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July 30, 2007

Kyiv

Kyiv... Kiev... Kiyev. After this summer, I'm completely at a loss as to how to pronounce the name of this incredible city. It's pronounced differently in English, Russian, and Ukrainian. At any rate, it will forever be a city I love because it is the place Travis and I spent our first few days back together and preparing for the weeks of ministry before us. For a wonderful two and a half days, we were free to explore the city and take in the richness of its history. I have far too many pictures to post here, but I must say that it's a city full of some of the most beautiful cathedrals, parks, museums, and architecture that I have ever seen.

On our first day in the city, we walked to Independence Square. I literally had chills standing in this historical place - the site of the Orange Revolution and the demonstrations earlier this year when President Yuschenko dissolved the parliament. It is a site of Ukraine's ongoing struggle for democracy, freedom, and progress. It took me back immediately to my first night in Ukraine, when the bus I was traveling to Zaporozhye from Kyiv on was passed by four busses of orange clad demonstrators led by police escorts. After two months in this country, Ukraine's struggle is one that is close to my heart. I have seen how the country's policies impact people at an individual level, and I have come to love these people. I have learned how fiercely Ukrainians love their country, and how much they yearn for just development and growth. Standing in Independence Square, I was reminded of how far this country has come, and how important the future is to those I lived and served among this summer.

Every international traveler or overseas worker has at some point been warned of or taught about reverse culture shock. We go through culture shock when we first move to and learn to live in a culture and country vastly different from our native one. We go through a sort of reverse shock when we are reintroduced to our native culture. Across my time in Ukraine, I have lived and worked in the poorest areas of the country. While Zaporozhye is fairly modernized, its systems and access to external products and technology are very different from the culture I was raised in. The way of life is different - values are different - priorities are different. I spent much time in some of the poorest villages I have ever seen (compared to impoverished areas of Turkey and countries in Latin America). I expected to go through reverse culture shock when I returned to the states - not in Kyiv. Kyiv is a Westernized city of wealth. It is so different from the Ukraine I have seen and known. I was astounded at how such wealth can be concentrated into one area of the country. And I began to understand why the population of the rest of Ukraine is concentrating into Kyiv or leaving the country entirely. Wealth and opportunities for employment are being depleted in villages and poorer regions of Ukraine. Yet Kyiv offers wealth, opportunity, employment, and all the trappings of a Westernized culture. It is a beautiful and wonderful city, but it was difficult to process that I was in the same country...

On Sunday, we continued our journey through the city, taking in cathedrals and resting in the beauty of this place. Our time was short as we were leaving for the village of Knyajzicki, where we would spend next week in a children's camp with our sister church (Knyajzicki's village church is the sister church to our home church, Grace Fellowship, in Brooklyn Park). I don't think I've ever covered such a distance in such a short period of time, but we were motivated! We left exhausted but exhilerated by two days of rest and exploration - ready for the weeks of ministry ahead.

July 28, 2007

A Long Awaited Arrival

When Travis and I accepted the internship with HOPE International, we knew that it would mean several weeks of separation. At the time, we anticipated around nine weeks, but realized later we had miscalculated the time (my graduate program calls for a ten week internship but HOPE designs internships to be eleven and a half weeks). After some travel and logistical gymnastics, we managed to get the time we would spend apart back down to between nine and ten weeks. I cannot tell you how many times we heard people say, "you must be crazy," or, "are you sure about that?" or, "I can't imagine - I could never do that." To be honest, there were a times when I questioned whether I could endure such a long separation, but a basic truth sustained us both. We knew that while we would be apart, the cause for our separation was something we believed in, were committed to, and felt called to. Since we became engaged, we have prayed for an opportunity to be involved in an international ministry committed to holistic, sustainable poverty alleviation and children. This summer provided that opportunity, and while it meant a long separation, the end of that separation brought a chance to do something we have prepared and waited for for years.

