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

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.