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May 31, 2007

Walking the City

It seemed as though we nearly covered the entire city walking today. Well, perhaps not the entire city. It was a beautiful day. We started out in the market, shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables and learning how to purchase market items. I'm continuing to learn the nuances of Ukrainian culture. Married women, I have learned, wear their wedding rings on the right hand. Always a simple gold band. Having left my wedding ring at home with Travis, I was happy to finally find a ring in the market that will serve for the summer.

The fresh fruits and vegetables at the market are amazing. Ukrainians absolutely love cherries, so there is an abundance of cherries everywhere. Cucumbers and tomatoes are also a basic staple of the summer, as well as LOTS of fresh herbs (dill, basil, and parsley especially).

After the market, we spent our time observing the business camp teams. It was interesting to see how each approached operating the business they had created. It was somewhat heartbreaking to see in some cases hard effort not fully rewarded, but such cases also provided an opportunity for the students to learn the importance of perseverance and ongoing assessment in operating a business.

As we begin to settle into life in Zaporozhye and work with Hope International, I am reminded of how fortunate and blessed I am to be here, working with an organization that I consider to be outstanding and in an area of hardship. I've seen glimpses of what this life means for those who are in it long term. I know that it is far from perfect or as romantic as it initially seems. It is a difficult life that requires much sacrifice. But it is a rewarding life that enables you to use what you have to change the lifes of those on the margins. No, these workers do not "change the world" in the strictest sense of the term, but they change the world for thousands of lives. And slowly, they are helping to change the world for a country. That is well worth the sacrifice.

Go Home Yankees

It’s hard to describe the emotions, fears, and frustrations that run through you when, at dusk, walking alone through the back streets of Zaporozhye, you hear, “Go home Yankees!? called out from behind you. As Ashley and I walked to the Hope International Office from the bus stop last night around 7 pm, this is what we encountered. In the end, it turned out to be nothing, but it really caused me to think, as many experiences these past few days have, of the experiences others have living in a foreign land, and the struggles of individuals who are discriminated against on a daily basis. But more about that below.

Yesterday was both an extremely good and an extremely challenging day. After six days outside of the states, I had not spoken to my family in nearly a week. For those who know me well, my family is extremely important to me. We are very close – they are very much a source of encouragement, inspiration, and motivation for me. Long term separation from them is one of the most challenging barriers to Trav’s and my desire to do long term international work. While I was still unable to talk with them yesterday, I was able to at least hear their voices on answering machines and messaging systems. That, together with emails they’ve sent – including the sweetest emails from my nieces and nephews! – have helped me to recharge and remember why I am here when the challenging days arrive.

The start of the day was fairly routine – preparing for the day and allowing the Grove City teams time to prepare their lectures and business training programs. We spent the afternoon again with high school students of Zaporozhye. The Grove City teams continued the business training into marketing, production, and product analysis. It has been interesting to learn from them, and exciting to see how they conform business practices to Christian teachings, ethics, and principles.

A vast number of Ukrainians are skeptical of business and capitalism. Coming from a communist history – albeit a largely oppressive one – Ukrainians often see business as nothing more than an attempt to profit at another’s expense. Unbounded, modern lassiez-faire economic systems, as a large portion of the US population tends to ascribe to, indeed allows for and at times encourages this. But helping the students to understand that business need not – and as we hold should not – represent this helps them not only to understand business differently, but also to approach it in a manner that is designed to benefit them, their community, and their country while maintaining just actions toward others.

As part of the business training, the students have formulated a business plan, taken a small loan from Hope International, and created a short term small business. It has been exciting to see the innovation, commitment, and responsibility the students have approached their businesses with. They spent the evening yesterday preparing and refining their products and advertising techniques. On Thursday (today), they will be selling their products throughout Zaporozhye. Having seen the work they have put into their training and business up to now, I am excited to see their experiences in applying what they have learned.

Beyond the business training camps, yesterday involved a continuation of the ongoing process of adjusting to life in the Ukraine. I am still enamored with the people, the city, and the culture. While the process of adjustment is exciting and adventurous, it can at times be challenging and exhausting. I feel that I am making progress with the language, but it is still easy to feel alienated in a crowd of hundreds. For the most part, I feel welcome and at home here, but there are still places and times where it is important – essential – to mask where I am from. For instance, it is best to not speak when securing a taxi, as they tend to charge Americans quite a bit more for transportation. It is best to speak quietly, especially if walking at night or in the evenings, to not draw attention to the fact that we are American. Even so, it is fairly obvious were are not from the Ukraine, and it can create some strange and difficult circumstances.

