All posts by djarmul

I am a Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova, in Eastern Europe, serving in the small city of Ialoveni with my wife, Champa. We are from Durham, N.C., where I was the head of news and communications for Duke University. You can follow our adventures on my blog,

Grant Fishing

Did Confucius ever submit a grant proposal?

IMG_1548Some accounts say he wrote the famous aphorism: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

If he were living in today’s world, though, Confucius might have said: Give money to people and you help them for a short time. Teach them to write grants and they can keep going for years. (Or something like that.)

Grant writing has become an essential skill for public institutions and nonprofit organizations here in Moldova. IMG_1550With salaries and budgets that are tiny by American standards, they look to external sources for additional support, especially for projects. Potential funders range from USAID and other agencies affiliated with foreign governments to international NGOs, local embassies and others. compiles many of their initiatives.

On Monday evening, our Ialoveni library learned its robotics team was among the winners in the latest round of a small grant competition for local youth that also provides valuable experience for the young reviewers. The Ialoveni team will  receive 5,500 lei, or a bit more than $330, to buy the supplies it needs to continue participating in national robotics competitions and perhaps to also organize a small local competition.


My library partner, Lidia Rusu, in the white sweater below, has gained a lot of experience writing grants over the past several years. She’s also received training from Novateca on other forms of fund-raising and advocacy, doing so well that Novateca recruited her to train librarians elsewhere. I was impressed as she worked with several boys on our robotics team to prepare this latest proposal. We discussed it but they did almost all of the work themselves, including the budget and narrative sections. They also presented it effectively to the review committee you see here at Ialoveni’s Consiliul Raional, or county government.


The new grant isn’t a lot of money, but it’s enough to keep the library’s robotics program moving forward. Equally important, both Lidia and the boys honed their grant preparation skills and received positive feedback that will encourage them to pursue more grants in the future. Next time they may reel in some bigger fish.



Balancing the Goals

Peace Corps has three goals but devotes most of its attention to one of them, even though volunteers generally end up saying their biggest impact came from the other two, which focus on communications and enhancing international friendship.

Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 1.27.05 PMAs someone who thinks a lot about communications and cares about the Peace Corps deeply, first serving as a volunteer four decades ago and now again, I’ve tried to understand the logic of this. I still don’t get it. Americans and people in other countries need more than ever to understand each other. I think the Peace Corps, which just celebrated its 57th birthday, could be more impactful by fully embracing its communications role and bringing its portfolio into alignment with its mandate.

I have spent my career as a writer, editor and communications strategist. I know many people view our field as “getting the word out” or, less charitably, as cheap publicity.Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 1.26.24 PM At its best, though, communications has the deeper purpose of advancing organizational goals. I worked in the philanthropy world for many years and saw that even as some foundations focused on their slick annual reports and websites, others embraced communication as a strategic tool. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, for example, spent a lot of money on advertising and other communications activities to fight Big Tobacco and raise public awareness about the dangers of smoking. Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 1.24.31 PMIt played an important role in turning the tide on that issue. Other foundations helped change attitudes towards the LGBTQ community and on other issues.

When we turn to the attitudes American have about people in developing countries, Peace Corps is uniquely situated to provide facts, stories and perspective. Indeed, that is its mission.

President John F. Kennedy established three goals for Peace Corps, which still guide the organization. Goal One is to build the local capacity of people in interested countries and help meet their need for trained men and women. Goal Two is to promote a better understanding of Americans among people in other countries. Goal Three is to increase America’s awareness and knowledge of other cultures and global issues.

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A national survey of more than 11,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) several years ago found that most felt their biggest long-term impact was with the second two goals — changing how Americans and others view each other.

Yet even though two-thirds of our goals deal with communications, and more than a half-century of experience suggests this is where we can be most successful, Peace Corps focuses on Goal One. Obviously, this is our primary job and deserves most of our time and resources, but the other two goals need attention, too.

