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A while back I mentioned a new project I was working on, called the Joint Information & Services Bureau (JISB). The program is funded by the Government of Sweden, supported by United Nations Women, and implemented jointlywith the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection and Ministry of Economy.

In 2010, the districts of Singerei,Nisporeni, Teleneşti, and Cantemir were selected as pilot districts to implement JISBs. Each JISB, will be located in each Raion Counsel building, within each district, and will bring together public sector service providers, such as theSection of Social Assistance and Family Protection and Office of Unemployment, as well as private and civil societyorganizations, in order to provide information about services relating to employment, social protection, agriculture, land,and initiating and developing businesses.

The long-term goal, however, is to implement E-Services. According to ITU, the UN Agency for Information and Communication Technologies, at the end of 2009 there were around 1,295,000 Internet users in Moldova, with an overall population of 4,320,748. http://www.itu.int. This means that 29.9% of the population of Moldova had internet access in 2009, which is an increase of over 10% since 2007, when it was 19.6%. Id. If internet penetration progresses at the currentrate, then by the end of the JISB/BCIS implementation process, there would be around 40% internetpenetration in Moldova, with a steady increase on a yearly basis.

With this in mind, one of the goals of this program is to implement online services (Applying for serivces online), unified government databases, and providing centralized information about services and rights. THIS is what I’ve been advocating for since I got here, and I’m excited to see the potential for it actually happening!

SO, what exactly will my role be in all of this? Until now, my support has been largely technical in nature; creating databases to record beneficiary information, discussing concerns regarding strategic planning, etc. It became clear, however, that a program as ambitious as this would benefit from the backing of Peace Corps Moldova, and not just Yoel Malashock, most athletic Peace Corps volunteer (surveys were taken).

Last week, I was able to arrange a meeting with the UN Women people to discuss potential collaboration with Peace Corps Moldova. I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Realistically, it was the highest profile meeting I have ever attended, and the fact that I facilitated it, and two of my bosses and another volunteer, Neal Collins (Shout Out), were there, added to the pressure.

I could not be happier with the result of the meeting! We have Peace Corps volunteers throughout Moldova, all of which will be able to help market the JISB to their partner organizations and beneficiaries, as well as help conduct technical trainings in how to use E-Services. To conclude the meeting, UN Women offered to draft a Memorandum of Understanding, in order to formalize the collaborative relationship between UN Women and Peace Corps Moldova!

History in the Making

I’ll never forget the events that transpired last Friday. Moldova has been an independent country since 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Over the last 20 years, it has struggled to find its identity, and has endured great economic hardship. Institutional corruption has impeded growth, and has created a largely depressed, yet apathetic population. Perhaps the most emblematic example of Moldovan sentiment, is the classic Moldovan song, “asta-i viata mea”, which means Thats My Life, and describes life as a perpetual cycle of work all day, and drinking in the evening; with the chorus proclaiming, “Thats my life, I like it”.

Slowly, but surely, there are those in Moldova who wish to modernize, reduce corruption, and possess a desire for Moldova to finally meet its potential. I had met many of these people in the past, but never in my life had I witnessed such an overwhelming outpour of hope for change, as I did last Friday in Chisinau, Moldova.

Last Friday, on March 11th, 2011, the Vice President of the United States of America, came to Moldova.

You know, had I still been in the US, catching this bit of news on the television whilst flipping through the channels, I most likely would not have thought twice about the event. It wouldn’t have been because I didn’t care; rather, because it wouldn’t have occurred to me how much a Vice Presidential visit would mean to a country. Prior to the event, I figured there would be a couple thousand attendees, the Vice President would give a speech, and we’d call it a day. What I saw, however, was far from just that.

I arrived at the event, and found thousands of people, as far as the eye could see, waiting to hear their guest from the United States, and possibly catch a glimpse. There were young people, old people, men and women, professionals and laborers; it became quickly apparent that the highest ranking US official to ever come to Moldova, was drawing quite the interest.

