A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Archive for volunteer

Zaporozhe and Donetsk

The story: over the past week and a half, I went on two excursions, to Zaporozhe and to Donetsk.

When: I went to Zaporozhe last Thursday. Amir and I left at 3 pm and got back at 9 pm. Amir, Karima (another JDC employee) and I left this Monday at 2 pm, Karina and I arrived in Donetsk at 7 pm, Amir continued to Ludonsk for the night, and we all left Donetsk the next day at 3 pm and arrived in Dnepropetrovsk at 7:30 pm.

The location: Zaporozhe is about one hour south of Dnepropetrovsk, and Donetsk is about four and a half hours west.

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So what exactly am I doing here?

I work for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee– otherwise known as “JDC” in America and “the Joint” everywhere else in the world. Technically, my title is “volunteer,” although I am paid a modest monthly salary, have an apartment with all expenses paid, and have health insurance coverage. I live far better than the average Ukrainian (I live pretty well by any standards), and yet I am considered to be a volunteer. I, therefore, consider myself a paid employee and, as such, take my work very seriously.

My first week was devoted to getting to know the Jewish community here in Dnepropetrovsk. I visited the JDC office, the Jewish Community Center (JCC), Chessed (a center which runs programs for the elderly Jews in the community), the new synagogue, the Jewish school (actually, there are three schools in the same facility– one religious one for boys, one religious one for girls, and one not-quite-secular-but-far-less-religious one that is co-ed), Beit-Chana (the university for women studying to become Jewish teachers), and Beit-Baruch (the nursing home for 60 elderly Jews erected by the Boston JCRC). I met the main characters in each location, and I especially devoted my time to auditing the various programs the JCC offers to the community. My boss Amir told me right off the bat that I should take a few weeks to get my bearings and figure the place out before I get involved in any one project. JDC is very much about understanding what the community wants, based on how it already functions. It would be pretty useless and maybe even detrimental for me to enter into an already high functioning organization and create a new program that just won’t work with the system in place. After I understand Dnepropetrovsk and fully grok the people in the Jewish community, then I can go about changing it.

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