Volunteering has always been an important part of my life. Both my husband and I would participate in volunteer events regularly, helping to build a better community. Together, we also owned an event company for 20+ years and would sponsor volunteer events at our business located in Denver, Colorado. But the most satisfying volunteer work we participated in was for the U.S. Peace Corps.
Peace Corps is a U.S. Governmental Agency established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, that sends volunteers to more than 60 countries around the world. The mission of the Peace Corps is to promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals. 1. Help the people of interested countries in meeting the need for trained men & women. 2. Help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served. 3. To help promote a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans. Volunteers who are accepted into the Peace Corps serve communities for 27 months and immerse themselves in new cultures, build relationships, exchange knowledge, and transform lives.
In 2015 we were accepted into the Peace Corps Community Development program in Ukraine. We arrived at the small, picturesque town of Yaremche in the Ivano-Frankvsk oblast that would be our work site for the next two years. I was partnered with the Carpathian National Nature Park (CNNP) and my husband, John was assigned to the local NGO «Center for Social Business Initiatives» (CSBI). Working with Ukraine’s first National Park was very exciting to me because John and I are avid hikers, and had visited many national parks in America. Volunteering in a national park held many surprises for me and I learned an abundance of information, mostly about the region’s flora, fauna, and wildlife. The national park is in a region famous for the European Roe deer, Red deer, wild boar, and 120 species of birds. They have 19 of the 53 species of mammals that are in the Red Book of Ukraine that are on the endangered species list. CNNP included my husband’s professional photography skills in our activities while assessing several trails in the Carpathian Mountains. Most notably, Ukraine’s highest mountain, Mount Hoverla located in the Chornohora region and stands at 2,061 meters. Covered with Spruce and Beech forests the slopes of Horvela are a habitat for rare species of plants and animals. This allowed us to immerse ourselves and apply what we learned to the parks projects.
Together with my counterpart, Maryana Stovban, we were able to accomplish many projects. Our first was «Save Huk Waterfall», with the goal to repair a trail to Huk Waterfall that was badly damaged during a flood. Huk is a picturesque cascading waterfall that has a height of 15 meters giving it a loud roar. It was fulfilling to help create conditions for both recreation and environmental protection. Our second project was «Eco-Friendly Carpathians» which focused on developing a series of educational eco-teachings for several schools within the region. This project gave me the satisfaction of knowing I was contributing to ecological education and promoting environmental knowledge. Other International activities I participated in were with the joint cooperation with the European Wilderness Society and the Australian Fund.
I learned how both U.S. National Parks and Ukrainian Parks are alike yet different, and how they had the shared goal of preserving the environment while making it enjoyable for people. The Carpathian National Nature Park allowed me to gain new perspectives, new skills and inspired me to learn a new career. The most fulfilling part of our volunteer experience was immersing ourselves in the community. By participating in activities with Ukrainians we gained an understanding of the cultural values of the Carpathian region. Our volunteer service was memorable and transforming for both of us and we were able to create lifelong friendships.
Denise Capelli, Peace Corps Volunteer, Community Development Programme