for Medicare or eliminating tax breaks for oil companies, you can be sure that all of them would be better off with those than the financial calamity that is otherwise sure to befall us.
President Obama and Speaker Boehner have demonstrated they are ready to embrace such a compromise, and the latest Democratic and Republican proposals leaked from the supercommittee are hopeful signs that others may join them. If it happens, my guess is that it would unfold something like this:
The final deal will be struck among three Democrats (Sens. Kerry and Baucus and Rep. Van Hollen) and four Republicans (Sens. Toomey and Portman, Reps. Camp and Upton) — the bare majority necessary to trigger an up or down vote on the plan in both the House and Senate.
The deal will involve between $650 billion and $750 billion in additional revenue over the next 10 years as part of a sweeping reform of the tax code that will get the top rates for individuals and corporations below 30 percent. There will be about $1.5 trillion in spending cuts, at least half from entitlement programs, plus savings from foregone interest payments. To provide an immediate boost to the economy, an earmark-free $100 billion public works bill will be tacked on for good measure. Total debt reduction: about $2.5 trillion.
First stop will be the Senate, where a bipartisan group of 45 has committed itself to voting for such a package, where the bill will be managed not by Majority Leader Reid but by No. 2 Democrat Durbin. Schumer Democrats and DeMint Republicans will rail against it. In the end, both Reid and Republican Leader McConnell will seize the historical moment and vote aye.
In the House, Boehner will break from his own caucus and, with a hundred other Republicans, vote for the plan, along with an even greater number of Democrats corralled by Democratic Whip Hoyer. Republican leader Cantor will lead the tea party fight against it. Under pressure from her president, Democratic leader Pelosi will defect from liberal colleagues and vote aye.
This would be the American answer to the “unity governments” now taking power in Italy and Greece, in their cases too late to avoid years of painful austerity and restructuring. Whether it can happen here depends on the willingness of those three Democrats and four Republicans to buck their party caucuses, ignore the special interests and put their own political futures on the line, jumping together into the cold waters of bipartisan compromise.
Those who argue that it will require the 2012 elections to break the political stalemate are just kidding themselves. Voters are neither equipped nor inclined to create grand bargains. Those require leadership. If the budget deficit is not tamed now, the chances are it won’t be until the economy is in a steep decline and the financial barbarians are at the gate. And at that point we’ll all be looking back and wondering what could they possibly have been thinking in the fall of 2011?

Wednesday, August 24

Washington DC Quake

It's the day after the Washington, DC Quake of 2011.  Here's what I experienced when the ground shook and ordinary time  became an indelible memory.

I"m enjoying brunch with a group of grad students. They are from American University.  This week they  will start their classes in International Studies.  With orientation scheduled for Thursday, I wanted to mark the occasion with a little celebration.  "Let's have a brunch." 

We are finishing our meal when the quake hits at 1:52 pm.  

At first I think it's someone playing a joke and jiggling the table underneath.  Or maybe it's a a construction truck from the building of a new Walgreen store on the corner.  The low rumbling sound could easily be coming from a fleet of construction vehicles.  But why?  What's happening?   

Then the stained glass chandelier above the table begins to swing and we all look at each other in shock.  What do we do now?  

I was going to run outside onto my patio, but a young woman from California says "NO!"  She advises that the safest place is under a door frame.  Who would have thought?  With 16 floors of concrete above me, I followed her advice.  

We all scurry into my short hallway that connects bathroom, bedroom and living room.  Crammed under several doorways, we stand stunned and watch the pictures sway on the walls.  Something falls off a shelf and crashes to the floor.  Oh no!

At such times, you are suppose to have a mental flash-backs of your life.  Accomplishments, regrets, people you love and so forth.  

Me?  I said, "Damn, just when I got all my boxes unpacked, look at what's happening.  I'll have a mess to clean up."  So much for spiritual depth and insight.  Fortunately only one item fell from the shelves and it was not broken.

The quake was over in about 15 seconds or so, but I kept shaking.  Never before had I experienced one.  The grad students all said that my back-to-school brunch "Rocked and Rolled."



