Why has the Peace Corps sent me and others to Moldova, a small country in eastern Europe that many Americans have never heard of?
Well, do you see the girl in blue, wearing glasses? She recently won a national award for her writing. The girl near her with the white blouse and black skirt was honored for her exquisite paintings.
Between the two is Ekaterina Borodatii, who runs a small village library my group visited on Wednesday.
Ekaterina has worked for years with these girls and other young people in Bardar, where I’ve been living during my training. Together, they illustrate the tremendous promise of this former Soviet state, now the poorest country in Europe.
Ekaterina’s annual budget, not including her salary and costs such as heating, is … wait for it … $500.
As a result, her library can purchase just a few books a year. Its collection is mainly aging Russian books from the Soviet era. There are no funds for magazines or programs, much less to buy a nice armchair or two. Its only modern possessions are some computers connected to the Internet, donated by a group supported by the Gates Foundation.
Ekaterina works hard with what she has. So do the girls. But they could be doing so much more.
The same is true next door, at Bardar’s town hall, or primaria. A day earlier, we met with the mayor, Petru Plugaru, who described his wish list of expanding the village’s sewer system, installing street lights, building a new day care center and improving the severely rutted roads. His resources are microscopic by American or West European standards.
Bardar is not unique in this beautiful country. Last week our group of “community and organizational development” trainees visited the library and town center at Dereneu, a village an hour away. The situation there was essentially the same: impressive people, huge challenges, no money.
Elena Oaserele, Dereneu’s mayor, welcomed us with a traditional Moldovan greeting of bread and salt. Then she and a colleague described their struggle to help the village grow and respond to community needs with nearly no resources. They were grateful to Kaya Koban, a Peace Corps volunteer posted to Dereneu who has been helping them identify and pursue possible grants and other external support.
After I finish my training, I’ll be working in the same program as Kaya, probably doing similar work and also pursuing secondary projects that may draw on my communications background. I’ll be living again with Champa, who will be teaching in a local school. In addition to its community development and elementary education programs, Peace Corps Moldova also has programs for health education and small business development.
I’m looking forward to the challenge. I was impressed by Ekaterina, Petru and Elena, and by the young people I met at the library. I’m hoping to find similar people wherever we’re sent, and am eager to work with them to tackle local problems.
Although I’ve been here for less than a month, it’s already obvious the challenges will be waiting.