Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Finding a Common Language in the Fight Against Violence Against Women

Peace Corps volunteers typically put a great deal of emphasis on their ability to learn the local language and integrate into the local culture. As a rather loquacious individual, learning Romanian came easy to me, but understanding and accepting some of the cultural nuances in Moldova was more difficult for me, especially as it related to traditional gender roles.  

After a three month training period, I found myself working at a domestic violence center in the capital, Chisinau. The NGO 'Association against Domestic Violence - Casa Marioarei' requested the help of a Peace Corps volunteer after losing funding and keeping the shelter open for over a year on the backs of volunteers. I began my assignment with Casa Marioarei by trying to understand before trying to be understood.  After the first several months, I started to realize that my colleagues and I were able to speak the same language.  The universality of domestic violence brought us together in the same fight that is being fought around the world. 

Although our ideas about feminism might be different, it was evident early on that these women were driven by their fundamental belief in women’s rights.  They founded the Association in 2000, with the support of the former First Lady, Antonina Lucinschi, and raised enough money locally to repair an old kindergarten to serve as the domestic violence shelter. Since the shelter’s opening in 2004, the women of Casa Marioarei have provided services for over 10,000 survivors of domestic violence throughout Moldova. The work that they do is similar to what you would find in many domestic violence shelters in the US, which is nothing short of amazing. They hold support groups, organize parties for the children at the shelter, and fight vigorously for each survivors legal rights.

Over the last 18 months, I have watched the Casa Marioarei team grow tremendously and learn from each other, from me, and from their international sisters. Ultimately, though, I believe that I have benefited the most from our time together. These women have inspired and prepared me to pursue a career dedicated to advancing women's rights; for this, I will be forever grateful. 

Shelby Knox summed up my experience with a thought she shared on a panel at Stanford University last year: “In every room, when…stories (about women fighting for their rights) were told, we all left feeling less crazy, less alone and more pissed off and that is what feminism is. It’s hearing your pain and your struggles in another persons voice and suddenly realizing there’s nothing wrong with you and there’s nothing wrong with her, but there’s something wrong with the world that’s trying to make you think that there is.”  The women of Casa Marioarei see that there is something wrong with their world in trying to make women believe that domestic violence is acceptable. Every day, they take a stand against this belief.  Their courage, tenacity, and dedication has motivated me to join the fight to end violence against women.  What I do from here, I credit to these women and this experience. Thank you, Team Casa Marioarei!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Day of Peace and Friendship, July 31st

As a final training project for the Community and Organizational Development (COD) program, we were challenged to complete a youth activity in Cricova, one of the training villages. Myself along with 4 other trainees linked up with three Moldovan girls and planned a day for the children of Cricova that functioned like a field day and we called it Day of Peace and Friendship.

We had 3 planning meetings, went to speak with mayor three times, and advertized for the event 5 days before by walking around the village, handing out flyers, and talking with adults and children in the community with our broken language skills. We had no idea how it would turn out and this is what happened...


It was amazing and the community seemed to really enjoy it and there were over 100 kids there. One mother said that they had never had an event like this for the children in the community and before the event started an older man told us that he was really grateful for us doing this for the kids in the community. It was such an incredible experience and I know that our group would not have been successful without the help of our fellow trainees and especially without our Moldovan partners!

Thank you to everyone for helping this day come together!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lindsays birthday in Moldova!

I had my 27th birthday in Moldova on July 28th and here is what I did...

Woke up and my host mom had a dozen roses for me from her garden and sang Happy Birthday to me in Romanian

Then we had our Hub Site day in the capital with two other training villages from 9 to 5, where the Peace Corp admin gives us presentations about things we need to know from that end

After that, a bunch of the other trainees joined me for a glass of wine for my birthday in an outdoor bar in the capital

Conrad and I got back to our host familys house in the village and had a masa/dinner party with our host moms daughter and other grandson, who arrived that same day from Italy

Over all it was a great birthday and it was made even better by all of the texts and messages from everyone back home! Love and miss you all!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Finishing training

We are about 2 weeks away from being sworn in as official Peace Corps volunteers and have completed our site visits. We had a 'partner conference' with our Moldovan counterpart, the person we will be working with over the next two years.

My partner is Ilina and she is a young, motivated, and very friendly woman... we got along great and identified a few issues to address when I begin working in August. I will be working at a domestic voilence shelter and am really excited about this opportunity.

Conrad's partner is Vitalie and he is also young, ambitious, and very friendly. I'll let him describe more about that later...

In addition to meeting out new partners, we met our new host family in Chisinau, since we will be moving from the suburb of Chisinau into the city on August 5th. We really lucked out again with a very nice couple that lives in a very beautiful, updated apartment overlooking a large park. They have family that lives in the States so they spoke a little more English and they have INTERNET!! And SKYPE!! So after August 5th, we will be in better, more consistent contact!

