"At the center of the universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service." ~Mr. Fred Rogers

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Lion State of Emergency!

I remember in 1st Grade, Ms. Cole did a unit about the month of March "coming in like a Lion and out like a Lamb", or vice versa. Well, March 2013 in Ukraine has pretty much been one giant roaring lion who ate the lamb long ago. 

Shortly after my birthday, Ukraine was POUNDED with the biggest blizzard of the Never Ending Winter season. Peace Corps put all of the Volunteers West of Kyiv on travel restriction because the roads were super dangerous to travel on. School was even cancelled last Friday, which doesn't happen too often. 

The best part was the wind. It ripped through Kolky and left no one unscathed. I've never seen snow travel so fast sideways! Luckily, I stalked up on supplies beforehand and spent last weekend safe and bundled up in my house.

A little big of the sideways snow.

After the roads were plowed. 

The snow drift that made my house very difficult to enter/exit! 

Fresh, March powder!

The ground 2 feet below the snow

Last week, classes continued as usual, but fast forward to this Friday, March 22 and we get Blizzard Round II x 2! This time, Kyiv seemed to get the worst of it, but we got our fair share as well. (Kyiv had 2 feet in 12 hours, we only had about a foot this go around) Currently, Kyiv has been declared in a "State of Emergency" because their transportation and infrastructure kind of shut down, but I hear some buses are back running, the military was out clearing roads, and the airport is open. Lots of villages have been losing power, but Kolky has stayed strong, meaning I can bake and wash clothes.

I hope and pray daily that the worst of it is over. Someone told me that the first day it's supposed to be above 0° C (32° F) is April 15...I'm not sure what to think about that.

But today, I got out of my hibernating bear state and went to the House of Culture to see some of my students perform at a concert. Many of my students attend the local music school after lessons, something of which I was aware of, but not to what extent! I have some amazingly talented students! Below are some of the highlights of the concert, but I really was blown away with the talent and dedication these students have to music. 

A Ukrainian Bandura 

Everyone was in their traditional Ukrainian Vyshyvankas

Lilia on the violin

Accordions are often the instrument of choice here in Ukraine! 

A little circus tune, which was my favorite

Alice, playing a 10-minute piano piece, without sheet music

The girls ensemble 

Ukrainian Banduras 

Accordions are cool. Never forget that. 

A little something from Indiana Jones

This group played "A Walk Around America" which included almost every patriotic song from the States...
I'm not sure they really knew what they were playing, but I LOVED it! 
Now I'm on Spring Break (well, minus the fact that there is an In-Service tomorrow at school) and on Thursday, I'm going to Rome!!! I leave for Kyiv on Tuesday, I'll get some work done in the Peace Corps Office on Wednesday and take off Thursday. I'll blog when I get back, and of course, take lots of pictures. I even have a ticket for Easter Mass with the Pope and the weather is supposed to be mid-50's, so March certainly will go out like a lamb for me! Rome has been a dream of mine for a while, so I'm really looking forward to this trip!

Until next time! Arrivederci!

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Well, yesterday I turned 25 and the smile is still on my face! (Even though we keep getting pounded with snow...20 inches since Monday!)

I think the photos (and video) below show you how wonderful my day was. My school continuously showers me with love and appreciation and I am so humbled and feel so blessed to have spent 3 birthdays here.

My favorite part of the day was when we were at dinner (photos below) and everybody was telling me how they celebrated their 25th birthdays. I was sitting there knowing that this birthday will certainly be one that I will remember forever and be able to tell my friends and family about for years to come.

I'm 25!!!

So this video is of my 11-B. They were one of the biggest reasons why I decided to extend my service, because I wanted to see them to the end of their school year, and I wanted them to see me through the end of my service. They have been a huge part of my experience here and I couldn't be more appreciative of this amazing gift.  

My 11-B with the Firework Cake!!!

They are just perfect

Watching the video...and laughing.
(One of my favorite photos captured in Ukraine)

Getting love from ALL the teachers!
Larisa Mykolyivna giving me lots of greetings, kisses, and chocolate!

Sveta and the 10th Form presenting me with a gift from her class after reading the poem she wrote for me

Now the Directors turn to do the wishing)

The Director interrupted by singing 5th formers! :)
(Notice how the could care less!)

Them still not caring that the Director is waiting for them to leave!

Presenting me with a ceramic cossack filled with vodka and a diploma

Posing with my vodka Cossack Men and hand-painted box from the 10th Formers!
My shirt says: "В моєму серці - Україна!" "In my heart - Ukraine!"

I took some cupcakes and brownies down to the cooks, so naturally, we took a photo.
These women have fed me lunch for 3 years and spoiled me each and every day

Most of the English Teachers who presented me with flowers and my new favorite t-shirt!

The 7th Formers got me a decoration broom, balloons, and a sweet poster
(Don't mind the spelling of my name...it's my inside joke with a bunch of 12 year olds)

The 8th Formers presenting me with a beautiful picture of the Lutsk Castle

The 6th Formers singing, and singing...and singing.
Finally I just had them take the photo while they kept singing

Overindulgence Dinner Time
First Course: Cutlets, Salads, Potatoes
Sides: Salo (pig back fat), mushrooms, and apples

Second Course: Potato Varenyky with fresh Sour Cream and mushrooms
Third Course: Cheese Varenyky and Bleenchik (Ukr Pancakes) with Jam

Snow snow snow! 25 cm (last night) for 25 years!

I'm going to open a museum when I get back!
My new favorite t-shirts (my Ukrainian bro gave me one with our photo on it), the video on the top, and the poem below, were my favorite gifts. Each one means something so unique to me and will be cherished forever. 

 "Happy Birthday Mr. Benjamin"
By Sveta Kushnirchuk

One wise saying says:
"So many languages you know, so many times you are a man"
I say:

"So many people you have met, so many smiles have come back!"
I'm not a poet, not a writer,
But sure, you made Kolky brighter!

Your awesome smile, sincere soul
Have proved it is real power. 
You always give us inspiration, 
You always teach us: "You are a nation!"
Starting to live, but not survive, 
Will help us different things to try. 
You work so much, you spend your time
To help us something new to find. 
You give experience and love, 
and now, today you're twenty-five!
With all my heart I congratulate, 
And "Happy Birthday" I want to say!
"Mit Geburstag!", "Feliz Cumpleaños!"
And "З Днем Народження!" of course!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

PEPFAR Photos!

Just a quick post this evening full of photos. You can read the post below to learn all about my PEPFAR Experience, but I wanted to share a few photos with you!

Happy March! Happy (belated) Peace Corps Day (March 1st)! And by Ukrainian standards, Happy Spring...although it's snowing this evening.

Soviet Sanatorium anyone!? 

Roman, our Ukrainian Language Teacher

"Become Informed. It's Better than the Alternative"
My Ukrainian Language Group with Roman, our teacher

Volunteers speaking about Intravenous Drug Users

Participating in a Stigma/Discrimination Exercise 


One of my favorite cross-cultural sessions called "Placing Guilt"

The Ukrainian Student Group during "Placing Guilt"

Nadika, my student in the pink, talking about the activity

"Life Values" exercise where we had to rank qualities of life by importance   

Kolky Lyceum Representatives:
Mr. Benjamin, Nadika, my student (R)
and Natalia, the school Sociologist