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

Sunday, March 6

Peace Corps Birthday Gift

Fifty years ago this month, newly inaugurated President Kennedy established the Peace Corps.  Over the years, more than 200,000 volunteers have served in 139 countries.  Back then as today, Peace Corps Volunteers shared skills and knowledge, represented America to host country friends and brought cross-cultural understanding back home. 

Happy Birthday, Peace Corps.

What would a birthday be without presents?  In Konotop, we took this occasion to open the world of English literature to an entire community and in so doing created a legacy of knowledge and cross-cultural understanding.   

Where none existed before, more than 300 English literature books are given and made available to everyone.  This English literature library was made possible with gifts from Americans to the Peace Corps Partnership Program and with additional gifts from the personal reading shelves of Peace Corps Volunteers serving here in Ukraine. 

What a great way to honor the Peace Corps. After all, for 50 years the Peace Corps has been about giving in country after country around the world.

My team - Tatyanna, Irena, Anna
“We are making history,” whispers Tatyana with eyes glistening.  She and Irena and Anna are English teachers at the Poly-Technical School and Institute in Konotop.  For more than 6 months, they have planned and worked for this moment.

“Remember you came to us on September 10th with this idea of English literature,” recalls Anna.  “We wanted more text books at the time, but you introduced the idea of literature.  We did not know it, but our Head-Mistress also had a dream of offering English Literature to our students. “   

The Head Mistress had participated in a cross-cultural exchange program and spent a month in Ames, Iowa.  She brought back many new ideas.  Wonderfully, the synergy of the Peace Corps, an idea brought from the heartland of America and gifts of books will now make dreams come true.
PC Director, Douglas Teschner,  with PC Volunteers, Rose Cheyette, John VanGavree, Dan Cahoon, Danny Zawacki, Kim Rosado, Jud Dolphin with Gifts of Books

I am with Douglas Teschner, our Peace Corps Ukraine Director and an entourage of local Peace Corps Volunteers.  We are walking down the hallway towards the library.  Along the way students direct us.  They are dressed –up for the occasion.  Suits, formal dresses and an occasional thumbs-up greet us.  It’s obvious that today is considered a very special one. 
As we enter the Library, the Head Librarian and her staff are all smiles.  When we first met, I remember her showing me a handful of Soviet English publications from the 1960s.  That plus a few other books at the city library were the extent of English literature in Konotop.  None of the classics were available.

“We may get as many as 300 books and each one will need to be catalogued. It’s a lot of extra work,”  I caution.  Earlier in the month, I had been turned down by the City Library so I wanted to check out interest.  But this librarian is more excited than worried.  She assures me, “Not a problem.”   Weeks later, Tatyanna glows when telling me that the library staff is learning English too since each title must be translated and entered into the computer.

It seems to me that giving creates its own rippling effect.  It keeps expanding outward creating waves of possibility where none existed before.   As Douglas remarks, “The books are important, but it’s not just about the books.”

With obvious pleasure, the Head Librarian now displays shelves of English books.  Each has been prepared properly - a translated routing card and a stamp that says US Peace Corps Partnership Program.   The books include many abridged versions of classics so that even beginners can have a positive reading experience.  Other books are full versions for those more advanced. 

Anna and Tatyana 
I remember going to Kiev with Anna and Tatyana to buy the books.  We started before dawn on a cold dreary day.  First I had to go and get cash.  Ukraine is mostly a cash economy.  Few shops take credit cards.  For a time I was a rich man with over 12,000 UAH ($1500).

We invaded English only shops and outdoor stalls.  Previously at their own expense, Tatyanna and Anna had checked-out possibilities in Kiev and knew exactly where to go.  Carefully, we selected titles.  So absorbed we became that we forgot about lunch until 5:00 pm.

Getting the books back to Konotop could have been a problem, but as a sign of the School’s commitment, the Head-Mistress provided a car and driver.  Perfect.  Since then, we felt that problems could be solved. 

It’s an important lesson for everyone to learn and here in Konotop, we replace problems with a good feeling.  I don't know who started it, but whenever we come across a problem, we remind one another of the Bobby McFerrin tune and hum - “Don’t worry…Be happy”

Now anyone in Konotop can check out a book by showing identification.  Young or old, student or not, all are welcome.  It’s a huge change in policy and one that might challenge even American colleges.

Two young Ukrainians in traditional dress hold a red ribbon in front of the bookshelves.  As the Head-Mistress and Douglas cut it, I can’t help thinking that here cultures are meeting and embracing one another.    Soon an English literature course will be part of the curriculum.  Tatyanna boasts, “Some of the students have already checked out books.”  

A piece of the ribbon is handed to me.  Waving it in the air, I am ecstatic
Inside the Reading Hall, a crowd is gathering.  As I walk to the front, I suddenly notice two very special people.  Gregory’s widow and daughter are here. 

You may recall that when my first organizing attempts were rebuffed by the city library, Gregory told me that “something good would happen.”   Sadly he died before he could see his prophesy fulfilled.  I embrace his widow and daughter and my eyes well-up with tears.  They are strange tears, but mostly ones of joy, inspiration and gratitude. 

Two students emcee our program.  We are treated to a wonderful full-length Ukrainian ceremony.  We hear about the dawn of writing and scrolls and papyrus and eventually the printing press and books as we know them.  Two charming poems are recited in English and a few songs are mixed in along with a stand-out performance on the Bandura.  Please learn more about this traditional instrument.

Douglas and I both are invited to share a few words.  The people are impressed with Douglas and more than one remark how wonderful it is that he comes all the way from Kiev.  He talks about the Peace Corps, its history and its enduring goals.  He tells everyone that the Peace Corps is now 50 years old. 

It’s a perfect segue.  Each of my Peace Corps colleagues brings a gift of books from their own collection. Festooned with ribbons and bows, the books pile up as a tribute to the Peace Corps and a symbol of our friendship with Ukrainian people.
I say, “We give you the enjoyment of books.  We give you the knowledge of books.  We give you improvement of English through reading books.  We give you your dreams with books.  We give you understanding of other cultures.”   And then I add, “We give you our friendship and hope for a very good life.”

After all the speeches are completed and people filter out, two young boys stop to speak with me.  Their English is pretty good and they bubble enthusiasm.  Each pledges to read many of the new English books.  I smile and think maybe they will….so many more possibilities exist now. 

Happy Birthday, Peace Corps.


  1. Congratulations on the your success Jud!

  2. How wonderful to read this Jud! Congratulations to you & to all of the people who helped make this so successful! Thinking of you.