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...