Monday, November 27, 2006

Roma Journalism pt 2! (and tday)

Thanksgiving number two has officially been celebrated in Bulgaria, and it was a billion times better than last year! Besides clearly being more fun, its nice to have had another year away from home to realize the things you are thankful for in your life. Now, I don't mean that I'm neccessarily missing things while I'm in Bulgaria- what I really mean is that I find more and more reasons everyday to be thankful...thankful for the opportunities i've been met with, the people i've encountered, the experience i'm gaining...

Thanksgiving day was celebrated at the PC country director's residence in a swanky residence in sofia. The food was great, the company possibly better (afterall, as long as there's an A and a B there, i'm pretty much sold!), the timing just right. I commend the volunteers that took thanksgiving day as an opportunity to share our traditions with their Bulgarian counterparts, but i was quite pleased to have had a very "american" moment. During the weekend, while most other volunteers were cooking their own turkeys, baking pies, and enjoying local spirits, I was taking part in the last of 2 journalism trainings for Roma students in Bulgaria!

This training took place in Pernik, and I couldn't have been more pleased! When I first began discussing this possibility with the organizers, namely Dezzy, it was hard to believe that a little bit of hardwork was finally paying off in the form of karma. The other thing that was hard to believe was that my former NGO, "O Romano Drom" was to be the official local partner. While I assumed I'd never work with these people again, I saw an opportunity for local youth and I ran with it. I think the organizers were generally pleased with how things worked out, and I think there were moments of glory for some of the participants.

The training started on friday, and about an hour before the official start time, I found out that I'd be responsible for leading one of the groups. I was expecting the worst. Being a group leader wasn't the part i was so concerned about, but as my "journalism" experience was quite limited and since I wasn't sure what my vocabulary would be like on this topic. In the beginning, my group wasn't quite sure what to think. i would say a few words to them, try to get them started, and all I got was blank stares, silence, and more silence. Finally one of them said "Ne vi razbrahme," or "we didn't understand you!" perfect! my predictions were already coming true and 5 minutes had barely begun to tick away. BUT luck was on my side because one of the girls, Eli, used to hang out with me and was familiar with my fashion of butchering bulgarian, so she helped out by repeating my mangled sentences (which hadn't sounded so bad to me...) to the rest of the group. Soon, we were on a roll and hit the streets to interview the locals! The interviews were during the evening hours so it was tough to get people to stop (and I empathized with them as I recalled my days as a canvasser for the infamous "Campaign: good v evil 2004"- (perhaps better known as kerry v bush)) but the kids did a great job. The next day they finished the interviews and began to write an article. Their topic had originally been about peoples' goals in life, but had actually turned a bit more into goals and life in relation to Bulgaria's EU accession in 2007. I made them write the entire story themselves, and they did pretty good! By the end of the training, I think I even made a few friends. One of the girls even gave me a little present and said she hoped we'd see eachother again! (total peace corps feel-good moment!)

Aside from the participants, the organizers were also awesome people. In the last blog, I mentioned a few of these people. Dezzy, Vic, Mladen and Krisi were all in Vidin and in Pernik. it was a lot of fun to get to know these outgoing, goal-oriented people who humored my sarcasm and my relentless insistence that downloading films is terribly unethical! Krisi is a student in Blagoevgrad, where my good friend Mary is living as a PCV. Vic and Mladen are both students at sofia university and appreciate music in their own ways- Vic plays keyboard and Mladen is a DJ. Dezzy, of course, was the organizer who made these trainings possible and I will forever be impressed by her organizational capacity, her energy, and sense of humor.

oh yeah, and in the end we make chocolate chip cookies! The first ones turned out great, but after that i kept forgetting to take them out on time...but everyone seemed happy enough anyway!

okay, back to my world of ficticiously studying bulgarian!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

SPA & Roma Journalism

Hello my dear bored readers!

I have spent the last week or so at a productivity level higher than almost any during my actual year of service here in Bulgaria, so let me catch you up!

