July 11, 2008 Part 2

 Greetings from Vinnytsia – and this continues our earlier conversation.

We are both starting to get established at our organizations.  Don is at a small business development center.  We (Don here now) work at their version of the state level (oblast) to promote business investment and private businesses in Vinnytsia and Vinnytsia Oblast.  There are about six or seven related NGO’s that are part of this network.  They share people and offices with each other, but each of the NGOs has a specific part of the operation.   My “office” is one room where we have five desks.  I work there with five young women, all of whom seem to run their own part of the operation.  An intern also comes most days, plus often there are individuals from one of the two other offices located in other buildings.  Today we had eight people in our single room, all working away, and I realized this room was smaller than the office where I had my desk back home.  There is a second room adjacent to my office where there are another three desks and where three people work, including my direct boss, Sasha.  That room is smaller which is why it has fewer desks.  Only one person speaks English at my office, a 28 year old woman named Olena who is also the projects manager.  She is a riot and I love working with her.  I try to talk what little Russian I can with the rest and they appreciate my efforts even as they giggle at what I say.

Funding is a big problem for NGOs but they are allowed to develop for-income enterprises that relate to the community they are chartered to be helping.  So my NGOs do several things to help small businessmen, such as providing consultation and expertise on land acquisitions, getting government permits, how to register your business, routine legal issues a business owner might face, and so on.  One of the offices provides promotional items that small businesses can use in promotional advertising and at sales events.  Ukraine allows and encourages these types of NGOs because they had no history of private enterprise since Stalinist times and NGOs can help Ukrainians learn how to start and run their own businesses.  It is a good concept and business education is constantly being stressed.  I have already started working on three projects.  One is a class for high school seniors who want to attend university in Western Europe and who need some experience with how to do “projects” as a means of learning about business concepts before they go off to a university next year that centers its curriculum around this concept.  Another will be teaching some business classes at a university level business training institute this fall.  These students will be adult businessmen and businesswomen who have already started and own or manage businesses.  The third project is more long range and centers on trying to develop a clinic and web site that will help foreign businessmen and foreign students in Ukraine.  We will report more on this one once it gets a bit farther along. 

Now for Karen’s turn.  My organization, Nashe Podillya, is a “youth organization” with some interesting projects.  The following is a partial list what they have done over the last 3-4 years  (I have been helping them with a marketing piece in English for one of their partners in Poland – these short summaries are from that):

“MuzEntropiya”  social rock festival supporting young musicians, in partnership with Vinnytsia Regional Department of Family, Youth and Sports, with funds raised used to repair building at the center for autistic children.       “The Camp of Good Will”  in partnership with “The Maltese Service in Lviv”;  volunteers renovated a social hospital for 20 discarded elderly people in a depressed area of Vinnytsia Oblast.  Initiative to rename Chekist St. to V.M.Chornovil St.  in Vinnytsia, including appropriate press releases and new street signage.  (The Chekists were Stalin’s most famous “butchers”.)   “Sheshori Podil’ski”;   international ethnic music and land art festival, collaboration with other like-minded youth organizations.  “Time to Vote”   done in partnership with the Ukrainian program “Freedom House”.    Project included an auto race which helped mobilize more than 15,000 young people for active electoral activity in different rayons of Vinnytsia oblast.  “Children to Children”;   project included a charity auction for children who are wards of nursing homes in Vinnytsia region.    “We Are Of One Blood, You and Me”, with support of the International Renaissance Foundation.  Project aimed at the shaping of tolerant attitudes towards the people of different nationalities living in Ukraine.  “Network of Civic Action in Vinnytsia, Khmelnytskiy and Cherkasy Oblasts”, with support of the National Endowment for Democracy.  Project aimed to bring regional youth organizations together, to establish lines of communication and provide a forum for the exchange of information and experiences by like-minded organizations.

 As we said before, Nashe Podillya has no money for itself.   Our “office” is on the second floor of an old factory building that used to make cardboard boxes before it went bankrupt several years ago.  But it is a fun place to be, with lots of activity.  Our director, Yuriy, started this about 8 years ago.   He has a university degree in agronomy.  How he wandered into social causes we have no idea.  He is about the most un-fancy “business-man” you would ever see;    he lives in a village with his sister and rides the marshrytka to town everyday and this is his life.   All of our “counterparts” (business people we work with in Ukraine) came to our Peace Corps swearing-in ceremony  (where we had important Peace Corps types and the US Ambassador and a couple of Ministers from various departments of the government);  Yuriy was the only one there dressed in old khaki pants and a faded (un-tucked in) shirt instead of a suit.   So life is good  – I’ve been able to give up navy blue suits for khakis and sandals and a t-shirt, and the challenge now is to learn enough so that I can be useful.   The “office” also includes a project manager – Valentina – who speaks English!  and who is wonderful at actually getting things done, plus a bookkeeper who works part-time.   Plus many volunteers who are in and out.   Food is big at our office – there is always a reason to stop and have a cup of tea and/or other treats.   There is also an interesting new project that I am actually helping with, and a 3 day international music and land art festival outside of a village somewhere to attend this weekend – but more on these later.   (We need to go find our sleeping bags that are packed somewhere - Peace Corps told us we did not need a tent, but as it turns out we do need one, so someone is loaning us one for this adventure.)

Peace Corps told us that we would very likely be bored our first few months at site because the Ukrainians do not do much in the summer.   We think Peace Corps needs to meet the people at both of our sites…   and we are wondering when it is we get to be bored!

So enough for now, time to get back to work and we will write more later.   Please keep in touch -   Don and Karen


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