I want my readers to know that as I write this in multiple languages, it will be a general, not literal, translation. I want to be able to write in each language without the restriction of going back to the original translating each sentence. This is also meant to be written as a story to develop my story writing skills. (Italics for disclaimer part)
On the 20th of November I waited patiently during the staff meeting for my turn to speak and present about the Youth Development goals and my purpose for being here in Buzovitsya. I was terrified of the truth that I was about to tell my colleagues.
The night before, I practiced my speech about five or six times with my friends while refreshing my vocabulary and pronunciation . One of the words that I had trouble pronouncing was “blame”.
My assistant director asked me to the front of the room and I was shaking on the inside. I took a couple of breaths and walked to the front of the classroom. Terrified of what I was about to tell them, I knew that it was the truth and the truth can be a painful realization. But it can bring about a lot of amazing things.
Back in June I was prepping for my departure from Pre-Service Training and was very nervous to start my new adventure in a village of about 1300 people. I heard a lot about Youth Development volunteers in village schools and that they have the hardest time. The school and the villagers have their own ways and make it hard to bring your own new ideas. I heard a lot of negative things about what I was about to experience. I went into the village with a lot of doubt and really didn’t want to be stuck in a village school helping with after school clubs for the next two years.
I was better than that and I got stuck in a site that was below me. I was proud of my ancestry and the fact that I knew the language and culture better than any of the other volunteers. This was my fifth time in Ukraine. I was a pro. During our swearing in ceremony we had a lot of time to mingle with other counterparts. I loved walking around and talking to other Ukrainians while showing off my languages skills. I loved when they told me that my site was extremely lucky to have me as a volunteer. I loved when they praised me for having such a kind heart for helping Ukrainians. It went straight to my head. I was the youngest volunteer in the group and I made that very clear to everyone I spoke with.
Looking back, it was all a façade. And I wasn’t just fooling them. I was also fooling myself. I truly believed a lot of the things I said to others and that I was going to be a superstar volunteer.
I got to the site on the 3rd of June and the first thing that I was ready to do was to get the hell out there as soon as possible. I spent a lot of days in the neighboring town at the Department of Education doing what I did best, accepting praises for being the best. I hadn’t even done anything yet and I already thought I was a superstar volunteer.
During the summer, I travelled all around Ukraine working at different camps. It was a great time for me tell the other volunteers how bad it was for me. I was a superstar complainer. I also received a lot of sympathy from other volunteers, but the support did a lot more damage than anything. It crippled my motivation and me.
The summer went by and I had made zero progress.
The first bell was on September 1st and I was surprisingly very optimistic about the school year. I really looked forward to having some real work in front of me and actually working with the children.
I used the first week as observation. I wanted to see how the schedule was and where I could fit in my clubs. I started with English clubs and that went about nowhere. Of course I used the excuse that the students get out of school at different times so it is hard to get a diversity of grade levels together at the right time. This couldn’t be my fault. I was told that I was going to be a superstar volunteer and that it shouldn’t be hard for a superstar volunteer to have success.
Weeks went by and I still made zero progress. I kept complaining to people outside of the village and they kept telling me that it wasn’t my fault. I kept internally criticizing the staff wondering why they didn’t care about their school. I kept looking at the students wondering why they would waste such an awesome chance to work with such an awesome American.
But it hit me. Maybe they weren’t the problem. Maybe I didn’t have to look too far to find the real source of all of my issues. Maybe I was the problem and needed to do a little bit of self-evaluation.
I was scared to be a fool. I recently listened to a podcast and the guy said that all masters were once fools. They had to start from nothing and be a fool for many years and make many mistakes. They sacrificed certain things so that they could achieve what they wanted in the future.
I really like the idea of sacrifice. I had never really thought much about it but once I learned what it really means and how incredibly relevant it is in our lives, it changed my attitude. The sacrifice fly is a term often used in baseball. The batter hits a popup knowing that it will be caught and he has to sacrifice an out and an at bat. But the reward is an extra run. Sacrifice is making a wager with the future. Sacrifice is saying to yourself, “No, I am not going to eat those 10 donuts because I don’t want future me to have diabetes. I know they will make me happy right now but… diabetes”. Sacrifice is ridding your old self so you can become the person that you want to be. Sacrifice is being brave and standing up in front of staff members knowing it is what you need to do even though you are terrified of admitting the truth.
I stood in front of my colleagues thinking about the truth. Knowing that the truth sets you free. (I know that is cliché but I don’t care). I started my presentation about youth development and what the goals were for my volunteerism.
I took a big breath and told them that I wanted to talk to them a little bit more about me -go figure.
“I need to apologize to you,” I said
I continued, “I need to apologize to you for not doing anything for the first couple of months. I need to apologize to you for not being the volunteer that I am capable of being. But I really need to apologize to you for blaming (there is that word) you for the fact that I haven’t been successful. I blamed you for the kids not being interested in my clubs. I blamed you for not helping me with what I needed help with (I knew they helped me, but I wanted them to hold my hand and do things for me). I blamed you for all of my problems and never took the blame upon myself.”
I went on and told them about the realization I had. I told them that I wasn’t taking responsibility for my failures and I was looking everywhere else for people to blame.
Earlier that day, I was talking to one of the teachers and she was telling me about a student who did something wrong but never admitted to it. She told me that when we make mistakes or wrong someone we need to admit it and together we can fix the mistake. It was a huge sigh of relief for me going into the staff meeting and really helped me face that fear. She spoke a truth to me.
Often as humans we are scared to make mistakes when trying something new. We think that looking like a fool is a bad thing. We think that people will judge us for not succeeding when we try. I think the biggest mistake that can’t be corrected is the mistake of not doing, when you know that there is something that needs to be done. .
I’m glad that I am still young and learned this lesson right now. I am ready to start making some sacrifices. I am ready to become the fool who I want to be.
(You’ve seen my pics on Facebook so I am not gonna post them here)