In general, the challenges tend to take the form of irritation or scoffing. People tend to become irritated when we cannot understand them or when we unintentionally act or speak in a way that outside of the cultural norm. But there are also instances like Ashley’s experience on the bus (see earlier entries) and possibilities of what happened last night being a reality.

Desperate to talk to our families, we set out for Hope’s office as soon as I returned to our flat from the business camp. As we made our way to the office from the bus stop, we heard a group of young voices (we thought high school) speaking in Russian approach from behind us. One of the men’s voices called out “Go home Yankees!? We looked at one another somewhat in shock – we were forewarned of such experiences, but I think both somewhat taken back by it anyhow. We acted like we hadn’t heard and continued walking. The group was laughing and speaking again in Russian. The voice again called out “Go home Yankees!? followed by a woman’s voice that called “Hey you! Hey you guys! Hey you – turn around!? The sound of their footsteps approached and we became somewhat nervous and flustered. We were just a few blocks from Hope, so we sped up our walk and headed straight for the office. As we entered, Ashley turned and said, “I think they’re following us.? While we never felt truly threatened, it did cause me to think what it must be like for those who are harassed and discriminated against on a daily basis.

In the US, there are hundreds of thousands of immigrants, international students, and visitors. Not only do they face the struggles of a new culture, a new language, and separation from their homes and families, but they often face hostility and discrimination from nationals. Even within countries, marginalized groups are made to feel out of place in the only home they know. The vast majority, as in our case, are not out to harm or take advantage of the economy or people. As in our case, many are simply there to contribute to it, to become a part of it, and to largely benefit it if even for a short time. Why is it that we are so quick to be possessive of what we have been blessed with? From money to possessions to even a nation with politically determined borders, we are slow to be generous with what we have been given, and quick to treat those we consider outsiders with hostility. So many hold an immediate assumption that “they? are there to pillage, to take advantage, and to harm – that “they? are there to take what rightfully belongs to us. A fact that may be shocking to some: the US is one of the richest nations in the world but ranks last in foreign aid given as a percentage of GNP among major Western donors of foreign aid. In other words, the US – one of the wealthiest world leaders – gives the very least of what we have.

As it turns out, the group “harassing? us turned out to be one of the Grove City teams joking around. In the end, it was nothing, but it was still an experience that brought home to me in a very tangible way the experiences of so many throughout the world. I am blessed to be largely free of such treatment in the states. But it is also something that helped me to see what individuals in foreign relief, development, and ministry face. They sacrifice much out of love and a desire to contribute and advocate. At times, we must draw our determination and comfort from our conviction that regardless of the challenges and barriers, this work is worth it. To some degree, yes, I am a “Yankee? (though it is not the primary source of my identity – I would call myself a Christian and a world citizen first and foremost)… and I am staying.

May 30, 2007

Day One

There is never a dull moment. Yesterday was my first day at the Zaporozhye office of Hope. The office also serves as the Eastern European Regional Office and is home to Paul Marty, the Eastern European Regional Director and Cindy Marty, the director of the Tomorrow Clubs.

The sights, sounds, and culture of Zaporozhye are amazing, but what an adjustment. The poverty is everywhere and always present. Pockets of affluence are few and far between. Buildings that we would consider condemned in the United States house the "middle class" and "upper middle class" of the Ukraine. It is something to behold.

We spent the day working with Ukrainian high school students at a business camp. The camp is intended to help develop business and finance skills in students. Part of the camp involves students developing a business plan and learning how to start and operate a new business. I was amazing to see. It is part of Hope's integrative and holistic approach - credit with training as well as early training and education for children. The investment made into the community is amazing and exciting to be a part of. In a city of over 6 million, and with poverty so widespread, there is much to do. I am humbled to be a part of the work.

Leaving the school after the conclusion of the day was somewhat interesting. Getting there was also interesting in its own right. Already, we are learning so much about the culture and the differences here. My word. For one, personal space is not really a huge deal here, especially on public transportation. It's amazing how many people pack onto the small buses. Chris warned us with a somewhat humorous story of being somewhat attacked by a babuscha on public transit, but I was still ill prepared. As we left for the day, Ashley was fairly assaulted by a kind bus misguided man who was attempting to pick her up in Russian.