I traveled from Zaporozhye to Kyiv (halfway across the largest country in Eastern Europe) alone by bus. The journey was not particularly a pleasant one - an 8.5 hour trip by bus over poorly built and maintained roads (my dad, a civil engineer, would be fascinated by the Ukrainian transportation system!). Having picked up only basic Russian and Ukrainian, I was a little unsure as to how well I would fare alone on the long trip. However, I arrived at the airport in Kyiv without incident and EXCITED, knowing Trav's flight would arrive at any moment. His plane was delayed, so I waited for nearly two hours among a pushy, irritated, and impatient crowd. But finally, the doors opened to Travis walking through, weighed down by bags filled with supplies for children's camps, clothes and reminders of home for me, gifts for our Ukrainian friends and 'family', and a few clothes to get him through the next two weeks.

Travis arrived to what appeared to be a Ukrainian bride. It is no exaggeration to say that online marriages and 'mail order' brides (and grooms, in fact) are common in Ukraine. There is a shortage of jobs and opportunity for the youth of Ukraine, and many are extremely eager to gain citizenship in other nations with more wealth and opportunity. I personally met at least two women who had met and married men online and then immigrated to another nation, and Ashley and I met several men who asked us to marry them and take them with us to the states. It is heartbreaking - Ukraine is a beautiful nation with much promise, but certainly with problems in policy and economic development. It becomes all to easy at times for youth to focus on their country's challenges rather than the incredible potential and resources lying somewhat dormant but ready to be tapped into. At any rate, clad in the traditional Ukrainian blue and carrying flags (Ukrainian and American) and a poster with "Welcome to Ukraine" written in Russian, I looked every bit the Ukrainian bride. I didn't care...

We gathered his bags and sped off to drop the bags at our hotel. Then it was off to see the sights of Kyiv - our only 'tourism' of our time in Ukraine. It was a priceless and long awaited arrival!

July 24, 2007

Cascade

Life and work with an international Christian NGO are fundamentally different than my life in the states. Flexibility and responsiveness to opportunities that arise are major lessons I have learned from working with Nadezhda Ukraine/HOPE International this summer - lessons I am incredibly grateful for. When Travis and I first met with Paul and Cindy Marty this past Spring, they emphasized the importance of flexibility. I knew from graduate coursework in NGO management and leadership that work with NGO's and non-profits is often fluid and requires flexibility. Having an awareness of this and living it out in practice are vastly different however - the gap between theory and practice is ever present! It has been an especially valuable lesson for me, as I tend to be highly structured and at times, rigidly fixed on whatever original plan I oriented myself toward.

Last week, I learned that two of the three surveys I had been working on were cancelled. We learned that trying to complete the three surveys within the time I was here was creating a burden not only for staff, but for clients as well. We want, as both an organization and a ministry, to be intentional about meeting the needs of clients. While the surveys were valuable, in the end, it was clear that plans for implementing them needed to flex. At first, I was a little discouraged, but my thoughts kept returning to the emphasis that has so often been placed on flexibility and responsiveness. So I quickly reorganized my efforts and began work on a project that I'm even more thrilled about: a year long plan for implementing the Spiritual Integration Project. Across the course of a year, this project will help brach offices to be even more intentional about integrating temporal and eternal efforts at alleviating by physical and spiritual poverty. It's an exciting project - one that allows me to use what I have learned through the past year of graduate school to be effective in a global faith-based NGO. It's a project that truly encorporates my passions and skills!

The ebbs and flows of work across the summer have been met this week by a full on cascade! I've learned across the summer as well that part of flexibility and responsiveness means being ready to work at whatever pace projects are running at. With only two working weeks left (and one in between for another children's camp in Kyiv), projects are in full bloom! There is much work to do this week, and much to be a part of. In addition to finishing out the Spiritual Integration Project plan, I have begun completing the Social Performance Indicators Surveys. This involves travel to several brach offices in the Zaporozhye region. Alongside of this plan and the surveys, I have Kiva profiles to complete and the Zaporozhye Moybutna Club English Camp to attend in the evenings. Ashley and Emily (who just arrived in Zaporozhye yesterday!) will be leading this camp across the evenings. They're holding lessons, bible studies, games, crafts, and just about everything else that can be packed into two hours! I'm excited for them - it promises to be a wonderful week with the girls of Zaporozhye!!