Considering what might have been, all is well in Washington.  Several spires on the National Cathedral fell to the ground.  It is situated on the highest point of the City.  I can only imagine the sway that caused this damage.  But no one was hurt.  

The 127 year old the Washington Monument is closed for inspection.  A few fractures were spotted near the top.  

A swimming pool in a sports center at the top of a shopping complex cracked and spilled water on a Target and Best Buys below.  But again no one was hurt.  

 I wonder if there will be Quake Sales.  Maybe it will "level" some of the prices. (My brother is responsible for this pun!)

A friend from Lafayette says, "I had no idea that DC was on a fault. I thought that the only fault was above ground in the House of Representatives."  I was hoping for a shake-up.  But thankfully, life just goes on....

Friday, August 5

On My Way: Back in America


I’m on my way to being back in America.  I've been here for two months and I have had my share of returning culture shocks.  Sometimes I notice the speed of American life.  I feel like a mini-car on the DC beltway dodging congestion and racing forward.  People seem driven.  Every day demands more and more.  As they say, Americans are highly productive.  
 
I look at young professionals going to work.  In Kiev the escalators moving into the Metro goes at double speed, but here it’s the people.   I see a young woman, professionally dressed, but in sneakers, actually racing down the escalator like she is competing in a race.  And maybe she is.
 
I notice that everyone in America has technology in hand.  While cell phones are ubiquitous in Ukraine, smart phones and I-Phones and Blackberries have taken over America.  People meld into their electronic possibilities.
    
A blue suited young man pulls out his electronic device and stares at its 2.2 inch screen.  His thumbs are busy typing or flicking across the Internet.  He’s so absorbed that I think there could be a robbery happening near-by and he would not notice.   American life has gotten even more intense or maybe I have forgotten what it was like back in 2008.
     
I miss the slower pace of Konotop.  I miss the children at Hearts of Love who greet me every day with warm enthusiasm.  I miss running into friends at the Konotop fountain and exchanging greetings in Russian. 


 I think about my Peace Corps buds and hanging out at the local café or making pizza for the gang (mine is the best!).  I yearn for phone calls from Ukrainian friends who have practiced these English phrases so that they can give me a proper invite to a family dinner or a picnic in the forest and a swim in the river.  I miss the simple pleasures of everyday life and the people who made them so enjoyable.
Peace Corps friends: Rose and Jeramie
Moving on gives a legacy of memories, but then surrounds them with longing.   I close my eyes and I am in Konotop.  Last night I dreamt of Konotop.  It was not a story-dream as much as it was a people-dream.  Faces flashed before me like slides on a screen.  Luda, Yelena, Marat, Andre, Anton, Arteom, Oksana, Maxim, Anna, Ilia, and little Maria.  I cuddled her in my arms.

If you could have seen me, I think you would have noticed a smile on my face.  I love the people of Konotop and the privilege of serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  But of course, I’ve moved on.  I open my eyes and here I am in Washington, DC. 

Thankfully, I’ve been surrounded by good friends.  Bob and Joann Bell and their son, Bob, have opened their home as I repatriate into my old life.   Bob and I became friends in 1968 at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and have stayed in contact all these many years.  It’s wonderful.

Bob is the first American I meet upon my return.  He greets me at National Airport.  After nearly 24 hours of travel, his warm smile makes me feel like I am home.  I will always be grateful for his hospitality and friendship.   I stay with the Bells for about 5 weeks.  There’s much to do.  I must finalize details for the purchase of my co-op apartment and start my Social Security, Pensions and Medicare.

 I find myself in a Catch-22 situation.  The Co-op Board hesitates to approve my application to buy a unit because I have no cash flow.   Since I have been out of the Country, I have not been able to have my Social Security and Pensions kick in.   It will take a month or so.  I have investments, but alas I show no cash flow.  What to do?  For a few days, I wonder if I will be homeless. 

My realtor knows the president of the management company and writes a letter.  Like Ukraine, people connections are important.  Approval comes and I make settlement on June 20th.  It’s official.  I now live at 3001 Veazey Terrace NW, Washington, DC. 

