Thursday, August 25, 2011

Roma Camp! One last time BABY!

Last year I had my first real experience working with roma children in the small town of Minjir when we put on a summer camp for them! That experience deeply impacted me, and solidified my role as a Roma advocate for the rest of my life. This year I had one more opportunity to do the same with another one of my partner organizations "Ograda Noastra" and my fellow RISE members: Josh Boissevain, Kim Davis, Ryne Peterson, and Holly Walker.
Last week I got to work along side one of my most favorite colleagues Ruslan Stanga on a Roma camp. We had about 18 children from the village Zinernesti in Cahul! Our two days in the woods were filled with society building activities such as communication training through social theater and civic education through camp elections! Our days were also filled with plenty of fun games, bonding and arm tattoos! Scorpions, roses and dragons were particular favorites!

It always shocks me how far classic games like "Steal the bacon" and a good "ol" water balloon toss will go with kids no matter where you are in the world!

But my favorite part was definitely our section on teaching children how to show non-verbal communication through film (something I have gotten quite accustomed to over these past two years of film ahem! :P) It was wonderful to be able to play back their scenes and see their reactions to their work, they were fascinated!

And after every single day I was exhausted, barely able to lift my glass to celebrate our teams awesome successes, I was pretty sleep deprived, and being on the road takes a toll on you, ( I hadn't been home for a whole week!). I was actually just wearing "loot me" clothes by that point (loot me is a section in our Peace Corps lounge where PCVs can leave/donate clothes for other PCVs to take) and shoes that were killing me for days! But the team pulled together, Ryan let me wear his sandals most of the time, I was really broke at the time and wasn't able to purchase any shoes of my own (long story didn't prepare to well for this trip down south AGAIN! LIFE ON THE ROAD). Thanks RYAN!
BUT that's the theme of my Peace Corps service: stress, discomfort, not enough sleep and then ultimate satisfying gratification and joy!I had an amazing time! So this is how my final days in Moldova are winding down with my colleagues and friends next to me, doing the work I love to do, RISE work! I couldn't ask for a better way to spend my summer!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

What I will remember about "Roma Boots"

RISE's "Roma Boots" drop will forever be in my memories as one of the best things I have done thus far in my Peace Corps service.

Over 40 children were given rain boots to shield their feet from the harsh mud and snow that often prevents them from attending school.

There are many things about this event I can write about. I could write about the long absurd bureaucratic process and hidden fees my partners and I had to endure to get our boots through customs. I could write about crying because the clock was ticking and we couldn't get a health clearance for the boots. Or I could tell you about being stuck at the border for 6+ hours, coordinating separate individuals to meet each other in Romania to pick up our boots from Moldova with no money in my pocket to call but, figuring it out anyway. I could tell you about the RISE members' hard work taking inventory, bagging and taging all 200 pairs of boots, and then sitting outside forever trying to transport them back to Peace Corps! I could complain about the stress, the time, the people, the endless emails and the STAMPS!

Tarna Rom, helping us complete the paper work necessary for customs

But no, what I want to share with you is this:

On July 9th, 2011, Peace Corps volunteers and Samual Bistrian, "Roma Boots" founder, spent their time and money to go into a village they had never heard of before, to give out dearly needed supplies to impoverished Moldovan children.

Without much rehearsal or direction, these volunteers organized themselves, led a wonderful presentation about self empowerment, fitted and gave away boots to children in a tiny room, on a very hot day. They began to work in unison, with care and smiles.
And when all the papers were signed and the last pair of boots was given away, I looked around at all of the RISE members, and remembered Samuel's words about overcoming hardship. My final thought, "Thank you, this is why I joined the Peace Corps."

We took a last tour of Schinoasa with the local children as they played with us (and continued to try to get us wet! lol) and eventually said good bye to our newly made friends feeling that
on that day, we did something amazing!

This event was made possible by all the things I mentioned before, but more importantly, it was remarkable because it was truly a work of love, compassion and our deep commitment to spread peace and friendship. For many of us the embodiment of why we go across the world to help others is rarely something we can see, but our trip to Schinoasa was just that.

So what I will remember about our boot drop is deep wrinkles being formed by wide smiles on the faces of some of Moldova's most impoverished people. Watching children looking into their Roma boot bags, and admiring their shiny new boots with glistening eyes . Long hugs, endless thank you's, smiles filled with gratitude, an older women telling me "thank you for not forgetting us", my fellow volunteers who made me proud to serve my country along side them, and Samuel, who allowed us to participate in his dream.

What a truly memorable day!

