We’ll call this my last post. I’m leaving Moldova Friday at 6 AM and will be back in my hometown in time for bed. Two and a half years, two languages, a new country, a new home, and a new family all behind me. Of course I’ll keep in touch and I’ll practice my Russian, but my Peace Corps service is over in a way that feels more final than almost anything I’ve experienced.
I really want to say that “it’s been real”, but in actuality, these last few years have made me reconsider my understanding of reality. Every morning I question whether I’ve truly woken up; the world is astounding. I never want to stop being astounded.
I began this whole thing with cliches so I figure I should end with some of them.
- If something isn’t working, try something new. Nine times out of ten that means quiting.
- If you are successful, feel good about it, but don’t think you did it all by yourself.
- If you fail, it’s probably your fault.
- Say what you mean, otherwise why are you saying anything?
- Всё будет хорошо. А если не будет хорошо, давай выпьем по чуть-чуть.
My best guy friend is turning 30 this week, and his fiancee is putting together a photo book with images from every year of his life. I was designated as the curator of his life from 2004-2007 when we were serving as Peace Corps volunteers in Tanzania.
Culling through iPhoto has evoked a sense that my life is missing the adventure that came with living in Africa. Everyday was a rollercoaster of lessons learned, language-based slapstick comedy, life-threatening (and sometimes life-taking) transportation shenanigans and once-in-a-lifetime landscapes.
I love Houston, to be sure, and I liked my life in NYC following Peace Corps. But nothing compares to having no idea what the day will bring…on such a grand scale. The sentimental side of me wonders if I will ever find such challenges and escapes and beauty in living again or if my mid-20s will truly be the adventure of my lifetime.
I’m tired. It is a bit cold outside.
After the third part of pre service training for the new (not exactly new) group, I took a couple of days off, but I spent them working on a Fulbright application. It’s strange, I don’t ever work very hard here, but it feels like I never stop. The good news is that I’m down to my last 7 months in Moldova, which I think is the perfect amount of time. I guess that makes 29 down, 7 to go?
Now, off to my first work meeting with my new counterpart organization! (I thought it was yesterday, but it’s actually today..)
Regarding this project.
About a year ago, we had finished a well-written project plan in Russian and English that was based on needs assessments and included stakeholder input. Now we were looking for small grants to cover the negligible costs of our program. Although we were both very interested in implementing the project, schedules, motivation problems, and a shared, serious bout of stubbornness, kept us from moving forward. At the end of my initial term of service, I didn’t see my counterpart for almost 3 months.
A few weeks ago, my counterpart called me. Apparently, the women from the initiative groups we had surveyed over a year ago and had promised a program on project planning had been bothering her to get started. She wanted me to return to my old site, turn the 4 month program plan into a 2 day seminar, and teach it myself, all by the end of the week.
I hesitated. I had put so much of my time and energy into this project and was scared that a 2 day seminar wouldn’t build the skills and ensure stability the same way a 4 month program would. I talked it over with a Peace Corps staff member and came to the conclusion that, in this case, my choice wasn’t between 95% success and 85%, but between 20% and 0%. I decided to let go of the idea of perfection, go to bed a few hours later, and see what would happen.
With the help of my PC program specialist, the seminar happened, and 15 women, all non-governmental village leaders, were exposed to the steps of project planning and the importance of assets-based approaches and needs assessments in solving community problems. I was also able to end my official two year relationship with my counterpart on a positive note.
Of course, as any volunteer, reader of this blog, or human on this planet knows, the choice is never between perfection and failure, but is between doing the best you can with the resources and skills that you have or not doing anything at all. In Moldova, I’ve experienced this lesson countless times, but still haven’t quite learned it. I’m getting better at it though, even if I’m not quite there yet. I suppose that’s why I extended for a third year.
(cross posted at the Moldova Peace Corps group blog: http://www.365peaceandfriendship.com/)
I thought I would post a phone call I got the other day:
"Hello, Craig? This is the social assistant (from your old site). Did that project we talked about doing two years ago turn out? No? Oh. Maybe you want to come back to us and we can talk about it? All right. We’ll be in our office all next week. It’s on the second floor. You used to drink my tea and eat my chocolate here. See you soon. Bye!"
Needless to say I ended up going to the meeting with two social assistants at my old site. “You’ve gotten fat and handsome!” “You’re so skinny now.” “Your Russian is amazing.” “I have no idea what you are trying to say.”
I drank coffee, impressed them with my superior Romanian knowledge (three sentences), and dissapointed them with my disinterest in Gagauzian girls. I also was astounded by my ability to comfortably spend time in small talk BEFORE pivoting deftly to the work at hand. I would like anyone involved in future work with me to know now that I will ask about your kids for at least 10 minutes before any meeting can begin.
Anyway, the meeting was remarkably productive and I’m beginning work on a new raion-wide social services project! I’ll be doing some village travel in October with the regional social services director from my old site and hopefully will be able to interest some new volunteers in collaborating.
I wonder how many times over the last 10 years I’ve said to myself (or, in the last two, posted on this blog) “things are off to a good start”? I’ve been lucky to have so many exciting new beginnings, but sometimes I think I should have some sort of long term plan or bigger picture in mind. The thought usually fades quickly.
My service will end some time in May 2012 and I will be leaving Moldova. I’ll go home for my brother’s wedding and spend some time in the US.
After that, where should I move?
- Nepal & Darjeeling, India
- Bosnia & Hercegovina, Serbia, or Croatia
- The Midwest
- Somewhere else?
