When I decided to join the United States Peace Corps, I was an assistant to Ohio State Senator Joy Padgett. During that time, I learned a great deal about Southeastern Ohio and its inhabitants as our main mission was to increase the standard of living and contentment of constituents in Ohio`s 20th State Senate District. My affinity and interest for Appalachia Ohio grew and I developed a strong desire to serve the region. Consequently, I made sure that my Peace Corps recruiter knew that I wanted to serve an area of the world that was comparable, not only in landscape, but also in demographics such as infrastructure, economy and level of affluence.
Over the next few weeks and months I hope to share with readers the experiences I have collected and the comparisons I have made between my homes in America and my homes in Ukraine. I have been in Ukraine for 18 months and have seen, heard, smelled and done things that opportunity had never afforded me.
My reason for joining the Peace Corps was not unlike many others. I didn`t want to wake up in my 30s, 40s or 50s and have an unfilled void from never utilizing my youth. I hoped that Peace Corps would offer me a chance to not only discover, but also realize my potential.
Upon arriving to Ukraine I had no prior knowledge of the country I was about to live in for the next 27 months. I knew very little about the culture, people, economy and language. My first three months were spent in Mryn, a small, former collective farming village in the north-central part of the country. The entire population of my new home was a mere 1,000 - not unlike my hometown of Nashport.
Residents were required to be self-sufficient due to the meager wages provided by the local gas plant and school ($200 to $300 a month per family of four). There were two stores (where you could not touch products), one café (where you were dissuaded from eating), one bar (where you were banned), and a school (where you were to dedicate your next few months).
During training, my four fellow Peace Corps trainees and I spent the majority of our time in language courses (four to five hours per day, five to six day per week) and writing lesson plans for high school students whose level of English is that of a 6-year-old. I spent my limited free time getting to know my fellow trainees, playing soccer with locals, adjusting to Ukrainian customs and exploring my new environment. As I began to accept my surroundings as my new home, I felt the transformation from visitor to member of the community.
Oftentimes I found myself investigating the numerous scraps left over from the Soviet Union. Ukraine went from being an affluent member of Mother Russia to a developing country overnight. Communities like my training site were displaced and the lifeblood of the area, the farms, was discontinued. Equipment, buildings, land and even livestock were left to fade away with time, as there was no real way to establish who owned what when the belief was once that everyone owned everything.
In Mryn I witnessed a community struggling to subsist and it made me feel a sadness akin to that which I feel when I think about the decline of Appalachia Ohio. What was once a quarry of the United States labor force, Southeast Ohio is grappling with downsizing, relocation and outsourcing.
Grant Earich is a 2000 graduate of Tri-Valley High School and 2004 graduate of Walsh University. He holds bachelor of arts degrees in history and political science. Prior to his service in the United States Peace Corps, he served in Ohio State Senator Joy Padgett`s office and as a legislative assistant and advisor to Ohio`s largest non-profit, Ohio Citizen Action. He will periodically write about his adventures.