I am grateful for the abundance of work at the moment. At times, it does feel a little overwhelming! I tend to pace myself, so to feel the pressure of multiple projects mounting is unsettling at some points in the day. But, with three days remaining until Travis arrives in Ukraine, the business provides occupation and a healthy distraction. I have to admit that at nine weeks apart, I'm starting to feel the toll of the time we have spent apart. This summer has in so many ways been a blessing and a renewal for us - mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually - but we are beyond ready to see one another again!

This will likely be the last post I make before traveling to Kyiv early Friday morning. We will spend the week following in a children's camp held in a small village south of Kyiv. While details of our time there are still coming into place, we are thrilled about what the time holds for us! Each camp that I have served in this summer has been unique and rewarding in its own - and it has provided so many opportunities to get into the lives of those we are serving here, to live alongside of them, to serve them, and to learn from them. I know that next week holds so many opportunities to learn and to serve. I'm looking forward to sharing each!

It seems that as soon as we return from the camp, we will be in a fast whirlwind of completing projects before leaving for the states on August 10th. My eagerness for returning 'home' is growing. I am excited to see my family, friends, and communities, and to share this life-changing summer with them. I am still torn - ready to return home and share this but not ready to leave the relationships and work established here - but am becoming more at peace with the fact that the end of this internship is nearing. I know that two weeks will not bring the end of our work and partnership with HOPE - this is only the beginning for us. We hope that we are able to return here again in the future and work alongside these dear friends and family again. Until then, we are excited to employ the lessons we have learned in our lives and work - and share the overflow of this summer with those we know and love.

July 17, 2007

Ten Days

A little over two months ago, I began my blog with a post entitled "Ten Days." It was ten days until my internship began. I was excited and eager to see what the summer held in store, and beyond ready to begin my internship with HOPE International/Nadezhda Ukraine. In many ways, the summer has come full circle!

In just ten days, Travis will be arriving in Ukraine to serve with me across the final two weeks of this internship. It is a landmark for us - something we have prayed for, worked toward, and looked forward to for the four years of our marriage. To finally have the opportunity to work and serve together in a global ministry focused on human rights, poverty, and children is something we are incredibly grateful for. We're grateful to HOPE for including him in this internship and to preparing work for us to do together, and to our family, who has made his time here possible. While he has long been a part of global ministry in a supportive role, this will be his first time in the field. He has been incredibly supportive and has made my work abroad possible not only this summer but in the past as well. I'm so excited that his time and his opportunity has come now, too.

Trav will be arriving in Ukraine on Friday, July 27th. We will spend the weekend in Kyiv before heading out to serve together in a village children's camp 2.5 hours outside of Kyiv. We will be working with the camp for a full week before returning to Zaporozhye to work with the microfinance ministry for the last week of the internship. It's hard to believe that in just 3.5 short weeks, our time in Ukraine will be complete and we will be returning to the states. I am excited beyond words to see my family and friends again, but I know that it will be difficult to leave the relationships I have established here and the work I have been a part of for the past two months. Until then, I am excited to see what the next few weeks will bring...

July 11, 2007

More than a Name or Number

Part of my work across the summer has been to create client profiles. It is an incredible part of my job - I love doing it. I create these profiles both for HOPE International and for Nadezhda's partnership with Kiva that began last December. Essentially, I take information about the client's business, experiences, goals, ambitions, and needs - as well as the personal and professional changes they have experienced from working with Nadezhda - to write a paragraph or two: their 'story'. These profiles are shared with other clients, with staff, and with supporters of Nadezhda. They are a source of inspiration and encouragement and more importantly, create true human connections across a couple of kilometers (between clients, staff, and other clients) or across thousands of miles (between clients and supporters).

