Jessica: While studying abroad in South Africa my junior year at SCU, I came across the quote by Nelson Mandela, “When you let your own light shine, you unconsciously give others permission to do the same.” I’ve been involved with service work since I was young and know that by offering my abilities to others, I gain a better understanding of who I am as an individual.
In Ukraine I teach English at a secondary school in the city of Rivne. I’ve also focused on HIV/AIDS awareness, serving as a member of the grant review committee for the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief program, and helping plan a new summer camp for HIV-positive kids. At the camp, these active, loving kids swam, did arts and crafts, and met daily with a doctor and psychologist for lessons on living with HIV. It’s truly inspiring—and of course we welcome donations for next summer’s camp.
Alexandra: What am I doing here? is a question I’ve found myself asking more often and more intensely than ever before in my life. I live in a little community in eastern Ukraine, where neighbors watch out for one another. But this is a mining town, and expectations are low, futures bleak. I’m trying to raise money to provide 13 new computers for the school where I teach English—to further educations, brighten hopes, and spark creativity.
I’ve run or worked at several summer camps—including Camp GLOW, where I taught lessons to 20 girls about leadership, human trafficking, HIV/AIDS, self-esteem, domestic violence, and positive body image. The girls learned a lot, but they gave me so much more. People who donated money to make this camp possible helped change the lives of children—and gave them tools to go out and effect change.
Be flexible is the Peace Corps mantra. But living here can be lonely, boring, frightening, depressing. There are times, though, when I’m inspired and realize that while this isn’t what I expected, it’s beautiful and remarkable beyond description.