Visit Samuel's ogranization's webpage here:
Sam and I, "Roma Boots, giving poverty the boot!"

It's Computer Time!

After working hard on writing a grant and experiencing some Moldovan bureaucracy, we finally got 4 brand new computers for Brindusa!!!

Now these vulnerable children will be able to learn the vital technical skills they will surely need in the future.

Computer lessons, games, and trainings have begun!! And next week we will have a computer week full of fun computer activities to get the kids excited about technology!!! :D :D Will post pics!

Super excited for the future of my center Brindusa!

Food for our friends in need...

After meeting the flood victims of Codru Morii, help came in the form of food and shoes!
Being able to assist in the distribution of food to 34 displaced Moldovan families was one of the most memorable expeiences I've had here in Moldova.

Me handing out shoes to the children of Codru Morii.

We made a nice assembly line of food and handed out canned goods, fresh veggies and fruit, we were even able to hand out some frozen chickens as well!

The gratitude and happiness felt by everyone was overwhelming and emotional, we were officially adopted by all the "bobas" from that point on.
The food drops continued for the rest of spring until our friends were able to move into their brand new houses built for them by the government. I hope we will meet again.

Brindusa is Heard in L.A.! News update from my center

Some of the amazing Brindusa Staff

Our year has been full of amazing people helping us reach our goals as educators and to provide love to our children here at our center. Even after all this we know there is still lots of work to do to bring our center up to speed with all we wish to do for our children.

Our play room continues to lack several things, our book shelves are falling apart, our walls need repairs and we would like to create a parent/child conference area for our parenting meetings.

So once again the Brindusa team and their Peace Corps volunteer (ME! :D) came together and asked themselves how can we repair our children’s room? They decided to take one of their strengths, arts and crafts, and make it into a fundraiser to reach their goals. We were going to create handmade greeting cards and sell them!

We all agreed that these beautiful cards could create more revenue for the center if we sold them abroad, hence Marlene Lopez reached out to her sister in Los Angeles Hiliana Lopez, and asked her for help.
Hiliana Lopez
Hiliana and several other people came together and decided they wanted to hold a fund raiser for the center and sell the cards there! With the help of Marlene’s family, sister and best friend Mercedes Vega, the Lopez family held a fun filled event at Mel’s Bar in Los Angeles with the slogan “Help the children of Moldova”.

Mel was kind enough to allow this event to happen there for free! The night was full of raffles, sales, dancing, and even popcorn!

The staff’s greeting cards were extremely popular, one attendee stated about the cards:“I regret not getting more! I have my card displayed at work at my desk and my co-workers asked if there were any more?! Bring some back to sell if you can! : D”

The night was a complete success and now the Brindusa center will be able to begin the repairs in their children’s room!
We thank everyone who made this event happen from the bottom of our hearts! You have truly helped the children of Moldova!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Though I am far away...

Though I am far away I still want to support my best friend Mercedes Vega in Los Angeles to complete one of her greatest life to ride a bicycle!!! Yes after 25 years one of my nearest and dearest friends has yet to conquer one of life's greatest to balance on two wheels! OPA Mercedes! We need to get this silly creature on top of this! So today after a long Gmail internet phone call we have decided that one month from now she will be riding a bicycle FARA (without) training wheels or assistance!!

So 1 month from now I will revisit this topic to see whether my dear friend Mercedes has succeeded in her quest to ride a bicycle!!!

Ive done lots of cool and interesting projects here in Moldova but if I can help pressure/support my best friend into doing this via the blogosphere, well than that will be one of my greatest accomplishments by far.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Flood, A Years Worth of Tragedy...but help will arrive.

Last year Moldova experienced a terrible flood that washed away two villages, destroyed countless crops and made hundreds of Moldovans homeless.

Our amazing missionary friends Sister Toni and Elder Tom asked to visit the most devastated villages, which were coincidentally in my raion (town), to see if they could help in any way.
There we saw the full destruction of the flood, a whole years worth! The buildings were crumbling, there were dead trees everywhere some houses were still surrounded by water! This was an awful sight.

We visited the newly constructed houses that were built for the flood victims. But even after a year all the houses were still not built and many lacked many necessary resources like running water!

This community has only ONE well in its vicinity and the water is not drinkable. Most of the time the residence must walk down the hills and carry water back and forth to their houses.

Afterwards we went to see the victims that were still being housed in my town's university dormitories. There we found people who were struggling to find food and were overwhelmed by emotions when they talked about their lost lives. All they said they wanted was food.

