As with most PCV blogs, we tend to talk here about fun, interesting things that happen. Holidays, travels, food, weather, etc. But, what about work? Sometimes it feels like we do very little work, sometimes it feels like we do way too much, but either way, we rarely report about it to you. So now’s the time.
A few weeks ago was a big week for the lyceum. We were finally able to open our Youth Center Nadiya (Hope) – something the staff had wanted to do since before I came. They had a few rooms available in the lyceum building, which we painted last summer, but we didn’t have enough resources to actually get it completely prepared for student use.
Then, last October, my counterpart Jenya and I attended a PEPFAR conference hosted by Peace Corps. (PEPFAR = President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief.) After learning more about project planing and available funding, we designed a project that involved doing intensive trainings with lyceum students about HIV/AIDS prevention. We also wrote a grant so that we could purchase materials for these trainings, as well as complete a “training center” as part of the youth center.
After a few months of tweaking the grant, it was finally approved, but we had to wait a few more months for the money to finally come in. In the mean time, we started doing trainings with materials we had on hand. (Materials such as markers, paper, printer ink, etc.) We completed trainings with 6 different groups of students. The trainings consisted of 6 hours spent watching films about HIV in Ukraine, learning about biology and transmission, talking about tests and medications available, and discussing discrimination against people living with HIV. Jenya led all sessions herself, in Ukrainian, and I provided backup support. For example, I passed out papers and pencils when needed.
Finally, in April, we learned that the grant money would arrive any day now. Part of the grant agreement was that the community had to contribute a certain amount of their own resources to the youth center/training center. A private donor in town had donated linoleum, baseboards, and new glass for broken window panes. New desks were purchased. Lyceum staff provided labor to complete the rooms, while students and Jenya put the finishing touches on the paint.
And then, at long last, we had money! We made a trip to Metro (a Costco-like store in the nearby city) and purchased chairs, bookshelves, a white board, paper, markers, etc. We put some PEPFAR-provided posters up on the walls, blew up some balloons, and we were ready to go! Jenya planned a grand opening for the youth center, which was held on April 20.
In addition to our Lyceum staff and students, we invited the head of the local government, representatives from some local social service organizations, a group of Cossacks (who attend every big event in town), and the Peace Corps staff member who deals with PEPFAR related activities. A bunch of people gave speeches, including yours truly, who managed not to stumble over too many big Russian words. After that, our director and the head of the local government did a red ribbon cutting and we had a little reception in the Youth Center. We did presentations on our various projects, then the students demonstrated a flashmob. Ideally, at a specified time, all the students run to a designated spot, form a line, and hold up letters spelling a word or phrase. (Such as, “learn more about HIV/AIDS.”) They chant the phrase, then hand out informational pamphlets to everyone present. Although our first flashmob was a little rough, I think they understand how it works and could pull one off in the future, maybe in the market or town center. Lastly, that evening, we held an awareness-raising disco-tech. Some students prepared red ribbons to hand out, and we provided stickers and pamphlets. Attendance wasn’t super great, for a number of reasons, but the kids who came had a good time.
So, that’s that! Unfortunately, the youth center won’t be put to much use until next school year. The majority of students aren’t in class anymore, but are off doing their “practicums” – kind of like internships or apprenticeships. Those who are still around aren’t interested in much beyond going to required classes before heading outside to enjoy the beautiful spring weather. But, I’m excited to have a mostly completed youth center and training room that can be put to use next year. We will continue doing HIV/AIDS prevention trainings, hopefully including peer educators from the students who attended the trainings this year. Other clubs and trainings will also take place there, students will be able to use computers and internet, and I’ll even have my own little office! It’s nice to finally see something tangible come from my collaboration with the lyceum!