At the Palace of Culture, my primary assignment, we finished our first grant proposal that we actually collaborated on! The funding is courtesy of the United States Agency for International Development via Peace Corps' "Small Projects Assistance (SPA)." With a limit of $5k and a community contribution of 25%, I'd been prodding my coworkers since august for good project ideas- after all, who can say no to free money!!! (By the way, for a more complete explanation of my life as a grant writer, or more info on SPA, check out the end of this post. The brainy Andrea Enright posted about this during the summer and did it so well that I thought I'd just steal! Thanks A!)

After months of dead ends on project ideas (let's made a football field for youth! let's go to the Czech republic to teach people about our culture! yeah...$5k, not $500k!) we finally took a look at our resources and deficiencies and decided to write a project to create and educate a younger audience for cultural and musical activities in Pernik, and specifically at the Palace of Culture. The POC organizes over 300 events a year, and outside of concerts, few of them are appealing to the youth population. Utilizing multi-media and the internet, we hope to draw a new base of supporters and expand the reach of our educational programs. One of the cooler ideas we have is to videotape the solfege classes (musical theory-ear training stuff) and put them on our website...this way youth could practice at home, and youth who can't afford to pay the class fees could actual learn for free! We would also like to create an educational film about musical instruments and then bringing it to several of the surrounding schools. Anyway, it took a long time to finish this project, but I think our hard work will pay off! That is, I think/hope they'll give us the money!

Last weekend, I traveled to a town in Bulgaria that few people willingly travel to (or so I'd heard...), Vidin. This town is in the far north-west corner of Bulgaria and it boarders the Danube river. I was invited to help facilitate a journalism training for Roma youth, which was organized by the Bulgarian national debate association and a local Roma NGO. The other facilitators were AMAZing people! 4 of the 6 were younger than 21, and all of them spoke heartbreakingly perfect English. (I say heartbreakingly because some days I think my Bulgarian is really top notch, and then I meet Bulgarians who speak better English than I do! eep!) They were all participants in a program called SEELYI, which stands for "south Eastern Europe youth leadership institute," that prepares high-achieving English speakers to be leaders amongst their peers. This program is sponsored by the US Embassy. On of the facilitators works as in media as a host of a popular morning radio show in Sofia, and he kicked off the training by talking to the youth about the importance of the voices of "ordinary people." I was thoroughly impressed by the whole team, to say the least.

The kids themselves were quite well behaved! They were between the ages of 14-16, and did their best to stay on task, though at times some of the tasks (such as editing audio clips) didn't allow for the entire group to be involved. The first day, the kids decided on topics, split into groups, and then began forming questions that they would use during interviews with residents of Vidin. This went really well and enabled them to immediately start interviewing people on the second day. After we interviewed in the morning, the story writing process began. This went very well, and in my group, one boy was especially interested and helpful! Then everything had to be translated into English and then recorded as a “radio broadcast” story by one of the youth. This was hard because most of the participants didn’t know English and were nervous! At the end of the 2 ½ day training, we had 3 wonderful stories, imagined, created and finished by the participants!

It was also interesting for me to observe the facilitators. As far as I know, none of them had ever worked with minorities in their lives. This training had been organized in several other cities around Bulgaria, but always with English-speaking (and thus, typically high-achieving) students. They very nature of the participants in Vidin was strikingly different from these other trainings, that I think the facilitators got a little upset and discouraged from time to time. When there wasn’t a specific task at hand, and when no one seemed to be paying attention to the participants, they would wander off to a café for a snack, play on the internet, etc. The organizers saw this as lack of desire and laziness on the part of the participants, while the youth – I’m sure – felt as if they weren’t included in all aspects, so made decisions about how to spend their time. It was interesting though, as someone outside of either group, to observe what was going on, why some things worked and some didn’t, etc. I have to say that Peace Corps does a great job getting a few “best practices” into our heads. One thing that’s really valuable when you are working with large groups is to make sure that everyone has a role or responsibility, and more importantly, that everyone feels as if they have ownership of the activity. My overall impression of this training is quite good, and I’m pleased to say that this Friday, the same team is traveling to Pernik to train OUR kids! I’m pretty pumped, and I’m sure I’ll write about it soon!