I've heard client profiles criticized and critiqued by many in the development field. Some critics are fully convinced that they rob clients of their dignity, or that they take advantage of their 'client status' to advance certain organizational goals. I have to say that after the past eight weeks, and especially after today, I could not disagree more - nor could I be more frustrated with critiques that are generalized to all organizations that create and use profiles. What I have experienced in my work is quite the opposite. These profiles empower clients. They move them beyond a name or a number to a PERSON who can communicate their hopes, their dreams, their ambitions - and how their hard work has been rewarded through personal successes. These women are eager to share their stories and to answer questions - they love having their picture taken and knowing that their story will be shared with others.

I do not disagree that some organizations misuse profiles. Corrupt NGO's are everywhere, and there is truly reason to be suspicious of the non-profit field that has more than doubled in the past five years. But I know from personal experience, work, and witness that HOPE is not one of those organizations. The truth of the matter is that for most people, caring enough about those in poverty half a world away requires more than statistics on poverty or even a name. It requires a human connection - a face to put with the name and images of true conditions these people live under. HOPE uses profiles solely to empower clients and to create that human connection. With stewardship of resources as one of the organization's four major pillars, their financial transparency reveals that these efforts are truly for the benefit of clients. For that reason, I feel privilege to daily be a part of this work.

Beyond the time I spent in the market with the women today, I continued with my work on surveys and with learning the more in depth processes of Nadezhda's microfinance program. I feel like I have asked a million questions already this summer - and yet I've only scratched the surface. Nadezhda is so incredibly unique in how they have merged traditional group based microfinance with individualized components to meet the needs of the local communities. No amount of reading or study could have ever taught me the things I am learning here - this is the benefit of experience based learning. At times, separation from my husband and family has been incredibly challenging. But days like today remind me that had Travis and I not responded to this opportunity as we did, we could never have learned the things we now know.

July 9, 2007

Productivity, Provision, and Providence

These three words have never sounded so good to me as they have today. Each has given me so much to be grateful for and a renewed sense of excitement about the five weeks I have remaining here. As I mentioned in my last blog, my return from the children's camp brought on a cascade of projects that will keep my remaining time filled and productive. Today has brought more insight about the design and schedule of these projects. I am, as ever, thrilled to be encorporated into the work of Nadezhda - and all the more so as I see the projects develop and take effect. Across the next week, I will be developing and refining an updated Social Performance Indicators Survey. This survey will be used to guage the impact of Nadezhda's work on various aspects of clients' lives - from professional to personal to spiritual. Maxym has truly entrusted me with the development of the survey and has taken to heart my suggestions about the procedures of the survey and the use of the information. Next week, I will be working with an interpreter to pilot the survey with clients throughout Zaporozhye and potentially another city in the region. For you public policy students - that survey methodology class has truly come in useful!

The following week, I will turn to a second survey project as I work with the families of children who attended the camp I worked with last week. The intent is to guage the impact of the camp on children's and families' lives, to learn of their personal responses, and to determine ways to improve/enhance this connection between the programs and ministries in the future. I feel fortunate to be working on this second survey as well - it truly connects all of the work I have been doing here.

For the final two weeks of my time, Travis and I will be working with children's camps in Zaporozhye and Kyiv as well as conducting client interviews throughout Zaporozhye. I feel like Nadezhda/HOPE has truly considered my hopes and 'goals' throughout the entirety of this internship. They have given me the opportunity to conduct work that is cohesive but that still crosses the partnership between Nadezhda (HOPE Ukraine/International) and Moybutna (Tomorrow Clubs). And they have maintained a cross between the two for the time Travis is here as well. This truly gives us the opportunity to work in both areas we have long had an interest in - poverty and children.

