November marks Pete Isaac’s last month of a 33-month commitment as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine. During his time there, the 2005 Integrated Science and Technology graduate, who was once an operations supervisor at JMU’s University Recreation Center, has helped change lives in numerous ways — most recently, by helping local artisans expand their business opportunities. Since arriving in March 2011 as a community development volunteer, Pete has helped talented Ukrainians market their products and goods internationally through ETSY.com, an e-commerce website that specializes in handmade arts and crafts.
The project is named Eastern Rinok. Here’s how Pete describes it on his blog:
Eastern Rinok is a project designed to help Ukrainian artists and entrepreneurs sell their handmade goods using the online sales platform, Etsy. The name “Eastern Rinok” is a word combination derived from Ukraine’s location in Eastern Europe, and the Russian word for marketplace, Rinok (ринок). Ukrainian artists of all backgrounds and influences interested in selling their handmade products (such as soaps, dolls, flags, blankets, souvenirs, etc.) are encouraged to join the vibrant and international Eastern Rinok community. With the help and guidance of Peace Corps volunteers in select cities Ukrainians artists will have the opportunity to open online shops to begin selling their products to a wide international market, all the while learning important business and language skills. In addition, the Eastern Rinok Peace Corps community will help promote the products of its members among friends and family in the United States and throughout the world.
One of Rinok’s artisans at work
“It’s really gaining a lot of steam. We have trainings taking place all over the country now,” Pete told Kelly McCormack (’05) a public affairs specialist with the Peace Corps Mid-Atlantic Recruiting Office who first told us about Pete’s story.
To facilitate the program, Pete and fellow Peace Corps volunteers host workshops for Ukrainians, helping them set up and operate their businesses. The workshops usually have four to five artisans and one Peace Corps volunteer.
Currently, the volunteers work with eight trainers and 28 shops online. A workshop this month will train an additional 8 Ukrainians and expand the project into new communities. As a result, the variety of products now available through Eastern Rinok includes beautiful beaded jewelry, dolls, knitted apparel, cards, figurines and more. (See the samples below, and go to the website http://easternrinok.wordpress.com to see more.)
It’s been a success. In less than a year, they have sold more than 115 items, earning $3,400, to customers in the U.S., Canada, Belarus, Ukraine, Sweden, Russia and Australia.
Pete, far left, and friends
Pete told Kelly how JMU greatly prepared him for his Peace Corps service: “JMU provided a lot of great life lessons about leadership, flexibility, patience, perseverance, how to think outside the box, and civic responsibility,” he said. “I think most importantly, JMU taught me how to ‘fail forward.’ The professors and staff I had the privilege of meeting and working with taught me that not only was it OK to not always have things go your way, but in fact, that makes you a better person. It causes one to seek out potential solutions to problems, not lose control of your thoughts, determine what outcomes are most important, and learn from your past experiences.”
Since 1961, more than 400 JMU graduates have served as Peace Corps volunteers worldwide. Currently, there are 35 JMU grads working abroad in the Peace Corps.
“I often tell people that the two best decisions I’ve made in my life were applying to JMU and applying to Peace Corps,” Pete said. “Both experiences have provided me the opportunity to grow as a person in many different ways. Not only has Peace Corps given me an opportunity to see the world through a completely different perspective, it has provided me an opportunity to try to have a positive impact on the future leaders of a country emerging from the former Soviet Union.”
What Pete will leave behind when he returns stateside is an invigorated work force of small business owners and crafters who have a new, worldwide outlet for their wares.
You’ll find lots more information about Pete’s Ukrainian adventure, the collaboration he helped build — as well as product information at these links:
Pete’s Peace Corps Blog: http://peteisaac.wordpress.com/
Thanks to Kelly McCormack (’05) for telling us about Pete and his Ukrainian Peace Corp service and for her original article from which much of the content of this blog post comes. The quotations included herein originally appeared in Kelly’s story.