It really is time to write about what I’m actually doing here for Peace Corps Moldova. I know anyone reading my blogs might come away with the notion that I only traveled here on a cultural exchange mission – I don’t seem to have any substantive work filling my day. And the truth is that I really don’t. Sure I get up each morning and load my computer into my sturdy backpack (thanks mom!) and trudge up the hill to the “office.” I then unload my computer and sit at my desk and mostly study Romanian all day. That is, when I’m not seated in the dining room with the staff and kids eating a meal. Which I do 2-3 times daily. For 30-45 minutes each time. I get to hear a lot of Romanian being spoken and sometimes (not as often as I should) I try to jump in and join the conversation.
I know all about these women’s children and husbands and parents and siblings and favorite foods and sleep habits and even whether or not they wear pajamas to bed at night (that was a funny conversation.) I know the deals they get on cartofi and pâine at the piața and where the best place is in Hîncești to buy a torta. I hear about their frustrations with wages and government and the transportation system and the dismal prospects for finding affordable apartments in town. What is still hazy and ambiguous to me, however, is the details relating to the work I am supposed to be doing at the center and how I can really be of service to these people and their organization.
When we were in PST, we received a lot of training on how to be a good Community Organizational Development Advisor. And all of it looked good on paper and made in sense at the time, in theory. But once you get to site and actually are faced with the bureaucratic complexities and inherent dysfunction of the NGO landscape in Moldova, it all becomes a bit overwhelming. Funding, operating, and sustaining a non-profit in Moldova relies on a set of circumstances much different than those I was accustomed to in the states. There, one generally seeks grants for “startup costs” either to begin a new NGO or to implement a new program within an existing one. And for that grant to be funded, one usually needs to have a pretty solid plan for making the NGO or program self-sustaining by the time the start-up money is spent, from government contracts or insurance revenue or corporate support from businesses attempting to burnish their image with consumers. It makes a lot of sense and generally works (at least when times are good and the economy is doing well.)
In Moldova, it doesn’t work this way. There are no government contracts or insurance companies or big businesses seeking positive public relations. I am still too new and unschooled in the realities of the post-Soviet economy and governance here to analyze the specifics of the problems, but it is pretty easy to discern from just looking around that there is little investment being made in any sort of commonwealth. Whether this is because of a lack of available revenue or because people don’t see the value in putting money aside for the public good, I don’t know. But I am getting firsthand experience of life in the sort of environment that results from not funding a social safety net or wanting to invest in public infrastructure. And let me tell you, it’s not pretty folks.
So far, I am helping primarily through smiling a lot and being cheerful. This seems to bolster everyone’s spirits and keep them hopeful for the future. Because come January 1, we have no funds for salaries. My partner is currently applying for a grant being offered by a Swiss organization; this is round two of keeping the organization afloat. There are no prospects, at least for now, of the city providing funds or of being able to charge a reasonable amount for our services. However, if we can increase the client base and reach out to more communities, there is a possibility of being able to generate enough income to make the center sustainable.
This will depend on whether there are enough parents with disabled children able to find jobs and work, and make enough money to pay a fee for their children to receive services. It is a big IF in this country. Most families with disabled children have had to put them in orphanages in order to be able to work in the first place; keeping them at home is a relatively new concept for Moldovans. Traditionally, disabled persons are viewed as a liability and are discriminated against in civil society. There have not been many incentives or strategies formulated for families to care for them at home.
Meanwhile, take a walk across town and try to avoid getting hit by one of the many late model BMWs or Mercedes Benz flying down the streets. Stroll by the McMansions behind wrought iron fences at the top of monument hill. Notice the kids chatting on iPhones in the seat in front of you on the bus into Chișinau. And see the D&G sunglasses that the young women display conspicuously atop their heads on even the cloudiest day.
My, my, my, my, my. I’m not really as far from America as I might think. Perhaps our values – at least some of them – are not that difficult to adopt, after all. And providing a different perspective on those values is something that I plan to make a BIG part of my Peace Corps service in Moldova.