Other humorous revelations: whistling is considered in poor form, as in Ukrainian culture, it could bring down some sort of a hex that would rob a family of all of their money. Shoving, pushing, and full body assaults to gain access to public transport is not only acceptable, but quite common. There is no such thing as pedestrian right of way in the Ukraine. I have already had two close calls with cars. They do not stop, slow down, yield, or even attempt to avoid pedestrians. A couple of Hope staff have been hit by cars - apparently it's a somewhat common occurence here. Cars have taken on a new meaning for me.

I feel like I am finally settling in a bit in the city. The past few weeks have held much travel for me, so it's nice to be in one place more than a few days. Already this weekend though, we are heading to the coast for a Hope Regional Conference. I am excited to learn about and see more of the work that Hope is doing throughout Eastern Europe. Travel across yet another weekend is somewhat exhausting to even think of, but I know that what lies on the other end is well worth it. This work and this kind of life involves so much travel. Cindy just returned from the states a few days ago and Paul left this morning for an international conference on microfinance for INGO's. He will meet with us at the Hope Conference next week, so he has even more travel in store. It has been incredible to learn of the demands of operating a Christian microfinance INGO abroad. In just a few days, I feel like I have learned so much and have gained such a different perspective. I'm also beginning to understand the reality - the sights, smell, tastes, emotions of such widespread poverty and, in many cases, destitution and desperation. But I'm also seeing clients with excitement, enthusiasm, and hope as they walk into Hope's doors. This summer is already proving to be so much more than I anticipated...

May 29, 2007

Journey to the Ukraine

After two plane rides, several car rides, a cross-country bus ride, and a somewhat startling taxi ride, I’ve finally arrived to my summer home: Zaporozhe, Ukraine. The city is beautiful – so much different than what I had anticipated. Granted, I’ve not seen much of it, but enough to know that I am already enthralled and ready to explore.

The past several days have been a complete whirlwind. I left the states late Friday night. Sunday morning I arrived in Charles De Gaulle in Paris. What a beautiful city to fly into. The sky view is so different from the States. In many ways, the lay of the land reflects the cultures and societies of the two nations. Whereas the land of the states is divided consistently into efficient, fully utilized square acres, France’s land is somewhat haphazardly divided, with villages lazily sprawled in anything but an organized manner. I hardly knew we had arrived at Paris until we were already descending. No suburbs efficiently condensing into a large metropolitan like in the states. Instead, a few villages sprinkled here and there and suddenly the city is upon you. It is breathtaking. I arrived with a sore back. I had the misfortune to sit behind a rather tall, rude, non-communication friendly, seat-kicking man. The good news is that he fell asleep finally, so I was able to travel at least part of the flight in peace.

For a large international airport, Charles De Gaulle seemed very informal and relaxed. I had a bit of a culture shock as I sought out my connection. Being an impatient, time-sensitive American, I assumed terminal transfers (because for some reason, the designers of the airport felt no need to connected the terminals in a way that can be accessed by passengers) arrived every five or ten minutes. Not so - the French will not be rushed by flight schedules. I managed to make my way to three incorrect terminals before finding my connection (which, by the way, was incorrectly posted on the all-knowing flight summary screens!). But I made it on time and I was off to the Ukraine.

I arrived in Kiev Sunday around 6 pm. Max (my savvy and absolutely essential travel expert) had been waiting an hour. Immediately I was rushed off to Max’s family’s house for a quick nap, shower, and meal before the 9 hour bus ride to Zaporozhe. It was then that I truly met the culture of the Ukraine for the first time. At the gate of the house, Max’s babushka (grandmother) waited with a stern yet somehow inviting look. I was greeted by his mother in the main room. At first, I was afraid I had offended somehow by the expression on her face, but I now realize she is one of the most warm, dear, and inviting women I know. The expression was merely her culture manifesting itself. Eastern Europeans are not quick to smile as Americans are, but that does not mean they are any less hospitable or kind. I took a few pictures of the area with Max before he gently warned me that the area may not be the best to photograph. I wanted to capture the beauty and the memory of the family, which I was able to do. But the experience reminded me that as good as it is to capture the moment in film, it is not always the wisest or most sensitive endeavor. Of course I could not sleep, so I spent a few short hours reading and reacquainting myself with walking (I had almost forgotten after two days of flying). Dinner was amazing – a broasted chicken with a fresh tomato and cucumber anti-pasto, potatoes, a variety of teas, and Ukrainian bread.