I take a few more weeks to paint the all-white-apartment in warm Spanish hues.  I decide to be bold and paint burnt orange in the living room.  Brilliant or not, the verdict is still being decided.  People say that they like it, but are they just being kind? 

My desk and reading area.
Not with standing living room walls, I love my new home.  I have an ample kitchen where counter space is measured in feet, not inches.  My stove has four burners and a griddle in the middle.  They all work.  My fridge has water and ice in the door.  Imagine.  I have hot water every day.  Down the hall is a room filled with washers and dryers.  No more bath tub soaking and swooshing for me.  Just select the wash cycle and tumble dry.   It’s easy to re-adjust to luxury.  Maybe, it’s too easy. 

Today is ordinary.  I'm going to buy a toothbrush.  I walk from my new apartment down a short hallway through an automated door and into the underground garage.  My apartment building is connected to a Giant Supermarket which is just a 50 yard stroll down a ramp and through another automated door.  There’s no need to go outside.  Everything is interconnected and convenience abounds.  I am back in America. 

The doors open to the produce department.   The space is large.  I think it must be 3 or 4 time larger than any market in Konotop.  Fruits and vegetables spill from the shelves.    The variety is stunning.   In Ukraine I remember how excited I was to find a few broccoli heads at the market.   Here thick displays tempt the eyes to buy more and more.  
     
Behind the produce section, I discover the rest of the supermarket.  It spreads out into 12 more aisles brimming over with products.   By American standards, I guess it’s not so unusual, but with my acquired Ukrainian sensibilities, it’s colossal.  I wander from one aisle to the next.  There’s too much to see. 

I find my soft bristled toothbrush on aisle ten.  I can’t help but chuckle to myself, “that was easy.”   In Konotop, I remember preparing for the buying of a tooth brush.  I didn’t want to get a hard bristle one again.  So I looked up the words in my Russian dictionary, wrote them down and hoped that I could recognize the labeling. Buying something as simple as a toothbrush sure could become an adventure.

But in America it’s easy.  Signs and labels are in English.  Maybe there are sub-texts in Spanish, but always English.  After 27 months surrounded by Russian, it’s comforting to be a native speaker in my native land. 

I buy my new tooth brush and head home.  I retrace my steps through the automated doors and within a few moments I am sitting on my patio.   
Growing tomatoes and basil on my patio


It’s a calm green spot surrounded by trees and plantings.  It's my private oasis in the midst of the hectic city.  I’ve made a little water fountain with two large pots.  It’s so soothing.  I turn it on and stare into the mesmerizing spouting and gurgling of water. 

Yes, I’m on my way – well on my way to being back in America.   But maybe I will just close my eyes for a moment and catch another glimpse of Konotop and my friends. 
Friends wishing me well as I depart from the Konotop train station
  

Saturday, May 28

PC Acronyms

 The Peace Corps loves acronyms.
Of course there are the easy ones like PCV or Peace Corps Volunteer.  But then there are more complicated ones like PCMO or  Peace Corps Medical Office and PST or Pre-Service Training.   Some people experience ET or Early Termination, but most of us go all the way.   Right now I am experiencing COS or Close of Service.   I finished my two page check-list and have said my goodbyes to a wonderful PC Staff.


In less than 24 hours, I depart from Ukraine leaving behind a DOS or Description of Service  in my official record.  Take a moment and give it a read.  Soon I will be a RPCV or Returned  Peace Corps Volunteer and a proud one at that!


"The U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires, a. i., James D. Pettit swore in Mr. Judson W. Dolphin as a Peace Corps Volunteer on June 18th, 2009 in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Mr. Dolphin was assigned to Konotop, a City of 95,000 Ukrainian and Russian speakers in Sumy Oblast which is located in the northeastern part of Ukraine.  He worked as a full-time NGO/Community Development facilitator at Hearts of Love Charity Fund, which has a director, 6 primary volunteers and many other occasional volunteers.