Some other interesting things we've done since our site visit:

-Conrad cooked 'Sarmale' with our host mother

-Lindsay made apricot jam with our host mother

-Went on a wine tour in Cricova (see picture)

-Attended our host-mom's sister's birthday party

-Went to work on a project at another volunteers house on Sunday and ended up having a party (or masa) with lots of music and dancing

-Discussed with the mayor (in Romanian) about creating a 'Day of Friendship and Peace' for the children of Cricova in 2 weeks, which he was very supportive of!

Friday, July 8, 2011

1st month in Moldova

Our Pre-Service Training (PST) began when we arrived in Moldova on June 8th. The country director was waiting to escort us through customs, and several volunteers from the previous years were waiting to coral us all onto buses. We were taken to the school across for the Peace Corps office for some pizza and a quick ‘debriefing’, where we were given some essential supplies and discussed meeting our host families that afternoon. Our host mother is amazingly kind and doesn’t speak any English, but she had her niece with her to help translate. She showed us around her beautiful home and garden (left), which surrounds the home on three sides, trying to teach us some Romanian words. We sat down for dinner with our host family and shared pictures with them, discussing names, ages, and professions in extremely broken Romanian, and mixed with a little Italian (our host mother’s children live and work in Italy currently). The food was wonderful and our host mom made me ‘ragu de legume’ since I’m attempting to continue my vegetarianism here. After dinner, we slept for 10 hours (waking up in the middle of the night only long enough to identify that we both had Romanian words popping in and out of our heads) and then woke up early for our first full day in Moldova as Peace Corps trainees.

From the time we arrived until August 5th, we will be living in the beautiful suburb Stauceni (roughly pronounced Stow-chen, see right) of the capital Chisinau (roughly pronounced Kish-in-now) with our host mom Lidia and her grandson, Alessandro.

With some variation, our days in Stauceni are as follows:

6a: wake up and go running through fields if we are ambitious
7: wake up and get ready if we are exhausted
8: eat breakfast (usually oatmeal, cucumbers with salt, sometimes cheese and salami, and bread)
830-1230: language classes
1p: lunch with our host mom (soup, especially 'bors' is popular, pasta with homemade sauce, salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, dill, parsley and olive oil, or boiled potatoes with sauce)
2-5: ONE of TWO things:
1. technical session: current volunteers or our program managers help us identify aspects of working with organizations, NGO's, mayors offices, building relationships in communities, and developing youth projects
2. Self-Directed Activities: we have been given a few assignments to challenge us to develop practical skills, such as community mapping to see where and what resources are in the community or the youth action project where we create a project with children in the community before we leave our training village

after 5 until we go to bed: we usually try to relax in the garden at our house, take a walk, do language lesson homework, or sometimes do random fun things that I'll explain further down

Fun things we've done in Moldova so far:
-Two concerts outside before the election (see pictures below, our host mom, Lidia, is on my left and our host niece, Helena, is on my right)
-Picking mushrooms in the forest with our host mom
-Being invited to have wine, bread, cheese and coffee at a woman's house who was on her way to work in the fields
-Attended the 4th of July picnic in a park in the capital
-BBQ with the host niece, uncle, and aunt where Conrad sampled the fresh rabbit and homemade vodka
-Played cards with other trainees on Friday's
-Created a scavenger hunt in Romanian for our host grandson
-Picked cherries in the trees at our house
In order, Alessandro (grandson), Lidia (host mom), Helena (niece), Nina (host mom's sister), and Dana (niece)


We found out on Tuesday where we will be living and what we will be doing for the next two years!... It was extremely exciting to find out and we are VERY happy with our placement in....

CHISINAU, the capital! It's a pretty crazy placement since most people are placed in small villages, but we are very happy and excited to be living in the capital!

Conrad's job: he is working with a man who works at the University in the capital and is the president of the NGO that Conrad will be working with. Apparently, the NGO is an umbrella organization that helps develop other NGO's working with children's programs and other community development projects

Lindsay's job: I am working at a domestic violence shelter with women, children, and families and my partner (the Moldovan with whom I will be working with for the next two years) is the social assistant for this organization

We are very excited and will have MUCH more constant internet access after August 5th when we swear in as PC Volunteers and officially move to Chisinau and start working!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

From the beginning...

Conrad and I applied for Peace Corps over a year ago and have been anxiously awaiting the final departure date in about a week. Here is our time line throughout our application process:

December 2009: submitted applications
January 2010: interview at University of Florida
March 2010: received nomination for the Caribbean leaving Jan-March 2011
July 2010: completed and sent medical packet
October 2010: received confirmation that medical packet was accepted
November 2010: medically cleared
January 2011: received confirmation that we would not be placed in nomination program in Caribbean
February 2011: received invitation to Moldova
May 2011: quit job and moved out of Florida

It's been a long road and lots of bumps along the way, but we are very excited to start this new adventure :)