With Max as the translater, we spoke of American politics, the current political crisis in the Ukraine, Hope International, and our faith. Max’s mom put her arm around me and said something endearing in Russian. I now understand the difficult international students and immigrants face on an ongoing basis. I felt incredibly welcome, but isolated by a filter of language. I absolutely must learn Russian as soon as possible! To be honest, the language terrifies me a bit. When we first arrived, I felt trapped constantly between arguments. Russian is a very blunt, direct, and forceful language with few vowels to soften the delivery of words. What is often a simple, congenial conversation to me sounds like an argument. Even the printed language seems to take on a manner of scolding. By far and wide, everything is in caps, and exclamation points often accompany written words. So if you don’t feel accosted verbally, it seems the written word is lighting into you for something or another. I’m sure, however, that I will adjust soon. I tend to be overly sensitive (as you gasp reading this, right?), so it’s not surprising that Eastern European languages will take a little longer for me to adjust to.

With dinner finished, we were off to the bus for Zaporozhe. The nine hour bus ride was incredible. As we left Kyiv, Max and I talked more about the current political crisis between Yanukovech and Yuschenkov as well as the cultural and political oppressiveness that at one time, led him to leave what can feel a dark, weighted place for Western Europe. Just as we were speaking of the protests (which, by the way, are widely known in Kyiv to be staged… most ‘protesters’ are paid), around fifteen buses carrying between fifty to one hundred orange-clad (the President’s color) youth and adults passed us with a police escort. It was surreal to me. The transitional period and the political crisis here are real and a daily part of the lives of Ukrainians. Most are skeptical, but there still remains the hope that this will perhaps lead to less oppression, a greater environment of freedom and liberation, and less corruption. Max described how when he made the decision to return to the Ukraine, he felt the weight of the culture and society descend on him the moment he stepped off the plane. It is something he yearns to see changed, yet something that he knows will take time.

As we continued through the country side, I was quickly taken back. I had tried to mentally prepare myself for widespread poverty relative to the United States and less development. But no amount of images that I played through my mind prepared me for what I saw. The infrastructure of the country is extremely weak. We were on some of the best roads (and one was hands down the best road of the country), yet there were still dips and sways in the pavement. My father is a civil engineer, and from him, I know that the dips and sways come from improper packing and pouring – which is common for road completed on too low of budgets or too fast of schedules. As we bounced through the country, I realized in a very tangible way that the poverty is not something felt simply by families and children. It is a challenge faced by the country as a whole. The Ukraine does not typically come to mind when you think of impoverished countries, but from what I saw today, it will always stick with me as a nation struggling for democracy and development to be free from the constraints of poverty.

Aside from the infrastructure, the poverty is everywhere. I struggled to find areas of relative affluence. For the most part, I found none. While there are undoubtedly areas of wealth in the cities, the areas we traveled to were extremely poor compared to the United States. Some houses were constructed of tin. Most were dilapidated concrete buildings. Certainly, most offered sufficient shelter and suggested at least sustenance. But many did not, and all I saw could not compare to what we in the US would consider lower middle-class. It changed my perspective entirely. Poverty that wreaks havoc on entire nations is alive and well – and at work here in the Ukraine.

The land of the Ukraine brings a strange contrast to the buildings and development. Max informed me that over 40% of the world’s blackest and most fertile earth is located in the Ukraine. It shows. The land is lush and green. Trees grow in abundance. We even passed two fields with lilacs and dogwoods distributed so thickly that the entire bus smelled of the flowers for a few minutes. For the majority of the trip, I felt that I was back in the Loess Hills of Northwest Iowa, but the Ukraine is much greener than even the famous Loess Hills. Nevertheless, a similar climate as well as similar plants and trees are found among the two areas as they are on the same global latitude.
I’ve never seen such a contrast of the beauty of the land and the ugliness of poverty against one another. Years of cultural and political oppression have taken their toll on what could otherwise be a land of abundance. This is also one of the reasons that there is hope among the youth and one of the reasons that Hope is at work. The Ukraine is a country with great developmental and economic potential. They are a relatively peaceful and loving people – they simply need a political culture free from the corruption and oppression currently at work.

While my internal clocks are hopelessly off at this point (I’ve not slept for two days – not since leaving the States), Max was able to sleep through part of the end of our ride. It proved comical. We were crammed into two adjoining seats intended for sleep on an overnight bus ride. A few elbows were inadvertently thrown but we arrived in one piece all the same. We arrived in Zaporozhe around 7:30 am local time, or 11:30 pm for what I’m used to. Part of me was ready to go to sleep when we reached my apartment, but the other half has adjusted to the lighting, so sleep eludes me once again.