Speaking of Travis's arrival! I have to admit that while we knew our time apart would be difficult this summer (9.5 weeks!), it has been altogether different to actually be in the center of it. I've mentioned before that as my time here as passed, I have felt more and more torn between my eagerness for his arrival and my hesitation for the time to arrive when I leave to return to the states. I've LOVED being here but wanted him to arrive sooner and have the chance to be here longer. This morning, that was provided for! We found a flight that brings him to Ukraine a day sooner. It will not require him to miss any additional work, nor does it cost a single frequent flyer mile or dime to get him here on the flight! Even the addition of one more day sends me soaring!! And as if that were not enough! We found out this morning (for me)/yesterday (for Travis since I am 8 hours ahead) that two members from our church in Brooklyn Park will be in Ukraine across the two weeks Travis will be here. We're unsure as to all the details, but this may very well provide an opportunity to do additional work while we are here - and with friends from home!! It has been amazing to me to learn of all the connections with friends from home and my work here this summer - it is almost to a point where I am no longer surprised when I get an email that someone is connected/connecting with HOPE International, that someone is connected with someone/somewhere I know here, or that someone is headed HERE yet this summer! But that certainly does not detract from how excited I get each time!

July 6, 2007

New Projects and Mixed Emotions

After a day to rest from the camp, things are back into full swing for me at the Nadezdha Ukraine headquarters in Zaporozhye. With five weeks left to my internship, there remains much to be done! Yesterday, Maxym (my supervisor next to Paul) walked me through several projects that I will be working on throughout the rest of my time here. And today, he led me through a few more that will certainly fill my remaining time! I am excited about each - each is different and contributes to the work of this organization in unique ways. I think the variety will help to keep things fresh and expand upon what I am learning here.

Throughout my time here, I have felt increasingly satisfied with and blessed by this internship. Maxym has been tremendous at allowing me the time that I need to fulfill my tasks as an intern and Upper Midwest Human Rights fellow and at incorporating my personal goals for learning and development into the projects I am working on. One of my goals for the summer was to learn about the MIS systems that connect the various Nadezdha Ukraine offices throughout the country, and how the microfinance loans are processed. Yesterday, two Nadezdha Ukraine staff members led me through the entire process. I was impressed by the sophistication of the organization's systems - it truly spoke to HOPE's desire to be as effective and efficient as possible. As an organization, they are truly outstanding stewards of the resources they are given.

I was surprised through the day to realize the degree to which microfinance is still group based in this country. For the most part, microfinance in Ukraine is individual based rather than the traditional group based methods used in other areas of poverty and hardship. I knew that Nadezdha retained an element of the group based method, but seeing the processes used with loans and clients revealed how deeply that relational and group based method still ran. In that way, Ukraine has been unique and possibly the most informative place I could have served this summer. Ukraine is a unique mix of individual and group based methods. Furthermore, the country's finance systems are in transition - currently combining elements of traditional Asian relationship based systems with Western credit based systems. At times it seems incredibly complex, but (at least to me!) it is always intriguing.

A second surprise to me was how similar the basic MIS systems were to programs I used in the mortgage industry. Perhaps what is most impressive about that is that Nadezdha's own IT staff member, Yuri, designed the entire program from start to finish. They are currently using Yuri's second edition of the program - this guy amazes me.

Aside from learning more about the organization and finance systems, I have continued work on the Kiva/HOPE International partnership in Ukraine. I love, love, LOVE this part of my work. For now, I'm given the basic facts and information about our clients, which I use to develop client profiles for Kiva. In a few weeks, when Travis arrives, we will be going out to conduct interviews with clients throughout Zaporozhye, creating profiles from start to finish. It is exciting to see this partnership continuing to develop and to be a part of those efforts.

Across the end of this week, I've been given two new projects that I am absolutely estatic about. The first I will begin next week. I will be working with Maxym on Nadezdha's Social Performance Indicator Surveys. These surveys are used with clients to conduct a holistic assessment of the organization's effectiveness with individual clients. Beyond looking at quantitative factors such as increases in clients' income or business capital, these surveys look to the individual lives of clients to see how Nadezdha's/HOPE's programs have impacted the clients in areas such as confidence, skills, future goals, hope, faith, and other areas. I'll be working with Maxym to assess the current surveys and possibly revise the survey and assessment process.

