Angel Tree

This about a project we did at Christmas time called "Angel Tree"  It went like this:

Peace Corps Volunteers and our University Students went to local orphanages and had kids write down gifts that they wanted on paper angles.  Many of the kids asked for gifts that were far to expensive, such as bikes, Playstations and cell phones (some specified models).  One boy actually asked for a Rolex.  Then we put the paper angels on a tree outside a mall and asked people to take an angel and buy a gift for the child.  We asked that people only spend 20 gryvnyas, which was about $4. Twenty gryvnyas can buy a lot more than four dollars; you can get a nice Barbie-type doll or Lego-type play set.  Fake children were also created in case someone forgot to bring back a toy or brought us a dirty old stuffed animal, or fruit.  Gifts were then wrapped (man I hate wrapping soccer balls) and stored at my apartment, which looked like Santa's workshop for a while.  On the 25th and 26th gifts were distributed, not that those days have any significance in Ukraine, Orthodox Christmas is on the 7th of January and people actually exchange gifts on New Years.


I think most of our University students bought the idea that the main goal of this project was to give gifts to orphans.  Nope.  Most of those gifts were probably broken, lost or forgotten about in a month.  Nor were the Ukrainian orphans quite as hard luck as you might believe; the reason we had to give the gifts out early is because the orphans would be spending New Years in Italy (You're going to have to ask the Italians for an explanation on that one).  There was only 209 orphans who received gifts, at $4 a pop that's a whopping total of $836.  If the only objective was to give gifts I could have made a few phone calls and generated that kind of money for much less hassle.   The true goal of this project is to promote a civil society. 


Part of having a civil society is being able to address community problems without the government's help.  There are definitely plenty of people here that expect the government to solve all their problems.  Here's a great example:  In my first year of service I was situated in a small town where I was teaching at a small University branch.  I was asked to teach a class on Government, but I quickly found the material I was given to use was far over the students heads and changed it to a class on civics.  One day I gave students hypothetical community problems and asked how they would go about solving them.  Every time the students responded that it was the governments responsibility to fix the problems.  I was particularly adamant about not accepting this answer for the following situation: "The street lights on your road are all burnt out and it is dark when your family walks home.  The city says it has no money to replace them."  The students said that the government must fix the lights.  I pointed out that this was not actually a hypothetical situation, half the street lights in town were burnt out and the city didn't have the funds to replace them.  The students seemed amazed at how dense I was and slowly explained to me that the government must fix the lights.  People need to see that waiting for the government to make things better isn't always the best way to go about solving problems.


Besides getting things done without government this project helps develop young people.  Students who participated all have great potential as future community leaders, but Ukraine is lacking in organizations that develop future leaders.  There were virtually no clubs at my University besides the ones that I ran.   That year Angel Tree wasn't run by Peace Corps Volunteers, we made the students take control of the project.  Angel Tree could then continue be run even after Peace Corps Volunteers left Poltava.


And just a spirit of volunteerism and giving to strangers is decent thing to promote. 

All in all it went quite well.  The only problem was getting those ratty old stuffed animals filled with asbestos out of my apartment.  

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.