As a Community Development volunteer, Mr. Dolphin focused on transferring organizational development skills. He consulted with his primary organization, conducted workshops, and implemented projects. During his second year in Konotop, Mr. Dolphin connected with secondary organizations including governmental, NGO and educational institutions.

Yelena Yuschenko, Director of Hearts of Love Charity Fund, was his counterpart. Ms. Yuschenko along with other volunteers opened Hearts of Love in the fall of 2008 as an activity and support center for special need children and their families. Mr. Dolphin was their first Peace Corps Volunteer arriving in June of 2009.

Ms. Yuschenko introduced Mr. Dolphin to the community during a partnership meeting within the first week of service. Mr. Dolphin followed up with individual meetings and further networking to broaden his contacts in the community. Within three months, he had met with over 25 leaders from the NGO, educational, governmental and business sectors.

Mr. Dolphin deepened relationships through an innovative 10 week Leadership English Course. About 15 leaders participated in the twice weekly course that ran for 10 weeks. He authored the curriculum and tailored material to the abilities and interest of his adult students. As skills and English language learning were being shared, mutual trust was developing.

For example, when flu quarantine closed Ukrainian schools, including the Konotop Institute where classes were being held, the City Department of Pensioners and Disabled Persons volunteered a space so that the classes could continue. Having a US Peace Corps volunteer freely using a space in a city governmental building is unusual and was a first in Konotop.

At his primary site, Hearts of Love, Mr. Dolphin worked with volunteer staff to start an Art Expression Class for special need children. Collaborating with Ukrainian volunteers set the framework for transfer of skills and eventual sustainability. Now even when Mr. Dolphin is away from site, the Art Class continues with about 10 children participating each week.

In the winter of 2009, Mr. Dolphin provided guidance in developing a funding strategy for his host organization. Higher energy costs and increased activities at the Center required additional funding.

Through a series of discussion and presentations, it was decided to initiate a local funding strategy to supplement grants from foreign benefactors. With additional guidance and training provided by Mr. Dolphin, Hearts of Love held a successful charity auction selling bead-work that children and parents had made. A silent auction was also organized with services or goods that had been solicited from 16 local businesses of whom most had never contributed to Hearts of Love before. Over 3800 UAH was raised along with much media exposure.

Media reports during the holiday season stimulated copy-cat auctions raising additional money. In 2010, the Charity Auction was repeated with expanded leadership and is on the path for sustainability

In January of 2010 Mr. Dolphin led a needs assessment process involving children, volunteers and parents at his site. The idea for a SPA project emerged calling for a computerized learning center for the special need children of Hearts of Love. Often, these children are passed over in school and do not have access to the power of computerized learning.

Implementation of the project was delayed because of unforeseen illnesses, but in September 2010, a computerized learning center was opened. Five Ukrainian volunteers now teach and oversee about 25 children (non-duplicated number) each month. Plans are underway to secure additional funds for connecting to the Internet.

Also in 2010, Mr. Dolphin developed a series of Organizational Development Seminars. Leaders from both government and non-government sectors had heard about success at Hearts of Love and wanted to benefit from the knowledge and skills that Mr. Dolphin brought with him from a life time of non-profit management and teaching experience.

Mr. Dolphin conducted a needs assessment with leaders and potential participants. From this information, he developed a series of four 3 hour seminars in both English and Russian. He worked with a translator and presented each seminar twice in order to better accommodate schedules.

As a result 26 leaders participated in one or more of the seminars. They gained information and practice for developing mission statements, conducting SWOT analysis, building teams, working with volunteers, growing as leaders and of course, understanding fund raising strategies, organizational stability and grant writing.

As word spread about the value of the Seminars, Mr. Dolphin was invited to adapt the material for special audiences. The City Department of Families and Children held a meeting on volunteering and Mr. Dolphin presented information on working with volunteers to about 50 people. And then youth leaders of the City met to learn skills and share ideas. Mr. Dolphin presented leadership skills and team building to 23 young leaders. All presentations were conducted with Russian translation.

