Sunday, April 3, 2011

Alexander Birnberg (Photo: Killy SanchezCore team member Alex Birnberg wrote this summary of the last month of his experiences with his AfL team in Ukraine:

March has been a month of multiple movements. Like mendicant monks meandering, we moved across Ukraine and interacting with a multitude of mercifully friendly madams and messieurs. All this travel was of course connected with the great variety of program and projects that the local team here are involved in. To makes things confusing, our local friends are not called Initiatives of Change, but instead hold themselves under an NGO called Foundations for Freedom, while some fall under the guise Club for Young Leaders Crimea.

They are a really great bunch of social activists. Our first stop was Kiev, the capital. There we attended the screening of a movie about a project called ‘healing the past’. For those of you with elephant memories, you will recall that I took part a little in this project last year. It aimed to go around the country interviewing people and listening to their stories. Well, they did it, and here on the silver screen was the evidence. Like many parts of the world, there is a lot of controversy in talking about the past, so it takes courage to tackle such a subject.

We then zoomed off to the Crimea. When I was young I had heard of Florence Nightingale. I had also heard that a Nightingale was a type of bird. So for many years I had assumed Florence was famous for singing or something. Turns out she pretty much invented first aid and hospital care on the battlefield. Pretty useful too, as a battlefield is not an OH&S approved workplace (which she must have been happy about, because it would have been a pain filling out all those incident forms each time someone got a scratch). Well, Crimea is a beautiful place, filled with mountains jutting into the Black Sea, old Greek ruins and Mashrutkas. Mashrutkas? These are the local mini-buses which serve as the local (kind of ) public transport.

Cleaning up the beach at KoktebelIn Crimea we ran from one corner to another following our very enthusiastic and energetic hosts. They had managed in 5 years of activism to create three organisations, each catering to different social concerns. One was focused on training multicultural activists, another on promoting volunteerism and a final one, the CYL, on training young leaders to take an active role in society – and they were! We helped with training programs, with multicultural festivals, with talks on topics such as calling, with cleaning beaches and participating in spiritual retreats. We helped cook ‘shashlik’ (meat on a stick) and burn trees. All in all, spectacular fun.

From Crimea, we zoomed off to a small village called Sorochizi, which is the birthplace of a famous writer named Gogol. This village is near to the F4F community house. A place beautifully nestled into the hills of the mid-North of Ukraine. We came here to do our final evaluation of AfL5.

Solomon working hardBirds were chirping, rivers were flowing, and the AfL team was put to good use in chopping wood, raking leaves and eating lots of traditional food. We also managed to have a really lovely encounter with the local boarding school. It is a school which has a lot of pupils with TB and many come from very small villages, also, we were told, many were from broken families. With such odds stacked against them, the teachers had come up with many methods to try to help the kids prosper and grow. We could feel the positive atmosphere right away, and was one of those few magical moments when you just want to stick around more and more because of the nice feeling of being there. By compelte coincidence, it also happened to be the 202 anniversary of Gogol – so, as the village knew it was harbouring such exotic animals such as ourselves, we immediately became invited as key guests to the Gogol museum. We laid flowers to Gogol, saw a high school performance of Gogol and heard many reciatations of Gogol in Ukrainian or Russia. Which meant that basically we just had to smile and nod, smile and nod.

After escaping from so much culture, we ran back to the big smoke of Kiev and have finished the adventure known as AfL. What is next, well, you will have to wait for the subsequent update.