 

To be quite honest, seeing the Vice President is not what makes the event so memorable to me. Hearing thousands of Moldovan citizens applauding the Vice President’s declaration of support to the Moldovan people, his cry for the elimination of institutionalized corruption and the empowerment of women, and the emphasis on maintaining and supporting democratic values, all made me proud to be an American Peace Corps volunteer. There are those out there that demonize the United States’ foreign policy, and I can certainly say that we are not perfect; however, I will undoubtedly be proud to have served a country that took the time, money, and good-will to send us volunteers to countries all across the world, to impart our skills and experience, and to help empower a people to put the future of their country in their own hands.

I’ll never forget Friday, March 11, 2011

Click Below for photos of the event, and video of the Vice President’s speech

VICE PRESIDENT PHOTO ALBUM

VICE PRESIDENT YOUTUBE VIDEO

 

Nunta La Hermes!

One day, as I was riding the bus to work, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Little did I know that tap would change my life forever. Alright, so it didnt change my life, but it did lead to something pretty cool.  I looked up, to see a man, wearing a distinctly non-Moldovan coat:

Casey: “You’re from America?”

Yoel: “…yeah….you?”

Casey: “I’m from Alaska! My wife, Natalia,  is from Singerei, and we are having a wedding reception here in a few weeks!”

Shortly thereafter, I went to dinner at Natalia’s mother’s house. To my surprise, upon entering the house, I saw Casey and his friend from the US, playing Xbox 360 over Xbox Live. For those of you that don’t know, thats a video game. It occurred to me at that moment, that my life in Moldova would be completely different, had I decided to bring my own Xbox 360. Much of the time I currently spend reupholstering chairs with my host dad, playing UNO with my host sisters, or hanging out and talking with my host mom, would undoubtedly be spent playing Xbox. As much as I miss it, it is safe to say that it would have ruined the “Peace Corps” experience.

In any case, this last weekend was Casey and Natalia’s wedding. Frankly, it was one of the best weddings I’ve ever been to! The food was great, everyone was happy as can be, and we danced the hora, for hours, as is natural at Moldovan weddings. Click the first link below to see pictures, and the second to see my site-mate Melissa’s blog post about the wedding:

Wedding Photos

Melissa’s Blog Post

So, its half-way through December, and I realize I haven’t posted anything on the ol blog. Based on the average of about 4-5 site visits a day I get, I can tell you all are getting anxious. I won’t keep you waiting, so read on:

Last Thursday, I partook in slaughtering the family pig. I didn’t do any of the killing, but I did use a flamethrower. I’m skipping the story, as it was a pretty graphic affair. I have a ton of pictures, and anyone may contact me directly to see them.

Moving right along, last weekend I went to the capital city, Chisinau, for a Hanukkah / Christmas party. Seeing as though I’m the only Jewish guy in my program, it was really more of a Christmas party. Now, that is not to say the party consisted of singing carols or anything else you’d typically find at the average Christmas party; but considering one of our volunteers, Bob, dressed up like Santa Claus…

We proceeded to have a secret gift exchange, and I somehow ended up with a Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo Jersey. Seriously? I was born in Washington D.C., which means I grew up a Redskins fan. I went to high school in New Jersey, which means I am a Giants fan. Somehow, at a gift exchange in Moldova, I end up with the jersey of a quarterback from my least favorite team in the NFL. No, wait, I take that back. If I’d gotten a Tom Brady, of the New England Patriots, jersey, I’d have been even more disappointed. Thanks Travis & Sarah, for your incredibly thoughtful gift :-).

The rest of the weekend was great, and the relaxation was exactly what I needed, to gear me up for yesterday. What happened yesterday, you ask? Well, I suppose a little introduction to the project is in order.

The national government of Moldova, alongside UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women), and sponsored by the government of Sweden, is developing a new project, The Joint Information & Services Bureau. Each Bureau, will operate under the Raion Council (Regional government), and will consist of specialists from every department at the regional government level, and eventually, representatives from important NGOs and the private sector. The point of the Bureau is to provide a central location for beneficiaries to go ask questions. If they need to ask another department a question, they may do so at a different table, in the same location. While, this seems like a simple concept, there are considerable issues to deal with, in the designing and implementing of a program of this magnitude. Below, you will find a video that outlines the purpose of the Bureau. Much of the video was filmed in my town, and at my Raion Council, and you’ll notice that my partner, Tatiana, is featured briefly. Our Raion Council, where I work, is one of three Raions participating in the pilot portion of this project.