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During my own training, our “community and organizational development” (COD) group spent countless hours learning about community needs assessment, community mapping, community surveys, etc. Champa’s English education group studied teaching techniques and the like. Our overall group met together many times but never had a serious discussion about how we could pursue Goal Two and Goal Three more effectively. Just this past Friday, my volunteer group was invited to participate in a detailed review of COD. Goals Two and Three were never addressed until I asked about them at the end.

This past summer, Peace Corps Moldova added a training session for incoming volunteers on using blogs and social media tools, training that paid off with increased volunteer activity in these areas. But it was one session and was not followed up with more training or programmatic activity.

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A management rule is that the amount of time people and organizations spend on a topic reflects its importance to them. The small amount of time Peace Corps devotes to communications as a strategic activity speaks for itself.

IMG_6025I am not picking on Peace Corps Moldova, which has expanded its communications activities and supported innovations by its chief communications staffer, who I’ve been assisting. Some volunteers here have organized wonderful classes and cross-cultural events, such as during the recent “Peace Corps Week” or to celebrate American holidays.

Rather, I think this is a challenge for Peace Corps generally. The agency has taken some positive steps in recent years to promote PCV communications, such as a video contest that just completed its annual competition (see the winner here) and previous blogging campaigns. It has beefed up its online and social media activities and provided communications training for local staff around the world.  It created a “Third Goal” office, which maintains a media library and assists outreach activities such as the talks Champa and I gave when we visited home last summer. Many returned volunteers also share their experiences and perspective through RPCV groups and in other ways.

Yet all of this remains at the margins of what I’ve seen Peace Corps emphasizing while I’ve been a volunteer. To be sure, most volunteers advance Goal Two through their daily activities, showing by example the best of American values. But so much more could be accomplished if Peace Corps simultaneously made communications a real priority in its recruiting, training, program development and assessment. What other great things would volunteers be doing now if Peace Corps had challenged them to promote cross-cultural understanding with the same passion it promotes education for girls or community health care?

I don’t expect every volunteer to participate or be as active as I am with this blog, but I do think many more of them around the world would get involved if Peace Corps made clear this is a central part of our mission, not a “would be nice” if they have extra time.

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I’ve spent the large majority of my own time in Moldova on Goal One and am proud of what my partners and I have accomplished together. Many of my fellow PCVs here do amazing things at their job sites and in their communities, as do PCVs in more than 60 other countries. We are all trying to make a difference. But we’re also charged with teaching our host communities about America and our families and friends back home about distant places they may regard as mysterious or dangerous.

The Peace Corps changed my life for the better. I think it’s an amazing organization — one that can become even greater by finding a better balance among its three goals while remaining nonpolitical and committed to its development agenda.

President Kennedy was right when he defined our multiple missions. He’s still right today.

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Odessa Steps and Roots

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There’s a new epilogue to the story of a girl from Odessa who fled with her family to America in the early 1900s to escape the pogroms that were killing and persecuting Jews in Ukraine and others parts of the Russian empire.

IMG_1676That girl was my grandmother, Sarah.

On Saturday, Champa and I visited Odessa to pay our respects to Grandma Sarah’s memory while touring this great Black Sea port city. I was the first of her children or grandchildren to return in the many years since Grandma Sarah’s family — my family — arrived with nothing at New York’s Ellis Island. She used to describe their journey as resembling this closing scene from “Fiddler on the Roof,” a film she loved:

Champa and I hired an excellent driver, Marcel,  to make a long day trip there with our host sister, Alisa (wearing the blue Odessa souvenir hat), and her cousin Natalia.

IMG_1588We left Ialoveni early, crossing the Moldovan-Ukrainian border at Palanca since Peace Corps does not allow volunteers to travel through the disputed territory of Transnistria. We were lucky to arrive near Odessa’s opera house, shown behind us, just before a noon performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” was beginning.  IMG_1600We bought the cheapest seats, less than 40 cents apiece, so we could glimpse the theater for a few minutes. It was magnificent.

