On October 24, Appalachian RC&D Council hosted a tour for a study group from the Ukraine for the day. DOBRE (Decentralization Offering Better Results and Efficiency) had been in the States to attend the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) conference in Nashville. They were touring a few areas as they made their way back to Washington D.C., and ultimately back to Ukraine. Their hopes? To take back information and examples of economic and community development ideas that can be incorporated into the now de-centralized Ukrainian communities-projects at the local level. Our hopes? To showcase meaningful examples of local projects that could be achievable in the political and economic landscape the group would return to.
A few of the DOBRE folks were from larger cities, but the majority of the group live in rural areas – something that we at ARCD understand. We toured an educational and manufacturing facility, an environmental project that was a disaster-turned-asset for a downtown area, a year-round farmers market and commercial kitchen, and had lunch at a community café that serves everyone regardless of their ability to pay (where they said they had the best meal they’ve had since being in the U.S.
With elected officials and department heads from seven Oblasts (regions) comprising the group, discussions revolved around funding sources, community participation, partnership development, rules and regulations, inclusivity, accountability, planning and development, and a myriad of other topics relevant to getting initiatives off the ground and making them sustainable. But it was not all business; good-natured humor and camaraderie developed quickly between the Americans and the Ukrainians, despite any language barriers. But the thing that got me right in my soul was how kind, gracious, and appreciative each of the members of the group were of us – seeing a couple of the group members even brought to tears at the hope of developing what many of us take for granted each day in our communities.
It also allowed me to see the work that we do, along with our many partners and supporters, from the Ukrainian perspective. Access to fresh local food, farmers’ markets, entrepreneurial resources, educational opportunities, outdoor places to gather with friends, conservation of our natural resources…these are the things that drive us at ARCD and to have had the chance to experience it through the eyes of my new Ukrainian friends was the greatest kindness that any of them could have given. I hope that I will see some of these folks again one day. I would love to visit rural Ukraine sometime in the future and find that what we shared that day inspired their work and helped better their communities. Even if I never get to visit Ukraine, I will always be grateful to have had that day with these wonderful people who have most assuredly inspired me!