Local Peace Corps volunteer works to empower Ukrainian artisansThe biggest challenge most of us face on a daily basis is getting to work on time. The biggest challenges for Peace Corps volunteer Laura Ludwig are a bit more complicated.
By: Teri Cadeau, For the Budgeteer News
The biggest challenge most of us face on a daily basis is getting to work on time. The biggest challenges for Peace Corps volunteer Laura Ludwig are a bit more complicated.
“There is always a new challenge, whether it be figuring out how to get someplace using public transportation, getting lost and not being able to communicate, having to eat some new sketchy-looking food,” says Ludwig. “But it brings out the best in you. You get to use all your creativity to survive.”
Laura Ludwig, originally of Hermantown, is a community development volunteer working for the Peace Corps in the city of Cherkasy, Ukraine. Ludwig, daughter of local pastor Tim Ludwig, graduated from Hermantown High School in 2006. After graduating from the University of Denver with a master’s degree in international development in 2011, Ludwig joined the Peace Corps in order to help address the challenges she’s read so much about.
“She’s always had the desire to help people,” says Laura’s
father, Tim Ludwig. “When she left, I told her she’d be running the Ukraine within eight months.”
While Ludwig might not be “running the Ukraine,” she is quite a busy woman. Ludwig spends a great deal of time working at the Cherkasy city council. Cherkasy is a large city with 300,000 people located in the
center of Ukraine.
A large amount of her time as a Peace Corp member is dedicated to planning projects, grant writing, and using social media to promote the city. However, the “other 60 percent” of her time is spent helping on projects, such as volunteering at a girls’ club, talking about American culture with kids, and “training other Peace Corps volunteers.”
One such project Ludwig is particularly excited about is called the
“Eastern Rinok marketplace.”
It is a program dedicated to training local artisans to use online marketplaces to sell their creative works. By using the website Etsy.com, artisans can sell their handmade works of art to people all over the world. The project started in early 2013 and is already making great progress.
“Just the other day we reached $2,000 in sales! Which is a lot more when you consider that the exchange rate for one U.S. dollar is about eight Hryvnia,” said Ludwig. “Selling to a different market gives the artisans an economic edge.”
Ludwig said the project is fulfilling for her because she wants to bring American culture to the Ukraine and vice versa, and she has the opportunity to share her skills with others.
“The people here get to know so much about our culture, but it doesn’t really go the other way. This is one way of doing that,” said Ludwig.
Ludwig said the Eastern Rinok marketplace is also exciting to her because of how sustainable it is. Currently, the project has a lot of people interested in becoming trainers to go out into their communities and train more artisans on the business and technological basics.
“We want to see it grow and be passed on and outlive our time here,” said Ludwig.
Ludwig said that it can take a long time to gain the trust of the Ukraine people. This means that sometimes Peace Corps volunteers end up spending most of their service time building relationships and aren’t always able to create long-lasting projects. But Ludwig hopes to do just that with this sustainable marketplace.
Ludwig says that people in the Twin Ports can help do their part by either donating to the project, to help with the costs of a large training program they hope to do in October of this year, or by taking a look at the products available on the Etsy page.
“We’re so proud of her and the work she’s doing,” said her father Tim Ludwig, “but I also can’t wait till she’s back.”
Ludwig calls her parents in Hermantown about once a week to keep in touch and share her stories. She also has a personal blog which she updates with plenty of pictures and stories.
If you would like to find out more about her work, visit her blog at
For more information, to see products available and to learn more about the artists, visit www.etsy.com/teams/13443/easternrinok/
members and easternrinok.wordpress.com.
To donate to the training program go to www.peacecorps.gov and search for “Eastern Rinok Instructor Training.”