In May I became the Peace Corps volunteer leader for the community and organizational development program in Moldova. I’ve decided to post the bulk of my application/work proposal so that people can get a better idea of some of the things I will/have been be doing and to talk about some of the work that a PC country office does to support volunteers.
During my first two years of service, I have built individual and organizational capacity with a small NGO; helped facilitate volunteer and staff trainings on a variety of topics, including project design and volunteer diversity; and developed professional and friendly relationships with volunteers, program staff, and Moldovan counterparts.
In a third year as a COD PCV and as a PCVL, my work will include: 1) technical and personal support of trainees and volunteers, 2) site development, including work on counterpart preparation in Gagauzia and Russian-speaking communities, 3) network and capacity building at a new primary partner organization, and 4) basic organizational and individual capacity building with small initiative groups in Gagauzia.
I will also be looking for smaller projects to help with integration in my new community.
Technical and personal support for trainees and volunteers
Over the past two years, I have facilitated volunteer training sessions on strategic planning with a counterpart, project design, and capacity building. I also have supported a few individual volunteers as they created useable strategic plans with their partners with focus on improving PCV-counterpart relationships, skills transfer, and community (local volunteer, employee, beneficiary) involvement.
As a PCVL, I will provide the following direct support to volunteers and trainees:
- Visit COD M26 volunteers within the first three months at site and provide a report on findings and ideas for follow up
- Visit first and second year PCVs on as needed basis, to support with a training or particular task with PCV and his or her counterpart
- Provide technical assistance to volunteers by email and telephone on specific topics, like basic capacity building, and establishing relationships with secondary organizations
- Deliver sessions during pre and in-service trainings (on strategic planning, PDM, finding and defining work)
Collaboration with programming staff and other PCVLs to improve volunteer service includes:
- Support of program staff in reviewing the training flow and training designs
- Collecting success stories from PCVs and their partners to be shared and used in promotional materials
- Identifying and creating a list of useful resources for COD PCVs
- Connecting PCVs across programs based on the skill sets and needs
- Support of program staff in reviewing the training flow and training designs
- Keeping track of duties performed and help create resources for future PCVLs
- Promote Peace Corps, identify potential sites and expand PC network
- Explore future Russian-speaking counterparts’ needs for a volunteer and give them a better idea of a potential volunteer’s skills and abilities
- Assist future Russian-speaking counterparts in designing PCV job descriptions
- Review and provide feedback on the site development process together with the PMs
- Promote PC work and success
- Collect and maintain information about organizations that exist in Moldova but that do not have a volunteer
- Counterpart preparation in Gagauzia and other Russian-speaking communities
Partner with NGO “Stability”
“Stability” is a five-year-old nongovernmental organization in Comrat whose goals includes increasing gender equality, civic participation, and leadership in the Comrat raion and Gagauzia. From my preliminary visit to Stability, it is clear that the organization has experience and success that surpasses that of any of the organizations with which I have previously worked in Moldova. Therefore, my work will address very specific needs of the organization. At a recent site development meeting in May, the director expressed interest in having a PCV’s assistance improving the organization’s regional and national networks and management of volunteers and increasing the quality and number of opportunities for youth in the organization’s target areas.
Small initiative groups in Gagauzia
Bridging programmatic and volunteer support, site development, and work with Stability, would be work building basic capacity with small initiative groups and undeveloped organizations in Gagauzian villages.
At my former site, the NGO “Women’s Initiative” and its director are a center of nongovernmental work and civil society in the town and raion of Ceadir-Lunga. Representatives from initiative groups, schools, parent-teacher organizations, and even village primarias come to the organization for help and information about solving local problems, starting NGOs, writing projects, and finding money. The director of Woman’s Initiative, however, does not have the knowledge, ability, the time to fully help these village-based initiative groups and active citizens realize their own goals.
The director of the NGO and I began exploring creating an initiative group development program early this year and received notice of interest from parent teacher groups and social assistance initiatives from around the raion. In a third year, I would capitalize on this interest and, with the support of Women’s Initiative, Peace Corps, and potentially Stability, assist these initiative groups do the following:
- Create new strategic plans written with concrete goals and coherent missions, applicable to village problems and focused on local assets and resources
- Establish networks of primarily village-based initiative groups
- Improve identification and management of local resources, local volunteers, employees, local fundraising, budgeting practices, strategic planning, and project design
Even minimal success would result in the opening up of new villages for future placement of Peace Corps Volunteers and increased capacity of local actors to solve local problems.
Other work in Komrat
I will also begin building a relationship with the Romanian school in town. The director has expressed interest in my help with extracurricular activities.
Sorry about the quality of the pictures, they were taken with my computer’s built in camera. Sorry about the quality of the post, I’m exhausted.
I’ve moved in to my new apartment in Comrat, the regional capital of Gagauzia in Moldova. The apartment is on the fifth floor in the center of town and overlooks the small university, the central church, an exercise playground, and pretty much the whole town. There are restaurants, a giant outdoor market, and more busses departing in one day than I’m used to in a week. In the past two days I’ve made more food than I have in the last two years: peach compote, empanadas, fajitas, and stir fry. I actually read recipe books before I go to bed and make lists of ingredients.
The market here is incredible. There are hundreds of stalls packed into a few alleyways and a fantastic variety of fruits, vegetables, pots, pans, clothes, spices, notebooks, bicycles, honey, wine, shoes, and more. I’ve spent a few hours wandering around and taking notes. A kilogram of tomatoes cost 6 lei (2.2 lbs for 50 cents) and small red and green peppers cost about 7 lei a kilogram.
Tomorrow I will be posting my entire 3rd year/PCV Leader work proposal and you won’t want to miss that. It’s going to be an exciting 8 months!