An Eventful October

The month of October was full of various events and celebrations. To start it all off, we celebrated with Moldova’s big wine celebration that is the first weekend of October each year. On Saturday, I met up with some friends in the center as we enjoyed the festivities and sampling different Moldova wines. This year I didn’t get any photos as I was too busy having fun.

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Photo credit: Wine of Moldova

On Sunday, a few friends and I went to a local winery not far from Chisinau. We had a fabulous time enjoying the surroundings at Asconi Winery and trying their wines. Again, not many photos except from this fabulous traditional meal we enjoyed outside on their terrace. It was a perfect day for such an adventure.

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Our meal from Asconi Winery outside on the terrace.

A few weeks later the capital city of Chisinau celebrated it’s city day, known as hram. Most people have off from work as the city center main street is shut down and festivities stretch from one end to the other. Big and small stages were scattered along the main street as food vendors and merchandise vendors lined both sides of the street. There were so many people who came out for this celebration it was hard to make it through the streets.

Also, throughout the month I had attended a number of local events that related to the tech industry in Moldova and English learning opportunities for local Moldovans.

As Peace Corps Volunteers we were invited to a luncheon at the US Ambassador’s home this past month. It was a nice afternoon where we were treated to some foods many of us have been missing and a great opportunity to reconnect with one another outside of projects and the Peace Corps lounge.

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The US Ambassador (center front) with most of the Peace Corps Volunteers in Moldova and some staff members.

I was also able to make it for a quick weekend visit to Balti and see my host family and some friends. It had felt like I hadn’t been there in a year but it was only about a month since the last time I was there.

Then, to round out the month of October, I celebrated Halloween with some friends at a local restaurant/bar. A friend and I made matching last minute costumes within a few hours of the party. We went as winter (which is scary in October, right?)  but then realized there was a winter/Christmas character that many locals identified us as, which I think they referred to as Snegurochka. Fun times.

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Winter is coming…

October was quite eventful and November is looking to be just as full as well. It’s hard to believe the end of 2016 is around the corner. It’s going to be an interesting next couple of weeks as both the US and Moldova select their next president.

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Ringing of the Bell & Farewells

One of the traditions that Peace Corps holds is when a volunteer successfully completes his/her service they get to ring “the bell”.

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COS stands for Close of Service. The bell we have in Moldova is displayed all year round  at the front door of the Peace Corps office and serves as a reminder as we enter and exit the office.

Ironically, in Moldova it is tradition for the school year to start and end with a ringing of the bell. The ceremonies are even translate to “First Bell” which starts the school year and “Last Bell” which finishes the school year. I like that this tradition seems to parallel with our Peace Corps tradition as we ring the “last bell” which symbolizes the completion of our time as volunteers in Moldova.

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From a “First Bell” ceremony at one of the local schools in Moldova, a young girl in the first grade rings the bell while being carried on the shoulders of a senior boy.

I’ve had the honor to see a few of my colleagues and friends ring the bell recently. It was a nice tradition to be part of especially after knowing some of the challenges and hardships that some of them had been through.

Usually a few words are said by staff and friends, and then the volunteer shares a bit with those who are gathered to celebrate this momentous occasion.

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Many gathered when Ellen and Olivia rang the bell and some shared stories, thanks, and encouragement at this time

My friend, Miki was the first one of our program group to leave and ring the bell in completion of her service. Although, I’m sad to see her leave I’m thrilled for all that is ahead of her as she returns to the US.

Next within our program group, Olivia and Ellen rang the bell and departed Moldova soon after to head home to the US. I will surely miss working with them as I’ve had the privilege to work with both of them on separate projects. It’s going to be strange not having them around and in the same timezone. I’m going to miss them terribly.

The latest and largest bell ringing I had the opportunity to attend was with all of these newly appointed RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers).

One of my site mates, Jeff even dressed in a traditional Moldovan shirt for the occasion.

Each day as my friends and colleagues “ring the bell” and depart Moldova it reminds me of the transition we all are currently facing and how short the time frame of 2 years is.