So, yesterday, was the first workshop for this project. At approximately 9:30 a.m., in walk the Ambassador of Sweden, and the representatives from UNIFEM…in my office. Needless to say, I was pretty excited about the workshop, at that point. We had a brief discussion about work we are doing, as well as the project itself. Next, I found myself at the workshop, watching representatives from the Ministry, at the national level of Moldova, and other people involved with the project, standing up and introducing themselves. Well, as you might have guessed, it would eventually be my turn to introduce myself. I was beyond nervous, as I was going back and forth in my mind, debating whether to introduce myself in English, or in Romanian. It was finally my turn to speak, and I had worked up the nerve to do so in Romanian….

Ma numesc Yoel Malashock, si eu sint voluntar din america, in programul Corpul Pacii. Acum, eu lucrez aici in Singerei la Sectia Asistentia Sociala, si ma bucur sa am oportunitate sa ajut cu acesta program. (My name is Yoel Malashock, and I am a volunteer from America, in the Peace Corps program. Now, I work here in Singerei at the Section of Social Assistance, and I am glad to have the opportunity to help with this program).

I got a frickin round of applause!

I guess it isn’t often that you hear an American, in Moldova, speaking Romanian, with a decent accent… if I don’t say so myself ;-).

In any case, I could go on about the details of the workshop, my part in developing the project, etc., but this blog post is too long as it is. I’ll save more for next time.

Feel free to leave comments about thoughts, criticisms, and even ideas, in regard to the Joint Information & Services Bureau!

Nkosi Came to Town

Last weekend was different from other weekends in Moldova.  It was the first time I worked the land (yeah, I know I’m a  bit late on that), it was the first time I exercised since coming to Moldova, and it was the first time I had a guest from Peace Corps stay for the weekend! Alright, you caught me…I didn’t exercise. If you read my last post, my host dad and I discussed doing so each morning…but, alas, I decided another 30 minutes of sleep was more important this morning.

In any case, my friend Nkosi came down for the weekend. He lives about an hour and a half north of me, and is in the “Agro-Business” program. While my job here in Moldova involves increasing productivity and efficiency at the Dept. of Social Assistance in my district, Nkosi has been assigned to work with an NGO looking to improve agricultural output and profitability. He mentioned that he is discussing the possibility of planting sweet potatoes, which don’t exist in Moldova at the moment.

First things first, I took Nkosi to my office. The ladies at my office were excited to meet another volunteer; so excited, in fact, that they prepared lunch for us in the office!  From what I understand, our driver (yes, our department has a driver) drove home, and had his wife prepare “pelmeni” for us. Pelmeni is a Russian cuisine that is popular here. Here is a wiki article on the dish, if you’re interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelmeni

Later, I took Nkosi to my home, to meet the family. Everyone was very excited to meet Nkosi. We had a great time! Nkosi, my host dad, and I went out to the land to plant “usteroi” (Garlic). It was the first time I planted anything in Moldova. For those skeptics…ok, so I didnt really dig anything. I more or less put the garlic on the ground, and my host dad did the actual work. It was fun, nonetheless!

Afterward, we all had a nice frigarui/shashlik feast (BBQ), and Nkosi and I then played about 20 games of UNO with my host sisters. I must have been on an off night, because I don’t think I won once. My sister Aura, however, seemed to win just about every game! I’d like to give a shout-out to my site-mate Melissa, once again, for letting us borrow her UNO cards. My sisters love that game!

Alright, I’d better get to work. Enjoy the pictures!

Click Here to See the Pictures!!!!!

Ah, what a beautiful day in Moldova. The sun is out, its 59 degrees fahrenheit, and I’m working from home today. I’ve been working on a guidebook to assist the 30 some social assistants in my office, and I decided that I’d get more work done here, than at the office. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t get work done at the office; it’s just that there are so many mayors, beneficiaries, social assistants, etc. that come through my office on a daily basis, that its hard to focus on occasion.

