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.


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