Rediscovering Ukraine: Peace Corps Volunteer From the US
This hour we continue our series of reports profiling activists and journalists from across the world with Ukrainain heritage.
“Who would like to tell us about their country first?” Nickerson asked her class of students in Irpin.
Ordinary school students in Irpin were temporarily transformed into politicians for Nickerson’s class. They had to “rule” the imaginary states they invented. The idea was thought up by Nickerson and her fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Emmery Brakke.
“Nice to meet you! My name is Halia. Holly Nickerson in English. But here I introduce myself as Halia when I’m here,” Nickerson said in Ukrainian, before proceeding in English. “I’m a Peace Corps volunteer with the Youth Development Program. I’ve been here in Ukraine for one year and six or seven months.”
In 2017, Nickerson took a chance at volunteering, and among over 60 countries to serve in, she chose Ukraine.
“For me – why Ukraine? Because my great-grand-mother, she’s from Ukraine. And we think, probably, the Kherson or Mykolayiv Oblast,” she said. “We believe, she lived in Novyi Buh.”
Her great-great-grand-mother Mary Diachenko moved to the United States from the village of Novyi Buh in the early 1900s. As Nickerson was born some 90 years later, she never met her. Nonetheless, she always felt that she had ties to Ukraine.
“I studied Ukrainian politics in university. I love the culture and the food. I grew up eating varenyky, holubtsi, and borshch,” she said.
She can enjoy these dishes not just from across the pond, but in Ukraine’s Zakarpattia Region. She works there with schools and camps, and carries out trainings.
“The project that we did today is, actually, a really cool intersection of community work and youth work. So, we’re beginning a club for students in Irpin that is focused on learning about a model-United Nations, or learning about the United Nations through a simulation,” Brakke said.
The culmination of the course, the camp model-United Nations, is scheduled for the summer.
The UN, diplomacy, and international relations are topics the Peace Corps volunteers try to teach through speaking and teamwork.
“My favorite things to do with Ukrainian youth is to teach them about leadership. And how they can take their own abilities and their own dreams and turn it into future plans,” Nickerson said.
Nickerson plans to continue working on this mission for the next year-and-a-half.