So, what are you actually DOING there?

It’s funny, I talk a lot about my experiences here in Moldova, and very little about my day to day work.  Work is just one facet of life here.  So much of this experience is building relationships, observing the culture, reflecting on yourself and seeing life through different eyes.  But, the work is sort of why we came here, right?  So this post is going to be an update on work.

At the agency

So, generally speaking, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., I’m at the Center Regional Development Agency.  I use my time there not only for agency projects, but also to do other work for Peace Corps, to blog, and other tasks, but for me, it’s just important to be present and part of the team there.  But I do have a few projects in progess with the agency:

  • English seminars.  Every week, I lead an advanced seminar and a beginning seminar for my colleagues.  As a regional development organization, my colleagues work a lot with international organizations and embassies from various European countries, and the common language used is almost always English.  Which means the ability to communicate in English is an important skill for them to have.  It’s also important when participating in professional development seminars.  So we’re working on their English.  We’re starting with very basic concepts in the beginning class, but in the advanced seminar, I get to be a bit more creative.  I have them read current events, then we discuss them in class.  We discuss American history and culture and politics.  We go through articles and pick out any phrases or words they don’t understand.  We listen to radio stories to practice hearing English.  And the week after next, we will have our first guest speaker, a representative from USAID Moldova, to practice hearing and speaking English on a topic relevant to their professional field.  I have really come to enjoy these seminars, and they have allowed me to build better relationships with our team at the agency.
  • Strategic communications planning.  This project has been slow to start, we have all been busy, and my colleagues have ample demands on their time.  But we are continuing to pursue it.  Our goal is to work together to create a strategic communications plan for the agency.  To figure out what the agency’s mission is, what it’s goals are, and how we can help it get there effectively and efficiently through various communication tactics.
  • Google docs seminar.  I held a quick training on how to use Google docs with a group of colleagues, and still have one more to go.  When I first started at the agency, I sent out a survey using a Google form, and my colleagues expressed interest in learning how to create a survey.  I also introduced them to bit.ly, so that they can customize their links if they would like to.  It was, overall, a successful experience, and I think they found it interesting and helpful.
  • Typing practice.  This is something new I’m working on for my colleagues.  I think many of us in the State learned the correct positioning for our fingers while using a keyboard, and had some sort of practice with that.  When I first arrived at the agency, a few people commented on how quickly I type.  “Where did you learn to do that?”  So, after seeking some advice from a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer who developed a similar program at her work (thank you, Natalie!), I asked around at the office, a few colleagues expressed interest, and so I’m working to find and develop some lessons/resources for them now.  Hopefully they will find it effective and helpful!
  • Translation assistance.  I do a lot of this.  Many of my colleagues speak English very well, so they draft a letter in English to a foreign embassy, and then I help them correct it.

So right now, those are sort of my main responsibilities/tasks at the agency.  Also, attending work parties is a must.  Integration, people!

Outside of the agency

  • SPA Committee.  Back in the fall, I applied to be part of a committee of Peace Corps volunteers who review small project assistance grants submitted by other volunteers each month.  The program is funded by USAID; our Peace Corps Moldova office receives funds to award to projects developed by Peace Corps volunteers and their Moldovan counterparts.  This is probably one of the coolest things I have gotten to be a part of here.  Granted, scouring through grants, looking over all the details, can be time consuming (one month I had to read 16 proposals in a week).  But it has been so amazing to hear about all of the incredible things volunteers are doing across the country.  Just reading their ideas, I am so impressed.  There are so many intelligent, creative, skilled volunteers here.  Hats off to you, friends.
  • International Creative Writing Competition.  This was another very cool event I’ve been able to be a part of.  A Peace Corps volunteer in another country initiated this effort.  Basically, coordinating across Peace Corps countries, we have students write essays in English, then select national winners, then pass the national winners along to a group of volunteers who selects winners internationally.  It starts with the villages.  Volunteers in various villages contact the local schools, which is what I did.  The contest is open to students in 6th grade, through 4th-year university students.  For each grade level, there are two prompts.  Judging is based on creativity, not grammar.  But we contact the local schools, then pick a date.  On that date, I went to the schools, gave the students the prompts, and they had one hour to write an essay in English based on the prompt they select.  Then, we compile all the submissions and gather a group of volunteers to read through the essays.  This year, we had more than 250 submissions.  We all really enjoyed reading through those essays.  For each grade level, we select three winners.  Then we send these three winners to be judged for the international competition.  This year, my town had six national winners!  I cannot take any credit for this, seeing as I do not help teach English at the schools, but I am proud and excited for our students.  We’ll see how they do internationally.  We’re holding a ceremony for the 21 national winners in a few weeks.
  • And then there’s the other stuff…Like this week when I was asked to visit the local language school and just chat with the students for a few hours so they can practice their English.  We talked about books, movies, music, I asked them why they’re studying English, what they want to do after high school, what they want to study at the university, and what they want to do in life professionally.  They asked about transportation in the U.S., what I want to do with my life after Peace Corps, what Americans are like in comparison with Moldova, why I came to Moldova.  We also discussed cultural and religious differences.  It was great.  I thoroughly enjoyed just getting to spend time with these youth.