Zaporozhe is astonishing. We drove in across the river, greeted by a fortress and an arching stone bridge. As we pulled closer into the city, we passed several parks and a statue of Lenin. We neared the center of the city, where I was surprised and happy to learn that the two bedroom Ashley and I will be staying in is located. It’s perfect – so much more than I had anticipated in the city! It’s a large two-bedroom with a view of the inner courtyard and even a little balcony. I could not be in a more blissful state. I’ve seen both the beauty of the country and the devastation of poverty that stretches beyond what I imagined. But I also know that Hope is ever-expanding here and that its work is effective and life-changing. My work begins tomorrow and I could not be more excited about starting. I’m looking forward to sharing more of what I learn about this increasingly fascinating country, and how Hope is working to aid those marginalized within it.

May 26, 2007

Beginnings

We spent yesterday continuing in program and microfinance training. Most of yesterday was dedicated to team building and final preparations. We spent part of the afternoon touring Lancaster County and the Amish Villages. It was amazing to learn more about their heritage, trends, and future challenges. I knew of Lancaster County and the Amish from when my sister lived on the East Coast - whenever we went to visit her we'd always stop in at the Amish Market. But to learn more about a culture within the American culture, a history within American history - it was a reminder that it does not take traveling thousands of miles to be immersed in a culture so different from my own. Toward the end of the afternoon, we spent some time in an Amish 'village' (more like a tourist attraction with Amish shops) - the sweetest little band (not Amish, but they added a touch of "old home" to the village) played in the center of the village. It was so relaxing to just sit for a while and listen to them play.

We spent the evening cooking out, enjoying the summer, and playing Catchphrase. It was HILARIOUS. It's funny how close you can grow to people in such a short period of time. Our team is a strong one - well balanced by one another's uniqueness but united by fundamental commonalities (i.e.: a commitment to global social justice and integrating faith into our work).


We leave today for our countries and summer work. I am excited but that excitement is manifesting itself in somewhat frustrating ways. I'm losing everything and feel utterly incapable of repacking in a way that is organized and complete. I've already managed to lose the book that is most important to my summer studies. I'm sure it will turn up somewhere. I still have around four hours to finish some final tasks, pack, and get ready for the flight.

Bags or no bags, books or no books, in a few short hours I will be in the Ukraine. It's a little nerve-racking, given the escalating political tension there. But I am confident that our work will be uninterrupted and that we will be safe. The 'crisis' in the news has been in the making since March, and there are many international actors with eyes trained on developments. There is much pressure on both President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yanukovych to reach a peaceful solution. It's unfortunate that troops are involved, but I have a feeling that the media is over-dramatizing events. Sensationalism is so much a part of our media. I guess I'll find out the true nature in a few hours and days. In any event, it is an exciting time to be there. The unfolding events are sure to change the course of the Ukraine's history. They are pivotal in the country's struggle to transition from communism to democracy. And whether that transition occurs, is delayed, or is stopped entirely rests on what happens in the course of this crisis. Alongside of it, I will be experiencing what I know will be a life-changing summer with Hope.

May 25, 2007

Training, Rebuilding, Refreshing

Amazing. Absolutely amazing. I was thrilled and excited about today, but it far exceeded what I expected. We opened the day with a quick introduction to the mission, vision, and organization of Hope International. A few quick facts that seriously brought tears to my eyes: Hope is currently serving over 60,000 clients in twelve countries, and over 80% of Hope's clients are women. 100% of Hope donations go to Hope's programs and any 'profits' from the repayment of loans (of which there is a 99.5% repayment rate) are poured directly back into programs to benefit the families and children of Hope's clients (i.e.: Tomorrow Clubs). Hope is currently providing over $6 million in microcredit loans. And as of earlier this week, Hope is serving in twelve nations, including Ukraine, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, China, Afghanistan, the Dominican Republic, and now India, among others. As you can see from even the abbreviated list of countries, Hope is committed to areas of hardship. Additionally, Hope's approach is tailored to the local economy, culture, and financial structures. Each program is preceeded by intensive research to find the approach that will most benefit the local communities Hope will serve. And above all, Hope is truly committed to integrating faith with microfinance - faith with action, faith IN action.

