2007.03.11: March 11, 2007: Headlines: COS - Ukraine: PensacolaNewsJournal.com: Ashley Hardaway serves as Peace Corps volunteer in the Ukraine

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ukraine: Peace Corps Ukraine : Peace Corps Ukraine: Newest Stories: 2007.03.11: March 11, 2007: Headlines: COS - Ukraine: PensacolaNewsJournal.com: Ashley Hardaway serves as Peace Corps volunteer in the Ukraine

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Ashley Hardaway serves as Peace Corps volunteer in the Ukraine

Ashley Hardaway serves as Peace Corps volunteer in the Ukraine

"The people here are not wealthy, but when you go to someone's house to visit, they will give you the best food, the best wine they have, even though they have no money," she added. "You always hear about Southern hospitality —— I was raised on Southern hospitality and so I know. There's nothing like Ukrainian hospitality."

Ashley Hardaway serves as Peace Corps volunteer in the Ukraine

'A giving heart'

Pensacola woman serving as Peace Corps volunteer in the Ukraine

Kate S. Peabody

Caption: Ashley Hardaway walks in front of the Kiev Opera House in Kiev last December on the day she was sworn into the Peace Corps. She is a 2002 graduate of Pine Forest High School and a 2006 graduate of the University of Central Florida. She will volunteer in the Ukraine for another two and a half years.

It's 8 degrees Fahrenheit outside. You just woke up and you have to walk about 300 yards outside to fetch your drinking and cooking water.

Sounds lovely, right?

No, but it's a typical morning for Ashley Hardaway, a young Pensacola woman now living in the Ukraine.

The 22-year-old Pine Forest High School graduate is a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in the tiny town of Brylivka in the Ukraine. She went to Eastern Europe last fall to teach English to students in the fifth through 11th grades. She'll be there for the next two and a half years, also teaching a healthy living lifestyle course, which includes AIDS education and abstinence from smoking and alcohol.

Being the only American in a town of 4,000 can be stressful, she said.

"They all know I am the American," Hardaway said. "And you represent America. Whatever you do or say, they will think all Americans are like that."

And because no one speaks English, "it's hard to make friends. No matter how well you learn the language, you will never fully understand."

The young woman is the first Peace Corps volunteer in 10 years to go to the former Communist nation.

Her mother is very proud.

"My daughter has always had a giving heart, so I was not that surprised when she told me at a young age that she wanted to make a difference in the world," said Elaine Hardaway of Pensacola.

Life in Eastern Europe

Life in Brylivka is far different than life in the Panhandle. Even transportation can be a challenge. The buses usually are cramped, sometimes with as many as 300 people, with most carrying along their produce -- potatoes, onions or carrots.

Hardaway said a recent bus trip was especially memorable. "I told the driver I didn't know where to get off, he said 'I will tell you,' " she said. Shortly thereafter, when the bus stopped, she said the driver called out, "American, get off the bus."

And she did, but soon realized she was at the wrong stop.

"I had no idea where I was," she said. After waiting for about five minutes, "I literally hitch-hiked in a car full of onions, beets and potatoes. It was odd, but I made it to town," she said.

Nevertheless, the rewards of living in the Ukraine outweigh the drawbacks she's encountered. The people are generous and her students are eager to learn English -- that makes her work there worthwhile, she said.

"The people here are not wealthy, but when you go to someone's house to visit, they will give you the best food, the best wine they have, even though they have no money," she added. "You always hear about Southern hospitality —— I was raised on Southern hospitality and so I know. There's nothing like Ukrainian hospitality."

The Ukrainians also are big on holidays, celebrating Christmas and New Year's each January.

"Every month there is a holiday," Hardaway said.

Men take time off from work on Men's Day. And on Women's Day, children get the day off from school, "because all the women are teachers in the town. The men cook dinners and give them candy."

As much as Hardaway enjoys her time in the Ukraine, she still feels homesick sometimes. Though she misses her family the most, she also longs for simple things, such as buying a Diet Coke or dashing off to a fast-food restaurant.

The steady diet of potatoes -- lots of potatoes -- also takes getting used to, Hardaway said.

"There's no such thing as the Atkins diet here," she observed with a laugh.

Following her dream

Hardaway is in the Ukraine now to make good on a childhood promise.

One month after graduating with honors from the University of Central Florida last summer, she took her degree in English literature and left home to follow her dream.

Hurricane Katrina had an influence on the new college graduate.

"It just got me thinking," she said. "There was just an influx of young people and college students helping out, and it made you want to do something to help the world before going into the work force."

But those who know Hardaway best said her desire to help others came long before Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005.

Going into the Peace Corps has been her daughter's lifelong dream, Elaine Hardaway, 51, said. Ashley is the second of three children. Her other two daughters are, Aimee, 20, is a pre-pharmacy student at Pensacola Junior College, and Aubrey, 26, a hospitality worker in New York City.

Taught to give back

The Escambia County teacher explained that each of her children were taught very early about giving back. But it was Ashley who took giving to another level.

Having her daughter move so far away on her quest to make a difference hasn't been easy for Elaine Hardaway, but the genius of text messaging helps ease her concerns. She chats with her daughter each morning.

"It's easy for us now with the cell phone," Elaine Hardaway said. "We can get messages to our kids quickly."

She and husband, Edward, and daughter, Aimee, also keep a weekly schedule of one telephone call each Saturday.

Getting used to her sister being that far away is still a tad difficult for Aimee Hardaway.

"I miss her terribly, because she's not just hours away anymore, and you can't just pop on the plane to go and see her," Aimee Hardaway said. "When she left for college it was hard enough on me, because I loved having her at home."

Parents are role models

Aimee Hardaway also is a volunteer in her church nursery and the pre-school choir teacher. Both sisters said their desire to help comes from watching their parents, their role models.

"My mom always volunteered at the theater, and my dad at Habitat for Humanity," Ashley Hardaway said.

The Hardaways also taught their daughters not to expect recognition for the things they did.

"It is not important for people to know what you are doing for them, only that someone cared enough to do it," Elaine Hardaway said. "I told them just know in yourself that you are a good person —— that is what we tried to instill in our children."

Even while in college, Ashley found a way to reach out and lend a hand to some homeless children. She and three other students conducted a creative writing workshop at the Coalition for the Homeless in Orlando as part of their course work.

A classmate on the project, Nathan Holic, said she not only planned the weekly meetings with the other students but also continued to teach at the coalition even after the assignment ended.

"It was a class credit, but she put lots more time in than she needed to," said Holic, who is currently in graduate school at the university.

Although she misses her daughter "tremendously," Elaine Hardaway says she understands her passion for reaching out to others.

"I was nervous at first," Hardaway said. "Ashley is just a tiny girl. She weighs about 100 pounds, and I worried that I would not be there to watch over her. I pray for her every morning, but I have to leave it in the Lord's hands —— He put it on her heart to go, He is going to take care of her."

Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: March, 2007; Peace Corps Ukraine; Directory of Ukraine RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Ukraine RPCVs

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