We then walked to another local landmark, the Odessa Steps that figure prominently in the famous scene from Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin, shown in the following clip. On one side of the steps is a plaque honoring their cinematic significance; on the other is a funicular we rode to ascend after visiting the port below, a major freight and passenger transportation hub for Ukraine.



Throughout Odessa’s central area we saw beautiful buildings, parks, shops and statues commemorating figures such as Catherine the Great (below) and Duke de Richelieu, the French-born governor who helped Odessa grow to become the third largest city in the Russian empire. We thought of our two daughters-in-law when visiting the “Mother-in-Law Bridge” and ate a late lunch of traditional Ukrainain food at Kumanets.


We ended our trip with a visit to Odessa’s largest synagogue, where I left a donation in my grandmother’s honor. It had taken more than a century but one of her descendants had finally made it back to revive her memory in this fascinating city, which we really enjoyed visiting.

Costume Coverage

The recent visit of the U.S. ambassador and Peace Corps guests to see the beautiful new costumes at Champa’s school was featured in a national television story, on a local news site and in the latest issue of Ialoveni’s monthly newspaper. (A translation of the newspaper article follows below; my previous post features a video about the event.)

TVR Molodova covered the costume event with this story (also available on YouTube):

The news site Ialoveni Online covered the events with the story excerpted below (in Romanian). You can use Google Translate to translate it online, if needed.

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The city’s monthly newspaper published two articles, both shown here. The first is about the ambassador’s discussions at the primăria, or city hall, which followed the costume event. The second, which I’ve translated below, is about the costume celebration and earlier library visit by Peace Corps guests, and about the work the two of us have been doing in Ialoveni.

Thank you again — vă mulțumim frumos! — to our extraordinary partners at the school and the library who made all of this possible and were so welcoming to their American guests.



Translation of second article:

Interesting Achievements of Peace Corps Volunteers in Ialoveni

Theoretical High School Andrei Vartic in Ialoveni had a gala festival to launch a volunteer project by its students, parents and teachers with support from the U.S. Peace Corps and volunteer Champa Jarmul.

Attending the event was his Excellency James D. Pettit, the U.S. ambassador to Moldova. The project produced 43 costumes that can be used by actors in dramatic presentations. The event featured a series of short scenes in which student actors presented heroes from the works of Shaespeare, V. Alecsandri and I. Creangă.

The celebration honored the volunteers. Thanks were expressed by school director Valentina Sacara and project coordinator Ana Doschinescu to all those who contributed to making this dream a reality.

A delegation from Peace Corps Moldova led by director Tracey Hébert-Seck visited Ialoveni’s Petre Ștefănucă public library. Peace Corps Volunteer David Jarmul presented some of the library’s activities, such as its robotics club, “Bebeteca” children’s room and infographics. The guests were impressed by the many activities carried out in collaboration with the volunteers.

Library director Valentina Plamadeala thanked David and Champa Jarmul for their diverse cultural activities at the library and in the community, for the beautiful projects they brought to Ialoveni and for their hours of English language training at the library.

Our Medical Care

I went to the dentist for a minor procedure on Tuesday and, as you can see, his office looked a lot like a modern dental office you might find in America.

Dr. Vlad Drugalin provided excellent care, speaking English with me, Russian with his assistant and Romanian when the three of us chatted together. I felt in good hands from the moment I entered his office, located in the building shown below.

IMG_1509But then again, I’ve felt in good hands medically with Peace Corps Moldova since we arrived here. The chief medical officer, Dr. Iuliana, is a jewel: skillful, thorough, caring and endlessly dedicated to keeping volunteers heathy. She pays attention to everyone’s mental health as well as their physical condition, knowing how stressful Peace Corps service can sometimes be.

I also think highly of her colleague, Dr. Diana, and their new assistant Tatiana. The three of them are a great team, working in coordination with but somewhat separate from the rest of Peace Corps Moldova. All of our medical interactions are confidential.