Mr. Dolphin was honored by the Konotop Institute and Polytechnic School during its 120th anniversary. Among the many business, educational and business leaders, he was invited to briefly address over 100 people who had gathered to mark the occasion. It was a very special honor to be the only American to be a part of this historic moment.

Also while serving in Konotop, he has made brief presentations at half dozen primary schools, several youth organizations and other meetings. On one occasion he shared the podium with several of Konotop’s remaining Great War veterans. Stories of personal sacrifice during the War were blended with other stories about individuals volunteering to make the country a better place to live. Mr. Dolphin concluded his remarks by paraphrasing President Kennedy, “Ask not what Konotop can do for you, but what you can do for Konotop?”

In the summer of 2010, Mr. Dolphin and other Peace Corps Volunteers discovered a lack of English literature books in all of Konotop. A rich cultural exchange and world of new ideas was closed to the people of Konotop. Mr. Dolphin set out to correct this deficit. At first he was rebuffed by the city library. They were not interested in partnering. But then, Mr. Dolphin approached the English teachers, librarians and director at the Polytechnic School. They were enthusiastic and eager to partner.

Over the next 6 months a small team works steadily.   As a result, an English literature library of more than 300 books was opened on March 2, 2011. Access is open to anyone on Konotop and a month long public education campaign was launched to inform the community about this new opportunity.  Within the first month 38 books had been circulated. More will follow since the School plans to integrate an English Literature course into their curriculum.

During his intensive work with the Polytechnic School, Mr. Dolphin started a monthly advanced English conversational seminar. Each seminar was interactive and gave students a chance to leave textbooks and have real English conversations. About 18 students participated in each session.

In February and again in May of 2011, Mr. Dolphin was invited by Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv to teach in their Institute of Leadership and Management. It’s the only institute in Ukraine offering a master level program in organizational development and NGO management. Their goal is to equip Ukrainian leaders for developing Civil Society.

Mr. Dolphin taught a 6 hour seminar on Public Relations and Media, a 3 hour seminar on Fund-raising and Grants, and another 3 hour seminar on Story Telling. Each was well received and sixty-five leaders participated in one or more of the seminars.
Continuing their relationship, Nataliya Bourdon, Director of the Institute of Leadership and Management, has invited Mr. Dolphin to be a long-distant advisor. They plan to have regular Skype conversations as this important effort to build civic society continues.

Throughout his Peace Corps service, Mr. Dolphin enjoyed his exposure to Ukrainian culture. While his language level was tagged at low intermediate, he had no difficulty in developing many new friendships. During a thank you party as he prepared to leave, more than 40 of Konotop’s leader and friends came to say farewell.

Mr. Judson W. Dolphin left Konotop, Ukraine on May 25, 20011 for end of service meetings with the Peace Corps staff in Kiev.

Following Ukraine's Declaration of Independence in 1991 and its decision to become an independent democratic country, a bilateral agreement was signed by US and Ukrainian Presidents to establish a U.S. Peace Corps Program in Ukraine in 1992. Since then, US Peace Corps Volunteers have been serving in Ukraine in the areas of business development, education, environmental protection, youth development, and community development. Mr. Dolphin work as a Community Development Volunteer, as well as his role as a representative of the people, culture, values and traditions of the United States of America, was part of a nation-wide development effort in Ukraine.

Mr. Judson W. Dolphin completed his Peace Corps service in Ukraine on May 27, 2011."

Monday, May 23

Goodbye and Good Luck, Konotop

“In the past two years, you’ve become family,” says a dear Ukrainian friend.  “Now as I look around, I realize that we are not the only ones.  I see that you are family to many others here in Konotop.” 

The day of my “Thank You Konotop Party” is unfolding.   It’s late on a Sunday afternoon and about 45 well-wishers gather for a final farewell.  Diverse segments of the community are here.  They have come together for some chi and cake, a little wine and of course to say goodbye to me.    

I remember Gregory saying that if he was still living, we would have a big party before I went home to America.  He did not live long enough, but both Illya, his grandson, and I agree that he is smiling upon us. 