Though Sister Toni and Tom do not regularly provide food aid as assistance they knew they couldn't walk away from these people in need. Hence Katie McNabb and I organized our very first food drop in our town! The 30 families in the dorms received potatoes, cucumbers, onions, oranges, and even frozen chickens! The VanWormers have decided that they wish to provide regular food supplies to our victims until they move into their new houses later in the year!

As for the residents at the new communities the VanWormers have also committed to providing the town with any necessary furniture and supplies they may need! They have also discussed a future water project with the town! These guys are amazing! Heres their blog link if you want to check out all the amazing things they are doing here in Moldova.

On a personal note:

I have always grown up with a deep sense of skepticism towards religious organizations providing humanitarian aid to people, I always thought, "Ok now what do you want?". I'd like to say now after living abroad and really working side by side with good religious people that truly just want nothing more than to help has completely rocked my world!

They have helped me become a more open-minded individual, this experience is changing everything! My faith in humanity is only growing, something I will always thank the Van Wormers for.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A walk home

Finally back to my old routine go to work, play with kids, do some drawing lessons, work on Peace Corps stuff on my computer, eat lunch, work on Brindusa stuff on computer, walk home with Samantha while listening to my MP3 player, embarrass Samantha all the way home by dancing on the street (this of course being my favorite part!).

You've seen her before but here she is again the amazing 14 year old Samantha! A beneficiary of the Brindusa Center for at risk children.

Today my day was filled with a lot of work and success but dancing all the way home while Samantha laughs at me is always a treat and is special to both of us. Just how special it was I hadn't realized till today!

Samantha and I walked our usual route singing dancing, we passed the library, the primaria, the cultural center, the WW2 monument, all 8 long blocks home (shes my neighbor a 20 maybe 30 minute walk home) as we listened to the classics "Family Affair" Mary J. Blige, "Meet me Half way" Black eyes peas etc...

When we got to my apt she said "ok Im going back to the library." (the library is 30 minutes back from where were) I was shocked and said "WHAT WHY? You just walked all the way home??" To which she said "I know, but thats OK, walking with you was more important."

Samantha, she will be what I remember when I go back home...

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Privilege of Forgetting

Its no secret to those who know and love me that I can be a very forgetful person. One of my favorite quotes about this comes from Marion Adams "If your friends with Marlene, than you must have a piece of her clothing in your house." LOL

Marion Adams

Ok so I admit that when am excited, when I'm in a rush, or when I'm just plain tired I tend to forget things, leave things at bus stops, walk away without getting my bank card from the ATM machine, leave my bag open on a bus and get jacked for all I'm worth etc...

I dont know why this is... I can point the finger at genetics, my mom can look for her keys for 40 minutes until she realizes they were in her pocket the whole time :p
my mom wearing a basket on her head :D

BUT also, I think it may have something to do with the fact that I never needed to take this issue too seriously in America. I know! I know not every American is like this, but with my personality and other factors in my life, it just so happened that when I lost something, somehow things always worked out in the end. As a result when I would lose something I just stopped worrying about it and just dealt with it, thinking "Ok so who do I need to call to fix this". I'm not trying to say its not inconvenient because IT WAS and STILL IS and don't prefer this route...but is it life or out worthy? Definitely not....could this have facilitated my personality defect?? Maybe.

What made me reflect about this was a memory my host mom shared with me over a glass (or two) of gin de casa (wine) about her upbringing during the Soviet Union era here in Moldova.

Quick history about Moldova: In 1946, as a result of a severe drought and excessive delivery quota obligations and requisitions imposed by the Soviet government, the southwestern part of the USSR suffered from a major famine resulting in 216,000 deaths and about 350,000 cases of dystrophy in the Moldavian SSR alone.
File:Romanian tanks chisinau.jpg

She told me that in order to survive the communist death grip on food her father would hide food in their "wine barrels" she claims that if he had not done this, they surely would have died of starvation like many of their neighbors did.

"In those days you could walk up and down the streets and see bodies piled up on top of each other just laying on the sides of the street" she said with glazed eyes, she continued " just to get a piece of bread you needed to show your documents and bring your food record with you to be controlled and stamped. If you lost that small book you starved..."

This sparked my own memories of my occasional frustration over dealing with Moldovan paperwork, why did everything have to be stamped and checked over and over! Why couldn't I just get money from the bank without my debit card if I had a passport!

The legacy of the Soviet Union will be one that will take years to forget, just recently I came to peace with that, BUT it is happening!

Yet, more than anything it made me think about my forgetfulness, and how privileged I am to be able to forget. I had never thought of this flaw as a privilege, but the fact that I can rest assure that no matter what happens to my stuff or documents my basic needs will always be taken care of by someone somewhere is a privilege. There will be a system, an infrastructure of people and institutions in place that will take care of me if something should happen, hence I don't worry so much, thats not historically normal.

