Posted by: N. Kumar Lakhavani, Information Management Specialist
I got excited when I saw an email from Peace Corps Director Dr. Doug Teschner inviting me to attend the Model United Nations (MUN) Camp managed, hosted, and taught by U.S. Peace Corps volunteers in Ukraine. I quickly made up my mind to take the weekend off and go to Odesa to attend and speak at the conference on my own dime and my own time. This was an opportunity of a lifetime to speak to the inspiring future leaders of Ukraine and also meet Peace Corps volunteers and camp counselors.
The MUN conference consisted of a week of activities that offered bright high school students a unique opportunity to learn about global issues, develop skills in negotiation and debate, and become friends with other remarkable individuals from all over Ukraine.
It was a quick trip! I booked a flight to Odesa for Saturday morning and a day train from Odesa returning back to Kyiv on Sunday. The Embassy’s Public Affairs Office pointed me in the right direction so I could prepare a message about diplomacy, volunteerism, and development of communication and negotiation skills. Knowing how much Peace Corps volunteers give up to serve overseas, I wanted to speak about the importance of volunteerism.
I flew down to Odesa early Saturday morning and in less than two hours a taxi got me safely to the MUN Camp in Odesa Oblast. Sixty attendees, 20+ Peace Corps Volunteers, and 10+ camp counselors were in the middle of a meeting working hard to pass a MUN resolution. Participants were representing countries from Angola to Afghanistan, Cuba to Croatia, Panama to Pakistan. You could see all of the hard work and effort that was put into this camp by Peace Corps Volunteers like Lukas Henke, Natalie Gmitro and Julie Daniels.
MUN Camp participants had been at the event the entire preceding week starting at 7 AM and finishing as late as 10 PM every day. They discussed parliamentary procedures, meetings as nations, global issues, and had already taken votes on different resolutions. The camp included some fun evening events such as a talent show, “Activities from Around the World,” networking, and a bonfire.
I was given the podium on Saturday to speak to the participants about “Diplomacy, Democracy, and the Value of Helping Others by Volunteering.” After my remarks, participants spent 45 minutes asking me questions. I was also invited to attend a training session about corruption later that day. At the session, participants discussed the definition of corruption, their thoughts about corruption in Ukraine, the causes of corruption, and shared ideas about how to eradicate corruption in their country. The campers took turns roleplaying to explore what corruption looked like and how individuals could work towards making Ukraine a corruption- free society. Georgia’s success in reducing corruption was cited by participants.
At the conclusion of the corruption session, I was given a thank you note signed by the participants sharing their appreciation for my travel all the way to the camp in Odesa Oblast to speak.
A Peace Corps Volunteer showed me the way to the marshrutka stop with my most prized possession that day in my hands. The two hour marshrutka ride back to Odesa was tough but reading the thank you note made me realize it was all worth it!