My second new project truly ties together my work with children last week and my work in microfinance. A big reason I was invited to be a part of the children's camp was to work with the children of microfinance clients. In this second project, I will be working with these families to evaluate the children's experiences in the camp and how that has impacted the family as a whole. It truly helps me to feel that my work is gaining cohesion and clarity. And it gives me another opportunity to interact with these incredible children!!!

As I look on toward the next few weeks, I truly have mixed emotions. I am incredibly eager for the next three weeks to pass quickly so that Travis can join me here. Yet his arrival leaves only two weeks for me in this place. In the same way, I am eager to see my family and friends, to return home, and to share as much as I can about this experience. But doing so occurs only at the expense of leaving behind the deep friendships I have made here, a country and people that I have come to love, incredible leaders that have taught me so much about what I am eager to learn, and work that I love. I know that Travis and I will continue to partner with HOPE well past this summer, but I will truly miss the daily connection with my friends and colleagues here. It leaves me with incredibly mixed emotions. So with five weeks remaining in total, I plan to make the most of what time I have remaining, to continue to develop the relationships and work that I have here, and to be thankful that each day brings me closer to my family and friends.

July 5, 2007

One Week at the Midway Point

It's hard to believe but I'm over halfway through my time in Ukraine. It's been quite some time since I blogged last. It was not for lack of eventfulness, but rather that I spent the last week on the Ukrainian sea with a children's camp through HOPE International/Nadezhda Ukraine. It would be impossible to recount all that I experienced, learned, and saw through the week, so I'll focus on the highlights!

Across the week, I led a group of eight girls through the camp with two women, both named Olga. The first Olga has been my dear friend across my time here and has served as my interpreter as well. The second Olga I met my first week here at the business camp. She is an interpreter in training and is absolutely incredible - I was glad for the opportunity to serve with them across the week. They were constantly by my side, interpreting the endless questions children asked me about America and my work - not to mention every word spoken or written across the week! I truly wish I had a stronger aptitude for languages. I have picked up enough to get by and to function without an interpreter in most places, but conversations without an interpreter remain at surface civilities. In that way, language continues to be a challenge here. There are so many people that I love so dearly (see the last post), that I wish I could talk with on end and without any language barrier. Since I know that is impossible, I am ever more grateful for Nadia and Olga.

The eight girls I had in my group were absolutely amazing. They were between ten and fourteen - full of energy and lots of spirit! And absolutely the sweetest things... Trav and I are hoping to have a picnic with all of them to see them one last time before we leave the country. It is amazing how close you can grow to people in one week, and how deeply you can cherish them after so little time. They had what seemed to be endless questions about the US, about my work here, about my home and family. Many were questions I hadn't been asked before - these girls taught me much about the deeper differences between Ukraine and the United States and the differences between the lives we lead, the opportunities we have, and the conditions we live under. Some differences were heartbreaking - others were eye opening. I walked away from the camp feeling a deeper sense of gratitude for the blessing of living in the United States - something I neither earned nor deserved - I live there only by the conditions of my birth.

While the schedule of each day of the camp was the same, the lessons and activities were very different. I was given the opportunity to teach three lessons, which I've mentioned a little in previous posts. It was incredible to teach these girls. Of course they were restless at times and distracted, as any girls that age are, but there were moments of such sincere enlightenment that I saw on their faces as they grappled with issues like pride, integrity, and prejudice (the focus points of my three lessons). The final lesson - on prejudices - was revealing for all of us. As in any country, stereotypes and discrimination are alive and well in Ukraine. The groups most discriminated against are Gypsies and Armenians. As we talked through some of the widely held stereotypes and prejudices against these groups, I saw that the nature of divides between people groups is no different here than anywhere else. It is something I knew before, but to see it and hear it in practice has been something that is difficult to put into words. But to see their hearts opening and changing, and to see grace and compassion in bloom was an incredible thing.

For all the amazing parts of the camp, there were challenges as well! I have to admit that I'm not the best camper. In fact, I'm a terrible camper - most of my friends and family had a good laugh when they heard I would be spending the week in the camp. I NEVER camp for pleasure and the few times my family has been able to drag me along have been disasterous. I am all about it though when it means camping with purpose! There remained, however, the normal challenges of camping plus a few more due to the nature of being in a foreign country and one of poverty as well. It made me appreciate so much more how much we take for granted in the US.