A definite bonus to the day was learning more about microfinance in the field from Dave Larson. Dave is a seasoned microfinance expert and has worked with and consulted for a host of organizations and agencies, including the the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the ILO, USAID, World Relief, CARE, and Food for the Hungry. His experience is vast and unique. He was one of a few that sat with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees during the process to repatriate Hutus to Rwanda following the Rwandan genocide. He has an amazing way of presenting complicated approaches in simple, accessible, and applicable ways for those of us who are new to fieldwork in microfinance. Again, I am amazed.

By far, the highlight of the day was exploring the role of faith in poverty alleviation and specifically in microfinance programs. I am SO excited for the readings and studying we are doing as a team this summer. The book that I am most eager to complete is by R. J. Sider: Rich Christians In an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity. Sider is a professor at Eastern University and specializes in global hunger, poverty, social justice, foreign policy, and economic ethics. Just an overview of some topics in the book: "Great Inequalities of Power," "Western Colonialism," "Structural Injustice Today," "Destroying the Environment and the Poor," "Discrimination and War," "All Things in Common," "A Change in Foreign Policy," "Making International Trade More Fair," "Preserving the Earth and Empowering the Poor," "Bombs, Bread, and Illusions," "Let Justice Ring," "Poverty's Children," "A Billion Hungry Neighbors," "Uneven Distribution," and "Economic Fellowship and Economic Justice." It covers this and so much more... from what I've read already, I highly recommend it. We've also been given A Billion Bootstraps: Microcredit, Barefoot Banking, and the Business Solution for Ending Poverty by P. Smith and E. Thurman and an essay by Stuart Rutherford on credit and savings. Combined with the Rawls, Sen, and books on international trade and globalization, I have a summer full of reading ahead!

In addition to the incredible books we were given today, we had several times together in the Word. In so many ways, Scriptures that seemed to be so well known to me came across in new light. For instance... the story of the rich man and Lazarus of Matthew describes how Lazarus remained at the gates of the rich man, begging for even the crumbs of the rich man's table. The point of the Scripture is clearly that those with so much are reluctant to give even the excess to those so desperately in need of it. We would rather waste it, or "give it to the dogs," than give generously to those who would be elated by even the excess, or "the crumbs." To me, this Scripture has always applied in an individualistic or familial sense... a call for believers to give generously. But can't this also be seen as a call for nations to be generous with the wealth they have been given? For instance, how many nations ridden and devastated by poverty could be transformed with America's excess, or "crumbs"? Certainly they have asked for as much, and have literally stood at America's gates begging for the excess (i.e.: the immigration 'crisis' that is such a controversy among politicians today). First of all, must they beg?!?! And second of all, what makes such a wealthy nation so reluctant to open the gates and share such excess? Granted, the US provides more foreign aid than any other nation, yet there is still such excess and still so many turned away at our gates. I tend to hold the groups I ascribe to to a high standard. It is not that I do not see the generosity that Christians and Americans have shown... I just question why, with such wealth and excess, it cannot be more. For instance, there are over 3 billion in the world today that are living on less than a dollar a day. If every Christian household was willing to contribute just 1% of their income to microfinance programs, the poverty of those 3 billion could be alleviated by over 50% in less than one year. WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR? In any event, this is not meant to me a tirade. It is actually something I am inspired and encouraged by. Microfinance has been shown to be so successful in sustainable poverty alleviation, and integrating faith with microfinance introduces an eternal, holistic component that is utterly life changing. After today, I am all the more motivated for and excited about the work that lies before me this summer... and all the more convinced that this will be lifechanging. A good friend of mine, Mary Anne, gave sent me the following quote as I was preparing to leave:

"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living." –-Miriam Beard

I feel that change coming on...

May 24, 2007

Lancaster County

Today brought the first part of this summer's journey. I write tonight from one of the most beautiful farmhouses of Lancaster County I have ever seen. I'm hoping that tomorrow I can get pictures. A little lake lies behind the house and we've been fairly 'warned' of the menagerie that will likely be waiting for us outside in the morning.

Travel is rarely uneventful, and today proved to be no exception. Saying good-bye to Travis this morning was a little more difficult than I anticipated. I think people in the security checkpoint line got a little annoyed when I cut out to say good-bye to him for the second... third... sixth time. I'm sure I looked equally as ridiculous running through O'Hare with only ten minutes between touch-down and take-off of my two flights. In any event, I made it here, bags and all, which is unfortunately more than can be said for some other members of the 2007 Hope Intern Team. Between lost bags and missed flights, we all finally arrived tonight a bit exhausted.