IMG_1517We get our medical care for free here, with no monthly premiums or other costs. During our pre-service training, the medical team ran workshops on everything from water purification to traffic safety. When we moved to our posts, they gave us water filters and well-stocked medical kits. They continue to fill prescriptions, address concerns and provide routine services in a clinic within the Peace Corps building. When necessary, they send volunteers to local specialists such as Dr. Drugalin or, occasionally, back home or elsewhere for treatment, coordinating with the Peace Corps medical office in Washington.

Champa and I have enjoyed good health here. We both fell on the ice a few weeks ago but, fortunately, didn’t break anything. We’ve had a few colds and stomach issues, but never had to stay overnight in Dr. Iuliana’s “TDY.” When I think back to my experience as a young Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal, when I had pneumonia twice and parasitic infections repeatedly, I know how lucky we’ve been.

IMG_1527We were in good shape when we applied to become volunteers, although that didn’t stop the Washington medical office from putting us through the wringer before clearing us for service. We had to submit form after form, with documentation, over several months before we were finally approved. IMG_1488I understood why the medical office was so cautious, especially with two older applicants, but the process was exhausting.

To be sure, Peace Corps confronts many medical challenges with its volunteers around the world, everything from sore throats to giardiasis, malaria or sexual assault. When I was in the Peace Corps medical office on Tuesday, picking up forms to bring with me to the dentist, I saw the poster shown here.

Champa and I have managed to avoid all of the dangers highlighted on the poster, at least so far. However, we still have four months to go. Fingers crossed. Sănătate.

[Postscript: The day after I posted this,



Volunteer Voices

Everyone’s Peace Corps experience is different. I want to pause from our own narrative to share some stories from my fellow volunteers, all of whom contributed to the Peace Corps Moldova Stories site. Most recently:

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Scott Ondap, a health education volunteer from California, described his experience serving as a godparent to the child of his adult Moldovan host sister. That’s Scott holding the baby at the baptism, together with PCV Ellen Kim.

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Hayley Guy, an English education volunteer from Florida, shared a funny but inspiring story about coming all the way to Moldova to overcome her anxiety about singing in public. She described how she unexpectedly found herself singing and dancing on a Moldovan television show.

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Haley Bader from Virginia and Danny Gottfried from Massachusetts (shown here) helped students highlight problems facing people with disabilities. My favorite moment in Haley’s lovely story is when a disabled young man bends a nail with his hands.

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Donna Barnes, a volunteer and associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Howard University, helped organize a kite festival to raise awareness in her village about nutrition. She described how “we had singing, dancing, even a flash mob.”

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Claire Worley, a health education volunteer from Georgia, joined with other PCVs and local friends to celebrate Thanksgiving with foods and traditions from both countries. “It turned out to be the best Thanksgiving I have ever celebrated,” she wrote.

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The site has many other good stories, recently including Amir Feinberg’s heartfelt account of his first days as a new teacher, Rebecca Stuch learning to live around farm animals and Alex Bostian’s students forming a giant peace sign to celebrate the International Day of Peace. Grace Myers described how “every day holds a new small adventure for me” and Kaylin Stinski shared a recipe for veggie pizzas she made with her host mother.

As I explained previously, I’ve been assisting with editing these stories and some of the material on Peace Corps Moldova’s Facebook page, working with Liuba Chitaev and others..

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Beyond Moldova, the central Peace Corps Stories site shares the voices of volunteers worldwide. It’s currently highlighting the winners of an international video competition, including my own favorites from Cambodia, Guatemala and Guinea. Another great resource is the Peace Corps Worldwide site, which connects to dozens of books and other writing from returned volunteers.

As I discussed when writing recently about how I used Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Globes speech in a training workshop, we humans make sense of our world through stories. Peace Corps Volunteers have some of the best. Check them out.


Costume Party (Video)

On Friday, the U.S. ambassador and other guests celebrated the new costumes Champa and her Ialoveni school partners created over the past several months — a colorful and emotional day we will never forget. This video is also on YouTube.