We’re in the midst of toasting one another.  Ukrainian people are so eloquent.  They dip into their poetic souls to say some of the most touching phrases.  

The Director of the Konotop Institute reminds us of the great Ukrainian poet - Taras Shevchenko.  He tells me his statue is in Washington, DC near the FDR Memorial.  "Please send us his photo."  I readily agree.   
  
I try to express my appreciation in my best Russian. “I came as a strange.  You did not know me and I did not know you.  I could not speak much Russian and everything was so new.  But then I began to meet the kind people of Konotop, especially you in this room.  Two years later, we have become good friends.  We’re so comfortable with one another.   True?  And of course now, I speak Russian… but only a little.”
   
My friends smiled broadly.  They have been so generous and patient with me.  We joke that I need a translator to translate my Russian into Russian.  But I manage and as I look around the room, my eyes swell with happiness.  Yes, we are family and this one is Ukrainian. 

If God is Love and I believe it is so, then today God is touching Konotop.  We all are getting a glimpse at how good life can really be.  Amazingly, children of the Cold War who once were taught to fear one another, now embrace as adults.
  
For nearly three hours we talk and remember.  There are first meeting stories, funny happenings, holiday dinners, forest picnics, project adventures, silly mistakes, cultural differences, keeping in touch wishes, and so much more.   Where words fail, body language takes over and says the rest.  There’s an abundance of hugs and cheek kisses.  I'm all smiles. 

I have prepared a self photo.  It gives me a chance to speak with eachperson and write a little Russian/English message on the back.  One of my young friends puts it in his shirt pocket and looking at me, says, “Next to my heart.”  If only he and so many others knew what a big part of my heart they occupy.  But then again, maybe they do understand and it is mutual.  I feeling so deeply blessed.

Our final farewells go slowly.   We don’t want to let go.  We begin by saying goodbye at the tables and then in the doorway.  Outside we gather in circles and share more final stories – again and again.  I love denial.  It can be wonderful at times like these. 

But eventually, a few turn to go home.  I watch as they stroll down the street.  My Ukrainian friends are disappearing from life and entering into the timeless realm of memory.  Two or three look back and wave a final goodbye.  And then they are all gone. 

I ’m thinking how fortunate I am to be alive in this place at this time.  Goodbye.  Я люблю Конотоп. Спасибо и удачи

Copy the Russian into  Google translate 

Tuesday, May 17

Ukrainian Proverbs and Folk Wisdom

All day I’ve been stressed.  It started when I read my morning emails.  Last night as I went to bed, I thought I had finalized buying a condo in Washington DC.  I was set for a smooth transition from Peace Corps Service to my new adventure in retirement.
Soviet Block Apartments

But now as I am sipping my coffee, I read that my real estate agent is still waiting for scanned documents to be emailed.   And a second email ominously warns that another offer from another buyer is possible, maybe before the end of tomorrow.  

With 7 hours difference in time, tomorrow is now. 

For the next 5 hours, I’m glued to my computer.  My neck aches from hunching over and my mind floods with worse-case scenarios.  Increasingly frantic, I‘ve try everything.  I look out the window and think, “I can’t do this anymore.  I got to get away. “

Interestingly, I recall some Ukrainian folk wisdom.   “When life is hectic and times are difficult, we go to the land.”  Rich dark fields and sweet cool forests restore.  I think that’s why so many Ukrainians keep a dacha returning to the village of their childhood. 

For a glimpse at dacha life, click Ukraine Dacha.  For generations this land has rejuvenated spent spirits.  I need it now. 


Outside I walk away from my stress and Soviet style apartment block, across a field and stroll down a dusty path.  The spring rains and mud have left behind a fine dust where footprints now track the walking of others. 

One of the remarkable things about living in Ukraine is the number of people walking here, there and everywhere.  Without so many cars whizzing by, everyone walks.  The paths and roads are alive.  Somehow it makes me feel connected even if I don’t know names. 

Visually Ukraine is all about people and not so mechanized with cars.  It’s refreshing. 