And let me tell you, this post is not, by any means, an attempt to sing my own accolades.  If anything, I am reminded throughout this experience that I am one of many volunteers here, all of who are accomplishing amazing things at site.  I wish I could even begin to share the other incredible activities going on throughout Moldova.

I am constantly impressed by my fellow volunteers and feel fortunate to see so many of these activities unfold and new ideas take root.

It is a truly rewarding experience.

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What’s happening at work

Well, I’m back at site now and I’m trying to hit the ground running at work again…but it’s really been more of a slow jog.  Meanwhile, I realized that I don’t usually write in-depth about what’s going on at work.  I won’t bore you with ALL the details, but here are some general updates.

Center Regional Development Agency:

First, I’m working on creating a mission and some organizational goals and objectives for the agency.  To start this process, I put together some surveys on Google docs (one of my favorite web resources, and one that I hope to help my colleagues learn how to use) and sent them out to my colleagues.  One of the surveys asks each staff member to list their responsibilities at the agency so that I can get a better feel for who does what, and the other has a list of questions relating to the creation of a mission for the agency and some questions that will help us conduct a SWOT analysis of the organization.  The agency itself is young (founded in 2009), but it’s fairly developed with 15+ paid staff members and detailed legal regulations in place stipulating how the agency should operate.  The Agency operates under the supervision of the Ministry of Regional Development & Construction (the national government body that oversees all three regional development agencies) and there is a SWOT analysis for each development region, but not for the Agency itself.  Nor do they have an official, written mission.  I have some ideas about activities the agency could organize, but first I need to understand their mission, goals and current responsibilities, which is why I put together the surveys.

Second, I’m hoping to start working on some communication tools for international investors/aid organizations.  What I noticed when USAID representatives came to visit the agency is that the agency doesn’t really have any written material explaining the project application/approval process.  (Our agency is responsible for helping facilitate regional development projects in the central region of Moldova.  Local and regional government offices submit applications annually to our office, we review the applications and pass along all eligible projects to the Regional Development Council, who then sends the applications to a national committee.)  That said, we are a government organization, but the agency was founded in a way that allows it to receive donations from international investors, in additional to the funds it receives from the national government.  What I’d like to do is put together some go-to communication tools in English (because that’s the language people often do business in) that the agency could refer to when working with international investors/aid organizations.

Aside from that, I observe a lot, translate documents into English, attend meetings, drink tea with my colleagues, and ask a lot of questions.

Outside the Agency:

  • One of my colleagues at the Agency helps run a nonprofit organization/website for young journalists in our district (IaloveniOnline.md).  I spoke with him last week about maybe helping with a workshop, creating some kind of cross-cultural exchange via video with journalism students in the U.S., or organizing a project together.  I’ve got some ideas in mind, but I’m going to put down some thoughts on paper before we begin more discussion.  We’ll see how it all pans out.
  • I’ve also gotten involved with a magazine written by Peace Corps volunteers in Moldova, for Peace Corps volunteers in Moldova.  Might as well put my journalism skills to use!
  • This weekend I’ll attend an information session about Moldova TiP, a group formed by Peace Corps to help combat/address human trafficking issues in Moldova.  Looking forward to learning more about that.
All of this said, my primary goal in carrying out projects is really to figure out where the needs are in my community, and that can take time.  I’m living in a relatively developed area in Moldova, which doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do, it just means that the opportunities for projects might not be as obvious at first.  Additionally, sometimes the projects we think they need, or the processes we use in the States, aren’t relevant or useful in Moldova (cliche 1: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it).  Maybe I think the office needs a calendar, but if none of the Moldovans use it once it’s there, what’s the point?  Is it something they really needed in the first place?
Furthermore, Peace Corps has a strong commitment to sustainable development, something I feel strongly about as well.  The goal is to train people how to do things, not just do it for them (cliche 2: give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime).  It can be easy to just take the reigns and do things the way we do them in the states, but the goal is to work side-by-side with Moldovans to make things happen.  It’s a two-way learning experience; it’s an exchange of knowledge.
That said, I want to be selective in terms of the projects I get involved with and ask a) does this truly meet the needs of the community, and b) does this project have a component of sustainability?