Moldova: another tough job that we have come to love
For the past year and a half we have been living in a small village, Cosauti, on the Moldova-Ukraine frontier. Moldova is a former Soviet block country, having gained independence in 1991. Peace Corps’ (PC) first group of volunteers came to the country in 1993, so for the past 25 years PC has had a presence in Moldova. As with all countries PC works with, volunteers come with knowledge, experience and skill sets to work along side assigned partners to address issues in areas the particular country’s government requests. In Moldova, the PC focus areas are English language education, community development, health education and small enterprise development. Tom’s assignment has been as a community and organization development consultant and mine as a health teacher in the village school.
We came to Moldova in June, 2016 with 60 other Volunteer Trainees, and spent our three months of training living in separate villages with host families who spoke no English. Our group was dispersed into six villages or towns outside the capital, Chisinau, depending on our job area. The idea behind this is total immersion into the new culture and language. Tom stayed with a family of five. His house had electricity but no indoor plumbing, typical of village conditions. They also had a large garden, fruit and nut trees and animals which is also typical of village conditions. Their vineyard, like most of the village’s families, was located on a hillside outside of town. My host family, on the other hand, was in a larger town closer to the capital, and we had all the amenities — indoor plumbing, electricity, and a clothes washing machine. They call these conditions Posh Corps!
The three-month training period was dedicated to language learning and getting a grasp on the technical aspects of the job we were going to be doing for the next two years. Living apart, trying desperately to learn the Romanian language, learning a new job, eating new foods, dealing with new bugs and understanding the culture and customs was often overwhelming for both of us. But, by the end of August we had put that behind us. Our partners, who would be working with us for the next two years, picked us up after our graduation ceremony in Chisinau and delivered us to our new home in the village of Cosauti.
I work in a Gymnasium, grades 1-9. My job in school is teaching health education to grades 3-8, in Romanian, with the assistance of a partner teacher. The idea of this partnership is to bring alternative teaching methods into the classroom — methods that require more critical thinking on the part of the students, more teacher-student interaction, more creative opportunities during classes for students to bounce back and reinforce the information learned through role play, creating posters or brochures, doing skits or teaching others. Currently, the traditional form of education in Moldova is for teachers to talk and students take notes and complete exams. My experience has been that the students are attentive and responsive, most of the time, and my partner teachers are good at discipline and maintaining law and order!
Tom’s job as a community/organization development consultant brings him in touch with the administrative leaders in the village, but he has also been working closely with the school since his two partners are also teachers. He has found that a major challenge in accomplishing any initiative in the village is simply getting the time and commitment of partners to sit down and plan/develop concepts for initiatives. There is no lack of needs. Early on, he and his two partners went to a training seminar for designing and managing projects and came back with the concept of creating the village’s first playground. They surveyed the community, planned and developed the project, found the funds, and by the end of last summer the village had a playground. One of the most memorable experiences we have had here is when the playground was dedicated in the fall. He has also been involved with developing and implementing a Learning Resource Center in the school for students, but particularly for special education needs kids. Currently, we are working together on a grant that began as a request from the girls in my Health Club to have a clothes changing area for girls, a locker room, next to the school’s gym, and some new sports and recreation equipment. Hopefully, we can do this before our time here in Moldova comes to an end. Tom was also able to work with a villager from a part of the community that had problems with water supply to over 100 families. The village is next to a rock quarry, and over the years blasting has effected the water tables that feed individual wells for houses in that area. The solution they arrived at was a community well, and a type of cooperative between the effected families to build and maintain a reservoir and water distribution system. Our church (First United Methodist) partnered with the cooperative to help fund some of the project.
Our village is famous for it’s stone, paticularly Cosauti Stone, used for monuments, statues, etc. The village has many master stone carvers and masons, and it’s the major business in the community. The village also has many older people (grandparent age) who are often caring for their children’s children, as a large percentage of working-age Moldovans go abroad to earn a living.
Moldova is reported to be the poorest country in Europe, but over the years it seems to be slowly (sometimes painfully slow) shaking off the legacy of post-Soviet corruption, making democratic reforms and trying to create meaningful opportunities for Moldovans. It is not a member of the European Union, but many of the people we have come to know embrace European values. Their main exports are wine, sunflower seeds and other agricultural products. Russia was it’s biggest customer for many years. Due to complicated political issues in this post-Soviet country, and ongoing differences of opinion regarding Moldova’s vision for the future (leaning towards the European Union vs. leaning towards Russia), the major trade markets have been limited. Ukraine and Romania, Moldova’s neighbors, also export similar products. From our perspective, it appears that Moldova is being squeezed out, and as the market for Moldova’s agricultural products is limited, so are jobs in industry and business. Wages are poor (my fellow teachers make about $120 a month), and the majority of the workforce age 20-40, as mentioned above, is working outside Moldova and sending back money.
These are some of the significant problems here in Moldova, but there are many wonderful things about Moldova, this region of eastern Europe and it’s people. There is a rich diversity of ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups. Moldovan and Romanian culture and tradition are held in very high regard here. They have several celebrations throughout the year, and each holiday requires a school or community program.
The country survives on its agriculture with rich black soil like Brown County. The fields are planted in sunflowers, corn, wheat and sugarbeets. It is under production in all the fields and back yards beginning mid-March when everyone puts up their low profile hoop houses for starter plants, until November when the last of the pumpkins, potatoes, apples, pears and cabbage are put down in the root cellar.
The faith practiced by the majority here is Eastern Orthodox, mostly Russian, with some Romanian influences. Our village has a monastery and a church. The monastery here, as well as most others throughout Moldova, has an artesian water source in the chapel where you can collect water for home use. You’ll find cars in the village, but horse and cart are used extensively here to move goods within the village. We have access to a public mini- bus that brings people to and from the nearby town of Soroca which is 8km away, a few small neighborhood stores where you can buy anything from fresh bread for 15 cents a loaf, to batteries, to new rubber shoes for working outside in. What more could we possibly want?
Village life has suited us. Most people know who we are and call us by name, having never known any Americans before us. They will stop to tell us of their children or relatives who are working or have visited the U.S., and seem to be very proud that we are here in their village. One man asked us when we first came why we would leave America and come to live in Moldova when most Moldovans were trying to go to America! Our response is that we are a Christian people, serving God and serving our neighbor through our Peace Corps public service.
Our service in the Peace Corps will be complete in July and after a bit of traveling we will be back in New Ulm in the fall. We look forward to seeing our community again and encourage any and all who want to experience a place of beauty and wonderful agriculture to look into coming to Moldova.