Other than that, happy thanksgiving everyone! I know that we all have something to be thankful for, and we’re pretty lucky to be that way.

Also- farewell to Lydia and Smooth! Good luck in the twin cities!!

from Andrea Enright

I am working on a Small Project Assistance (SPA) grant for Traditzia. SPA grants are worth $5,000 and they are funded by Peace Corps, which receives its money from United States Agency for International Development (USAID). For many reasons, SPA serves as a terrific training ground for learning to write grant proposals. 1) There is a comprehensive handbook full of details, frequently asked questions, guidelines, checklists, forms and schedules to help you work out the details. It’s a kind of grant-writing starter kit. 2) SPA is very picky. Details such as “all documents must be in twelve point Times New Roman font” and “budget for outside labor must not exceed $500” and “25 % of all funds must be contributed by the applying organizations (15% in-kind and 10% cash)” are perfect to prepare for the more complicated grant apps in our future. 3) We can submit our proposal early to a SPA committee made up of volunteers who will coach us to fill in blanks we’ve forgotten and clarify confusing statements, therefore enhancing our shot at winning the grant.
Most ideally, a SPA project should include a transfer of skills, fulfillment of a community need and sustainability, so the project can live beyond our service. It is a grass-roots grant, created specifically for Peace Corps projects. Past SPA-funded projects have included a leadership skills camp for adolescent girls, a customer service training program for NGO employees, English classes for employment seekers and a solar water heater for an elderly social home.
For those not living or working in the public sector, a grant application, as those of you in the private sector can only imagine, since you’re basically asking for free money!!! goes like this: Through a series of questions, forms, statements and ideas, (most of which all ask you to say the same thing in a slightly different way) you prove to the donor that you are a legitimate organization that is suited to tackle this project, that you will handle their money responsibly, that you will spend it reasonably and that your project will fulfill a justifiable community need.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

quick stories

I'm getting ready to run out the door to a roma youth conference in Vidin, Bulgaria, but before i do, I just wanted to share something quick with y'all.

When i got back from athens, I had quite a bit of "lost time" to make up for with my coworkers. I swear we spent 2 days doing nothing but chatting. (okay, so that's actually normal...) anyway, one of the stories had to do with pears. I LOVE pears. I mean, oh man they're good! Sadly this year in Bulgaria, the pear season was really short, and I didn't get to eat many pears. I had asked my coworkers if I'd simply missed the season or if it hadn't come yet, but no dice...just a bad pear year.

when I was in athens, Ivan's (coworker who is like, 50) monther had called my counterpart to tell the american (that's me!) that there were pears in the local outdoor fruit market! I felt very flattered that this guy's mother had thought of me! I've never met the woman, but she knew I liked pears. :) this is one of those moments that gets you through the rough days :)

I think these posts get worse and worse. but blame keith! he's the one who encourages me!!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

website from work

One of the groups I work with is the Pernik chamber orchestra. Here is their website!

the "music makes meeting" is something I translated. reading the 1st paragraph would not give you the indication that I'm a native english speaker, but what the one told me this letter would be published!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I am a marathoner! I am 24!

I did it! i completed the 24th annual Athens Classic Marathon!!

This was flat out amazing. Aside from the personal joy and pride from completing a marathon, I was able to appreciate team comrade-y in a way I'd never experienced before. Fifteen of us started the race, and fifteen of us cheer each other on as we ran into the stadium towards the finish line. and as we wobbled from the finish to "team camp," everyone was congratulated with an earnest respect that I'd never witnessed before. Gone was the competitiveness that should have existed between us, and instead there was nothing but heartfelt respect. Even though there was no team medal to be sought after, no public acknowledgements or point system, I felt so proud to have been a part of this amazing team. Someone nearly qualified for the boston marathon, someone finished well after 5 hours...but it didn't matter because we ALL RAN the athens marathon!