Ahead of me, a babushka herds a few goats.  They are munching on fresh spring grass.   I wonder what they eat in the winter.  I ask if I can take a photo.  She smiles and I do. 

I turn up a dirt road.  Barking dogs announce my approach.  They run loose, but thankfully, behind high walls which surround each cottage home. 

Many of the homes are in a state of ремонт.  That’s repair, pronounced remont.  Ukrainians love to repair, decorate and extend their homes.  The process can go on for years.  Money comes, money goes and the remont keeps everyone dreaming.  I pass several lovely homes.  They are small, but ever so quaint.  The lilac are starting to bloom and the air is perfumed sweet.   

In the distance, a man works a field.   He turns the sod one scoop at a time.   I think it’s a linguistic coincidence, but the Russian word for garden is сад and it’s pronounced sod.   I have only seen one roto-tiller in Konotop and it belongs to the City.  They use it to plant flowers along a mile or so of the main street.  Everyone else uses a shovel one scoop at a time.   

Already, the man has turned an area approaching the size of a football field.  It’s not unusual.  For many Ukrainians, a large garden is a necessity, not a hobby.  With work spotty and monthly pensions averaging around 700 UAD (less than $100), this dark soil literally feeds the body.
  
The road opens to a broad field leading to a village.  While fences surround individual cottages, no fences can be seen dividing the land. 

I think it may be a holdover from years of collective farming and maybe represents a different approach to the land. 

Instead of individual homesteads plowed for free market production which created American agribusiness, Ukraine has workers in small villages (many under 500 people) who comprise a work force for the land.  Once they were called serfs, then peasants and comrades and now they are simply workers. 

For an interesting report on Ukrainian agriculture from an American viewpoint, check out this USAID Report.  

I breathe in the colors of the grass and earth.  I feel a calm joy soaking into my spirit.  The sun plays hide-n-seek behind stacks of clouds.  The artist in me wishes I had brought some supplies so that I could capture this rejuvenating image.  Ukraine is so beautiful. 




Of course, we have expansive areas like this in America’s mid-west, but seeing a horse drawn cart or men and women traveling by bicycle on the make-shift roads adds a human dimension missing in my more prosperous and mechanized homeland. 

I knell down and grab a clump of dark earth.  “From earth we came and to earth we go,” lingers in my mind.  I imagine all the suffering that this land has absorbed on behalf of Ukrainian people - hungers, wars, oppression from one generation to the next. It’s humbling to think these thoughts as the earth slips between my fingers.  I can only hope that Ukraine will see better days while keeping its warm human spirit. 

Gradually as I walk along the edge of the field, I gain a new perspective.  My condo problem is small stuff.  A faint smile replaces worry.  I’m mostly okay. As an old proverb says, “Only when you have eaten a lemon do you appreciate what sugar is.”  

Take a moment to browse a few more Ukraine Proverbs.


Rainbow over Konotop
My story ends with a taste of sugar.  Finally the documents appear on my agent’s computer thanks to the help of a third party in America.  The deal is sealed. 

As another proverb puts it, “The only thing certain in life is birth, death and change.”  Soon my life will change again in Washington, DC.

Saturday, April 30

Paska: Goodbye and Good Luck





Maybe it's my imagination, but people seem happier on Paska (Easter). 

I'm watching Ukrainians at the Vokzal (train station). I see smiles everywhere.  A babushka and dedushka hold hands helping each other as they meander across train tracks. A little girl sucks on an ice cream while a little boy races ahead looking behind every few moments to make sure his parents are still watching.  

In a gentle spring manner, the sunshine is beaming down on everyone.  Puffy clouds roll across the day's cerulean blue canvass.  A tender breeze caresses the senses.  It's warm without being hot.  A perfect day.

If Paska means love-unending and I believe it does, then I am in love with Ukraine and the chance to be living here.

I'm at the Vakzal to catch a train from Chernigiv and back to Konotop.  It’s here where my Peace Corps adventure began.  Now two years later, my time is ending and new clusters of volunteers are just starting. 