I am grateful that no matter what I have been through I never had to face war, dictatorships, or seeing someone die from starvation because they lost their small record book.

Thank you Moldova for yet again humbling me, your history has helped me see my own life more clearly.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Brown is a dirty color...

Peace Corps is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and we here in Moldova are celebrating this occasion in our own special way! Our wonderful volunteers have put together a website:

Here we post all the amazing things we do everyday and display how we are spreading peace and friendship!

So I recently wrote a post and wanted to share it on my blog as well because its already done and well why not?

I hope this doesn't piss them off! Anywho here is my 365 post I hope you enjoy!

TITLE: Brown is Dirty Color, Fighting for Roma (Gypsy) Awareness

Ms. Marlene dont use the color brown! Yelled one of my former third graders, “Its a dirty color, its the “Tigan” (gypsy) color, if your that color your a bad person.”. This just before I was about to color in one of my vocabulary charts. After a moment to reflect I responded with “Are you sure that all brown people are bad?” now several engaged children responded with a whole hearted “Yes” to which I said, “hmmm would you guys like to see my mother?” Yes they said and I proceeded to show them the following picture:

I've never seen children's cheeks turn red so fast. Baffled and embarrassed that my mother was a brown Mayan looking women they retreated and said well not all brown people can be bad. This was it, the moment when I realized I needed to do some Roma work!

Roma consistently fall behind their non-Roma counter-parts in regards to educational success, employment, health, housing conditions, and security. Compared to their non-Roma counter-parts Romas face: a two times higher risk of poverty, a higher illiteracy and drop out rate, two-times higher probability of unemployment, fall short on all core health indicators relevant to the human development index, 80 percent live in homes with no basic housing conditions, and two thirds of the population frequently suffer from food insecurity.

But the intolerance and stigma surrounding the Roma have also greatly held back their

progress and self-confidence.

I got in contact with one of the rare Roma NGO's in Moldova called “Ograda Noastra” and met Ruslan Stanga.Together we have conducted a summer camp discussing human rights/stereotypes, we put on seminars for teachers and many other projects. But the one project that inspired this post was a film that we created with my partner Valeriu Caldararu called “Moldova's Roma”, in which we addressed the negative stereotypes associated with Roma.

The film has been used in several villages to facilitate discussions about the issues with the Roma community, it was shown at the Council of Europe by Marin Alla to begin deliberations about the Roma in Europe, and its even been featured on national television here in Moldova.

All great successes, but my most memorable success with this film happened on a random day at site with my host mother.

We had just finished a cup of afternoon tea when I said I was off to Chisinau (Moldova's capital city) for a meeting. Naturally she asked about my work and I admit I hesitated to tell her that my Roma partners were waiting for me to discuss our film. I had heard several comments about Roma in our home “dont go near them, they'll steal from you” “oh what a shame she married a Tigan” “They sell their young!” all sorts of things, but I decided it was time to share this part of my life with the women I had grown to love and respect. When I told her about my project this set in motion a two hour debate between her and I.

It was a very emotional discussion she brought up cases of Roma stealing from her when she was a child, than it got tied into the hardships of the war etc etc and it became very clear to me that she wasn't going to give me an inch on this topic.

But then, just before I was about to give up I caught a break she said “ I have never seen a Roma who is educated and can properly speak to people.” “Really!” I said and asked her if I can show her something, (Im very big on showing, its so much more effective than talking sometimes!) and to my joy she agreed.

I watched her face as she watched our film, there on the screen was a Roma who could speak, who was intelligent and passionate and I can tell it was sinking in. Afterwards, she sat there and reflected, and not a word passed between us for several minutes. I had to capture the moment and got a snap shot of this moment here it is:

But it was agonizing to wait for her to speak, and when she did it was a relief to hear her say “wow I dont think I have ever seen a Roma speak that way before, Maybe they have changed” which she quickly countered with “but if there are good Roma they are not in Hincesti (our town)”. I was so happy I nearly cried.

Many people don't understand why this experience meant so much to me, they say at the end of the day, she still disliked Roma, but to them I say “patience”. As Peace Corps volunteers we constantly hear that our jobs are not meant to change things immediately rather we plant seeds that will bloom with time. She gave me an inch, one tiny inch and it was enough to plant a seed. Rarely do we get the opportunity to see this happen and I will never forget her for it. I sincerely believe its these random events, these moments of patience and perseverance that truly fulfill our goals of peace and friendship.