I was not the fastest runner in our group, and I was one of the few who performed below expectations (based on training). However, I am pretty sure I had THE MOST FUN out of our entire group! granted, this was not 42.2 km of pure was often good times with a hearty dash of sheer, searing pain! Despite the fact that I trained in the shoes I marathoned in, by 10km I had developed massive, massive blisters on both arches of my feet! This was completely unexpected and certainly unwelcome to say the least! A few times I took little walk breaks to see if it helped, but once I realized the pain didn't subside, i jumped back into running. From km 1 until about 10/11km, I ran with my friend Anna. We wound up splitting ways, and in the next 7 km I caught up with a few other volunteers and did my best to stay steady with neighboring volunteers. Between 20-30km, I thought i was going to die. We faced our first hills and met an unexpected headwind. So what made this race fun? along the way, I started to recognize runners who were steadily running at a pace similar to mine. occasionally people would toss about a friendly comment, ask a question, or give out a shout of support. for the first 20km, i entertained myself by gazing at the scenery. For the last 22km, I made friends with runners around me! There was a greek soldier who was convinced he would never run a marathoner again, a group of texans who seemed pretty happy to be alive, and a girl from ohio who had just gotten engaged 3 days before the marathon! By the time I made it to the finish line, I was ready to be done but still managed to smile as a strode past 'team camp' and on towards to finish line.

another great thing that happened while in athens was meeting up with 5 PCVs from Armenia! As luck would have it, they stayed in the same hostel that we rented our apartments from! These guys were a ton of fun, and it was a delight to see another group of PCVs come together and support each other the way that we had. and in a strange twist of fate, it turned out that one of these boys, dagen valentine, had went to my highschool in america!!!! his best friend was jeff baker, and his father had been my sister's math teacher...and here we were at the Acropolis in athens, meeting as marathoning PCVs... this was completely strange!

athens itself was pretty fun! the metro system there is fantastic, and within a day I felt completely empowered to go anywhere with only my subway map to guide me! i saw the 2004 olympic village, the acropolis, temple of zeus, the archeological museum, old market squares, churches, parliament, a hand-made sandal shop...starbucks! Our apartments were in Plaka, and we were a 3 minute walk from the metro, and a 7 minute walk from the acropolis. Those of you who havne't spent considerable time in Nashville wouldn't know this, but diagonal from vandy's campus is a replica of the Parthenon! needless to say, i was SOOOOO HAPPY to see the real one both as an artifact of ancient history, and as a small reminder of friends back home! this place is amazing, and my obsession with the Parthenon shows up in your gifts and my photos!

Athens is such a modern city, that we were able to pretend it was america from time to time. after the marathon, 15 smelly volunteers, 4 hardcore fans, and an ultramarathoner from london (this kid has done 18 marathons in 18 months...) drug ourselves to the hardrock cafe athens! here we splurged on nachos, margaritas, burgers, and fries with heinz ketchup! it was like a dream come true for some of us!! other american-like moments included visiting the local starbucks ( I abstained!), downing smoothies, and even shopping in an american-style mall AND watching a current english! all of these indulgences were fantastic!

finally on tuesday, I boarded an overnight train back to sofia. The train was full of greek people, and ironically, only the ladies in my compartment spoke bulgarian! both of them were bulgarians who live and work in athens, while most of their family members live in buglaria. after 5 days of not speaking bulgarian, this was a fun little crash course! Sometimes, however, these ladies would forget that i didn't speak greek, and they would converse with me in some combination of greek and bulgarian! talk about confusing...

all and all, greece was great! i had a nice little trip for my birthday, accomplished one of my major life goals, was enraptured by the foundation of democracy, indulged in a little bit of america, and found myself perfectly ready to head back to bulgaria...

stay tuned for pictures!