Despite some setbacks in travel and luggage, we are in excellent company. Chris, who has coordinated all of the internships, turns out to be a huge fan of The Bachelor. And other members of Hope are avid American Idol fans. I'm not sure that Chris shares my appreciation for Tessa or that other members of the staff are still a bit bitter over Melinda being voted off, but at least we share excellent taste in prime time viewing. Ok - on a more serious note, the company I am in is truly amazing. The other women interns I have met are incredible. Their stories, hopes, and ambitions are inspiring and encouraging. And the Hope staff are the epitomes of humble and giving servants. It is exactly the heart of a team I had hoped to be a part of.

All that being said, I'm looking forward to the next two days of training. On the agenda are learning more about this amazing organization, becoming familiarized with Hope's programs and mission, and of course, a bit of Lancaster County tourism before we depart the country for our summer work on Saturday.

May 22, 2007

Ten Days

What a year this has been! When Travis and I decided to go forward with my graduate studies, we knew that it would be life-changing. It would mean a move, a different way of life, and one step closer to living out what has been a lifelong passion and dream for both of us. In many ways, both good and bad, the year has been much more than we anticipated. We have been stretched, challenged, and all the more convinced that this work is the right work for us. And for the past several months, we have been incredibly eager for the summer to arrive! It is finally here, and it all begins in ten days when I fly out to Pennsylvania for three days of training and then to the Ukraine for ten weeks with Hope International.

This summer represents much of what has inspired us and what we have been working toward. I am spending ten and a half weeks working with Hope International (http://www.hopeinternational.org/) as an intern for their microfinance program in the Ukraine. Travis will be joining me in week nine to work with Hope as well through the end of my internship. It is an opportunity of a lifetime: a chance for us to work with an incredible Christian INGO to help shape and deliver programs that holistically address poverty among those on the margins of an increasingly globalized society. It is the chance to engage in human rights advocacy in a way that utilizes everything I feel I have to offer. It is exciting, humbling, and - to be honest - intimidating all at once. I have much more to learn than I have to offer. But this is the first step of many in a lifetime of this work and with what we know to be one of the best NGO's worldwide, so we are looking forward to what the summer will bring.

I will be spending most of the summer in Zaporozhye, which is about two hundred miles south of Kyiv. I know little of the language (Ukranian and Russian) and little of the culture. While it's not required, I hope to become a least conversational in Ukranian and Russian by summer's end. Maybe by the time Travis arrives, I'll be able to get around without the aid of my Russian/English dictionary - here's hoping! My work will require much flexibility - my main purpose is to help with the development and delivery of Hope's microfinance programs and policy. While much has been invested into me across the past year with regard to microfinance, policy, and human rights advocacy, I know that working with programs on the ground is vastly different from researching them and working with them in academic settings. To that end, I think that this summer will be a time of tremendous learning and growth for me. I'm hoping that this experience changes me in many ways. Most importantly, I'm hoping that it connects me in very real ways to the struggles of those who live under the burdens of poverty and in areas where resources are scarce. In turn, I hope that enables me to become more effective in my work and most importantly, in encouraging others to become involved.

I am incredibly grateful not only for the opportunity, but also for support that I have received for this work. A generous fellowship from the Upper Midwest Human Rights Program, combined with an equally generous grant from the University of Minnesota Office of International Programs have funded this work. I am looking forward to sharing what I learn and experience this summer with my communities. I hope that it will inspire others to become involved in human rights work and to take on what can otherwise seem to be impossible challenges.

I am also incredibly grateful to my family, who have made so many sacrifices and have done so much to support me in the work that I do. Today I said good-bye to them - three months may not seem to be a long time, but it is long for a family that is close. And it is very long for an aunt of such incredible nieces and nephews! I'm looking forward to sharing pictures with them across the summer - they have exciting summers in store as well!

My main motivation for setting up this blog has been to share the work of Hope and my experiences with you across the summer. If I can figure out my camera and computer, I'll be posting pictures as well. After the internship, Travis, Ashley (my amazing summer roommate), and I will traveling for ten days through Europe, so watch for pictures at the end as well!