It is no secret that access to clean drinking water is a privilege, and that millions across the world do not have access to such water. This camp was a good example of it. The sea is polluted and very dirty, and the water is the same. The first couple of days at the camp, we tried to make due with the water, but it was difficult to drink. Several (including myself) ended up dehydrated, so we brought in purified water. While it was expensive and a luxury, it was also necessary. I have never been so grateful for water as when the first few bottles arrived. We were able to bring in water, but for many who live there, that water is all that they have. As polluted and dirty as it is, that is what they live on. It is the first time I have spent an extended period of time in an area where access to clean and safe drinking water is so difficult (and for many, impossible). I kept thinking - "In the US, I can drink the water from my tap if I want, and I know that it is safe and will consistently be available here. Those that live here don't have that... I can bring it in... they cannot. This is real - this is their life. This is poverty."

Another thing that struck me especially this week was sanitation. The children had so many questions about the US, and one of them was about sanitation and public services. Were our streets clean? Did people sweep and wash our streets? Did really people take our trash away for us? Did we really have green grass in our lawns? These are all luxeries of the US. I've never realized how much I take our public services and utilities for granted. We have consistent and quality sanitation services, clean public restrooms (I didn't think so until I spent time in Turkey and Ukraine), extremely clean streets, green grass in public spaces/medians/parks... so many things that keep our cities clean and sanitary. There are certainly impoverished and neglected areas in the US - I've spent a lot of time studying these areas as well. But those conditions are not abnormal here or restricted to the very poor - they are everywhere here - a normal way of life. This is not to say that there are not beautiful areas or well kept areas of Ukraine. But it is these that are a rarity - these are unique to the few areas of affluence. Bobushkas clean the streets each day, but with their hands and rudimentary brooms made of branches and leaves... it is in no way like the public sanitation system we know in the US.

The final thing that struck me was the one to do so most deeply. Spending a week living among and alongside these children and people, I saw the poverty of the country in even deeper ways. I have seen and written much about the poverty of these people and of this nation in previous posts. And I've seen glimpses of what it means in individual lives. But living alongside these children and other leaders for a week has taught me more about the poverty than the previous five weeks combined. It is hard to convey what experiencing this poverty so deeply has meant and what it has done to me. Years of study in a classroom do not teach you the taste, smells, and pains of poverty. It can teach you the facts and the conditions... but it does not reveal the depths of it. There are so many ways years of poverty have impacted the culture and have shaped the way people live. One way it is most clearly manifested is in the way people eat. Sitting down to eat with these girls, I could tell how deeply the hunger and poverty is entrenched. They eat quickly, and devour whatever they possibly can as quickly as they can - grabbing bread greedily and stooping low over plates and bowls. It is utterly heartwrenching. There was always more than enough food, but they often ate as if they hadn't eaten for days. Manners were thrown by the wayside and all that mattered was to eat. Many children came from homes that had enough to eat to satisfy hunger each day, but some came from more impoverished homes. There were two girls in my group that clearly came from such homes. These signs of poverty in the way that they ate were especially clear in them. Those that came from homes with enough still exhibited some signs - but more as a matter of how it has been entrenched in the culture than by consistent hunger. It reminded me that such widespread hunger and desperate poverty is not far removed - the children of my generation remember the long lines for food and basic necessities like bread, oil, and sugar. And certainly their parents knew such conditions well. Before I left for this internship, there were many I spoke with that didn't understand why I was traveling to Ukraine - was it really that poor after all? When you hear poverty, you think of Africa, places in Asia, and areas of Central and South America. But a country in Europe? Really? I can say after six weeks here I have seen poverty in a new light, and yes, Ukraine is an impoverished country. And the conditions of poverty that children and families face here are very real. It is again a reminder of how much I take for granted, how grateful I am for what I have, and how blessed I am to be here, trying to help alleviate the poverty people of this country face.