Last Thursday, I got a chance to share my experience and some tips on networking and community integration at the Peace Corps training.  The new recruits were attentive.  Two years of being a Peace Corps Volunteers bestows some credibility.  Like Woody Allan puts it, “80% of success is showing up.”  I'm a survivor...veteran...or whatever.  I showed up. 

I like developing training presentations.  I always wrap in stories with practical tips that I have either used or gathered from other volunteers.  My presentation went so well that staff invited me to record a DVD so that it can be shared in the future.  I’m delighted.   It looks like I will be able to leave behind a training legacy. 

This time my visit to Chernigiv is also a goodbye to my host family and particularity Luda.  I lived with her  for 11 weeks in 2009.  Luda taught me some of my first practical Russian phrases. 

I remember practicing.


Я хочу купить воду без Гасс.  Proudly back home to Luda, I carried my first bottle of “water without gas.”  Like a kid, I beamed, “I did it.”   

Every week we would make a menu in Russian.  Even if we didn't follow it which was mostly the case, I was learning.  We played lots of UNO and I learned my colors and numbers that way.   Of course, Luda almost always won.  We laugh together recalling our shared stories.

On Paska, we take the yellow bus to one of the historic churches in the center of Chernigiv.  Along the way, I see scores of people strolling with wicker baskets strung under arms.  Each is filled with an assortment of Easter breads, (also called Paska), eggs, kielbasa, and maybe some cognac.

As we approach the church, I see a crowd ringing the ancient domed building.  They wait with their baskets quietly greeting one another in the dawn. 

Luda and I snake our way through the crowd and enter the sanctuary.  


Spectacularly, the front is gilded in gold from floor to highest heights.   A screen known as a iconostatis separates the altar from the people.  Icons are everywhere.  It’s a remarkable sight to see in such a poor country. 

There are no pews.  People circulate through the space pausing at icons to say a prayer and kiss the image.  They begin and end their prayers with the sign of the cross.  Unlike the West, Orthodox Christians cross themselves with broad bold movement – head, chest, right shoulder, left shoulder and a full bow. 

Many people light candles.  I buy one to remember those I have loved who are no longer with us – my parents and brother, Nancy Lee, Gregory, Babushka, Brent, Jessie and Brian. 

I am struck by the theology of the space.  The gold and towering dome is other worldly.  Yet the people milling around is so human.  I think this architecture reflects the miracle of divinity and humanity together in Jesus. 

I don’t understand the words of the Priest.  He chants and I am told that he is reading the Resurrection account from the Bible.  A lovely soprano sings simple melodies.  Her voice reverberates and seems to come from the arches above - almost heaven.     

Later some people come forward to receive a sip of wine from a chalice given to them on a silver spoon.  They have been fasting since Holy Thursday and break their fast with the “blood of Jesus”.   It must be a powerful experience for believers. 

We leave the sanctuary and join the crowd outside.  It has grown denser -  about 3 or 4 deep. 


The priest has a bundle of spring branches in hand.  He dips them in water – holy water – and sprays the people and most importantly the baskets.  


A babushka pokes the priest on the back.  Her basket has gotten little if any water.  He turns and splashes both basket and babushka.   She radiates wet smiles.  


Everyone and everything is blessed. The Easter miracle - Love-Unending - is repeated.

From above, bells begin to ring.  A large one goes bong…bong…bong while strings of smaller ones chirp ding-a-ling… ding-a-ling… ding-a-ling.  The combination is so much livelier than a single bell.  I imagine the heart of Chernigiv brimming over with joy.

After our blessing, we stroll down the walkways that surround the Church and make our way back home.  I try to imprint the sights and sounds into my consciousness so that I can remember this feeling.      

Later that same day, I say goodbye to Luda.  With a smile that keeps tears from flowing, we remember our daily ritual.  Every day as I left for language class, Luda would say, "Goodbye and good luck."  Now we hug and say it for the last time face-to-face. 

What a lucky fellow I have become.  It's like I have gained a second family.   I step into the sunshine and look up at the balcony of Luda’s flat.  She is there waving - Goodbye. Good luck!