Like many who graduated from college during the recession, 2004 Coffee County Central High School Graduate Christina Webb had an education, but few job opportunities.
Building an early desire to help those less fortunate, she went on to join the Peace Corps and a post that has taken her to very edge of Eastern Europe to help the people of the Ukraine.
“I believe everyone has a purpose in life if we can just stop and listen to our hearts and pray that God leads us in the right direction,” Webb said via email from the Ukraine.
“I have been greatly inspired by my parents who always told me that, above all else, we must strive to do the right thing,” she said. “My dad taught me the values of taking care of your responsibilities fully and in the right way.”
On Nov. 26, 2008, Christina’s father, Mike, put words into practice when he was shot to death trying to save his co-workers and patients at a hospital in Alaska. An armed, disgruntled former employee entered Peninsula General Hospital, in Soldotna, Alaska, and shot the father of three in the face before moving deeper into the building.
Wounded, Mike Webb circled back to the front of the hospital, reentering the building to warn others when he encountered the gunman again. Mike and the gunman were the only ones to lose their lives in the attack. “I believe that my father’s death spurred me on to just go for it…to get out in the world and do something big.
“His [memory] keeps me focused and keeps me encouraged each and every day. Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed by work or discouraged when things aren’t going my way, I think about how my dad would handle the situation and how he would continue to work and work and find a way to accomplish what needs to be accomplished each day.”
She feels the support of the people around her and her belief in God have made it possible do something like join the Peace Corps.
“We will eventually find the purpose and contentment we’re all so passionately searching for,” Webb suggests. “The hard part is being patient and trusting that we are going to get there.”
After stints living in Alaska, Germany and Oregon, the answer soon came as the Peace Corps.
“I decided to switch gears and try a different approach with my life,” she said. “I had already been sort of looking at different non-profit organizations or governmental foreign aid organizations like MercyCorps in Portland and USAID and when I read the description for Peace Corps, I showed it to my mom and we were both astounded at how perfectly Peace Corps seemed to fit the description for the type of work I was looking to do.”
A perfect fit, the Peace Corps has allowed Christina to live abroad and learn a new language, all while helping those less fortunate and using her business degree.
Christina, who insists that she isn’t anyone special, says that she is just someone with strong desire to do something and then went out and did it.
“Anyone who wants something can go out and get it if they are only willing to believe and to put in the work to do it.”
In November 2010, Christina was told that she would be moving to the Ukraine in March 2011.
She arrived in the country with 104 other volunteers and spent the next three months in Ivanivka, northeast of Kiev and about three hours east of Chernobyl, for language and cultural training sessions.
The first months were intense.
“We were split into different language groups. Some of us learned Ukrainian and some of us learned Russian. We were not allowed to choose, unfortunately.”
Few people in the small town of Bereznehuvate in southern Ukraine – just north of the Black Sea – where Webb is stationed speak English.
Webb’s counterpart, Lyudmila Moroz, a go-to person assigned as direct work partner and Webb’s roommate, communicates only with her in Ukrainian.
Peace Corps volunteers work at either a school, a governmental or non-profit organization, referred to as NGOs by the volunteers.
In the Ukraine, volunteers work in either the Teaching English as a Foreign Language program, the youth development program or the community development program, which assesses the area’s needs, strengths and weaknesses – then works to develop sustainable program that will carry on after the workers have left.
Christina works in the Community Development program for a small, newly formed charitable foundation called Berehynia or Guardian in English.
Its first project was a major undertaking to provide windows and doors to the local kindergarten.
The main objective of the program is to provide “power and opportunity” for women in the town “to create a healthy, stable environment for themselves and their families through active participation in socio-economic development of the village,” she said.
Her part is project planning and grant writing, specifically on two current projects. One is to train area leaders on Project Design and Management in order to build their capacity to write successful, sustainable projects to meet community needs.
The other is a youth summer camp that also involves project design but includes fun projects and is held in English to give the youth a chance to practice the language.
According to Christina, much of what the volunteers do involves trying to members of the village to work on improving the community, rather than waiting for the government to step in.
Under the former Soviet system, the state was in complete control of the infrastructure.
“This is all they have ever known. We are trying to teach them about the possibilities to affect change themselves as well as how to do it.”
When it comes to the work to be done and those doing it, Christina is optimistic.
She said in a Facebook post, “Sometimes you wonder what the heck you’re doing in Ukraine, [but] if you end up touching even one person’s life in a significant way, then you’ve done your job.”