With that said, I don’t want to mislead you. This post is absolutely not about my work. Around 12:30pm or so, my host father came home from work, in order to eat lunch. We were contemplating our options together, and decided to make some pizzas. Yes, think about that word, pizza. Whether you’re from the NY/NJ area, and you know what a pizza is, you’re from the Chicago area, and you’ve created a butt load of dough with cheese….or you’re from Kansas, and you’d better stick to BBQ…well, I’m not sure I know where I was going with that; I think I just wanted to say pizza from the east coast was the best.

In any case, host dad and I busted out some bread, yellow moldovan cheese (cașcaval), mozzarella cheese, smoked cheese, tomato paste, thai chili sauce, bacon (Preemptive apology to my people), oregano, and garlic powder. I’d like to point out that I purchased the oregano, tomato paste, and thai chili sauce, as they are far from common ingredients in a Moldovan household. We proceeded to microwave, yes, microwave the pizzas. The final product was pretty delicious.

As we ate our pizzas, we discussed how much we needed to excercise and diet. We decided it would be pertinent to wake up early each morning and do push-ups and sit-ups together, and perhaps go running after work. I remind you, we are discussing this while eating a ridiculous amount of calories and saturated fat. I’ll let you know if we do end up doing anything.

That was pretty much the end of my story, but I as it so happens, as I was writing this, my host dad came in the room with a photo album. Normally you’d think, “oh boy….a photo album”. This, was not one of those moments. The photo album was stock full of photographs of host dad, in uniform, stationed in East Germany in 1988. I’ll let you all figure the rest out.

Hope you all are doing well!

Final Birthday Party (2010)

Well, 2010 has certainly been one of the most memorable years birthday-wise. First I celebrated with my colleagues and host family from training (The Mayor of Vasieni made an appearance), then I celebrated at Winefest in Chisinau, then I celebrated at work, and then last night I celebrated with my permanent host family, family friends, and site-mates (other volunteers in my town). I can easily say that I’ll never forget my 27th birthday!

I’ll run you through the night before, and the day of the party. What is the most important thing to have at a birthday party? No dad, cake is not the most important thing. Its guests, of course! Well, I invited my site-mates, and assumed all of the family friends would be coming, and everything would just be…taken care of. Well, the night before the party, my host parents call me in, and tell me that I need to call all of the family friends, and invite them to the party! So, one by one, I call each family, and say more or less the same thing (I’m not saying its 100% correct):

Me: “Buna seara! Este Yoel!” (Good evening, its Yoel!)

FF: “Buna seara Yoel, ce faci?” (Good evening yoel, what are you doing?”

Me:”Nimic. Eu vreu sa va invit pe voi la sarbatoare ziua de mea! Va fi miine, la ora 6, acasa mea.” (Nothing. I want to invite you to the celebration of my day! It will be tomorrow, at 6, at my house)

FF:” Bine, multumim pentru invatatie! O seara buna!” (Ok, thank you for the invitation! Good evening!)

Again, I’m not saying that is 100% accurate Romanian, but gimme a break, I’ve only been here since June…and I did use the accusative form…or is it dative…?

In any case, the work that my family put into the party was incredible. Everything from making “Shuba” (The dish with the herring, mayo, potatoes, and beets), friguarui (bbq), some kind of chicken pot pie thing, salad, and much more! Well, much more of course refers to “Tzoika”, which is the moonshine/whiskey type stuff. It was made the day of, right outside my house!

The party was amazing, complete with singing, accordion music from my host dad, and great speeches. For more on the speeches and accordion playing, I’ll point you in the direction of my friend and site-mate Melissa’s blog post about last night. While I’m at it, I must give Melissa a special shout-out for the lemon bars she brought over. They were LEGIT! And Matthew, my other site-mate, I deeply appreciate the bottle of tabasco sauce! I woke up this morning, went into the kitchen, and my host mom was laughing, telling me how much tabasco my host dad used on his breakfast, and his mouth was burning! Just picture that look after watching the video of him playing the accordion on Melissa’s blog!

Alright, I think I’ve spoiled you all with two posts in a week, I’ll let you soak it all in ;-)

CLICK THESE LINKS BELOW

Melissa’s Blog Post

Click here to see all the photos from the party

 

 

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