Challenges with International Internships

Beyond securing an international internship and funding, there are a few other things to be mindful of. For the, the most important was understanding university restrictions and fellowship restrictions on travel and work in areas of hardship or unrest. Funding and internships associated with the University of Minnesota require a degree of ensured security. For countries on the US State Department's Travel Warning List, the university and university based fellowship require a petition for work, travel, and/or study. Often these petitions are successful, but they do require that students develop a secure evacuation plan in case of crisis.

Initially, due to funding deadlines, I accepted a position with the Foundation for Sustainable Development in Mombasa, Kenya. While it was not my first choice, the internship with FSD definitely provided a mutually beneficial opportunity for both me and the organization. Kenya was on the US Travel Warning List due to ongoing unrest. However, I knew of several students who had worked in the country previously, and also of several planning to intern there this coming summer. However, unrest in Kenya escalated in early spring. The faith-based nature of my internship was somewhat concerning in light of the unrest, so FSD cancelled my internship.

Hope had provided me with the opportunity to intern with them shortly before my internship with FSD was cancelled. I was able, through several petitions, to transfer my funding and ended up with the internship I had hoped for. Shortly after I accepted, the Ukranian President dissolved the Rada (Ukranian Parliament). For a period of about three weeks, the political climate seemed a bit tenuous. However, the Ukraine has remained off the travel warning list and the political crisis has been somewhat dissolved through ongoing negotiations and a commitment by both President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yanukovych to achieving a peaceful resolution. The conflict is not completely resolved, but is moving toward resolution. It proves to be an interesting time to work in the Ukraine.

All of this is not to dissuade students from working in areas of hardship. On the contrary, had FSD not cancelled my internship, I would have continued the work. However, for those interested in international internships, it is important to remain current on the political, economic, and social conditions of the country, as well as any organizational or university restrictions on travel and work in that area. Not only will this help you to be better prepared as an intern, but it will also provide you with back-up plans and opportunities, should an internship be cancelled as mine was.

Introduction

My main motivation for setting up this blog has been to share the work of Hope International and my experiences with family, friends, and entering Humphrey students across the summer. My name is Jaquilyn. I just completed my first year of graduate studies at the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs. I am a Masters of Public Policy (MPP) student with concentrations in Advanced Policy Analysis and International Minority Human Rights. Driven in all things by my faith and my commitment to international social justice, I entered graduate studies in public policy determined to find a way to contribute to the shaping of policy, programs, and perhaps even law in a way that advanced the rights and well-being of those on the margins of an increasingly globalized society.

My interests and research revolve around the impact of foreign and international policy and law on repression and human rights violations among minority populations. I am specifically interested in how policy and law can be designed to ensure the basic economic rights of minority women and children in developing nations. What I have learned and experienced this past year far surpasses what I anticipated. This summer promises to stretch my learning and experience even farther. I've been given the opportunity to work with Hope International, a Christian INGO that concentrates on microfinance programs for holistic and sustainable poverty alleviation.

Hope International (www.hopeinternational.org), known as Nadiya in the Ukraine, is the largest microfinance institution in the Ukraine. I will be working with Hope's Eastern European Regional Director, Paul Marty, to foster Hope's partnership with Kiva (www.kiva.org) in order to facilitate the work of both organizations throughout the Ukraine. Together, these organizations are committed to ensuring the basic economic rights of those marginalized in the Ukranian economy.

Hope International was, beyond question, the organization I wanted to work with above all. However, when I first entered my studies, it seemed overwhelming to secure both the internship opportunity and the funding to support an unpaid internship with Hope. Above anything, I knew it was important to find a good overall match: an internship that provided the organization with an intern skilled in the areas they needed, and one that would provide me the opportunity to contribute my strengths and develop skills in my weaker areas. I began the process for securing both almost immediately in the fall. I applied not only to Hope, but to a number of Christian organizations specializing in microfinance. I also applied to the Foundation for Sustainable Development for a faith-based microfinance internship. I knew that I wanted an internship that combined all of my commitments and strengths, so I applied to all positions that matched. I also began researching funding opportunities early in the fall and kept track of upcoming deadlines for funding opportunities. For students searching for funded international internships, I would pass along the advice given to me by the 2007 graduating class: begin the process early, and talk to career services (Martha Krohn), faculty, and second years to help you in the process.

All that said, the process is not nearly as difficult as I had anticipated. Applying broadly provided me with a number of opportunities, and by keeping a mind to the internship and funding throughout the year, I was able to secure funding for the internship as well. I leave tomorrow and look forward to sharing my experiences of the summer with you!