Only 400+ some days left until I too get to ring the bell to COS! Here’s to all that is ahead as we embrace “now” and beyond! xoxo

Hanging out in Fields of Lavender

The hot summer days of Moldova have defiantly arrived. This past weekend was no exception as I adventured to a lavender festival in a small village surrounded by fields of lavender. I was grateful for the opportunity to get some quality time with some friends as this was one of our last few adventures together before they all leave Moldova over the next couple of weeks and finish their Peace Corps service.

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However, the journey was not without adventure. Since our local friend offered to drive us from my site directly to the festival I was happy to join them on the journey. Unfortunately, the GPS map led us to a field road where we discovered too late that it was not ideal for cars.

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We ended up finding another car ahead of us who was on a similar adventure. By the time we reached them, my friend’s car was smoking and fluid was pouring out from the front. Thankfully the couple in the other car stopped and were kind enough to help us out. After involving various people along with some others from the village, we were eventually able to make it to the festival thanks to the nice couple who took us the rest of the way. Unfortunately, my friend’s car did not make it to the festival.

The lavender fields were breathtakingly beautiful. The dress code for the festival was to wear white, which made it fun to be able to take photos with friends in the fields.

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Even with the unfortunate car-adventure in getting there and amidst the scorching heat, we had a lovely time. I will certainly miss these ladies SO very much!

As I researched about lavender grown in Moldova, I learned that Moldova used to be one of the biggest producers of raw medicinal plants and essential oils in the Soviet Union. It’s rich fertile soil was the reason it used to be such a large producer of essential oils. Since the collapse of the USSR, Moldova is no longer such a large producer of this product. Fields of lavender are still grown today in various parts of the country, but apparently not in comparison to the amount it used to produce.

The vast lavender fields of Moldova are beautiful and calming. I can see why they host an annual festival to celebrate such beauty.

 

Happy hram day, Balti!

This past weekend on May 22, the city of Balti celebrated hram and 595 years! Hram translates to “day of the city” and according to Moldova Holiday, “Every city, town, and village in Moldova has a hram day, honoring the patron saint of the locality. By tradition, on hram days family, friends, and guests are invited to festive dinners where guests also enjoy traditional Moldovan folk dancing.”

Since Balti is the second largest city, this means a lot of people come to the city and take part in the various festivities throughout the day. Although I missed the morning ceremony with the Orthodox priests, I did make it in time for the parade. Not only did I get to watch the parade, I participated in it along with a group of students from the “Salut, Balti” community volunteer group.

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Some of the students who walked with Salut, Balti in the parade.
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Walking with the students in the parade through the center of Balti.

The day was celebrated in the city center with various groups performing music and dancing…

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Musicians performing in traditional dress.

Interesting characters roaming the streets…

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Tall Moldovan characters with storks walking around the city. 

…there was even a hot air balloon for a short period of time…

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Many people observed as the hot air balloon was assembled and then shortly after that, deflated and taken away. 

… and then an evening concert complete with fireworks later in the night!

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La multi ani, Balti! Happy 595 years!

Inspired by Girls in Technovation Challenge

I continue to be inspired young high school girls during my Peace Corps service.

When I think back to when I was 14 or 15, I was definitely not as motivated or driven as many of the the young ladies I met last weekend. On Sunday, April 24 we hosted a big Technovation Challenge Moldova regional event where teams from all over the country came together to share their projects on ways to solve problems in their community through a cell phone app and business plan they created.

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Team App Queens from Chisinau and Ungheni with their amazing mentors.

We had 9 teams from Moldova successfully submit projects and 8 teams presented their projects at the official regional pitch event where local teams competed for the opportunity to move to the semi-final round of the global competition. This is the 3rd year that Moldova has participated and each year the interest continues to grow.

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Teams shared their projects and mobile apps in approaching solutions to issues in their communities such as tourism, reducing plastic bag use, teen suicide, corruption, and migrant workers.

We had a wonderfully diverse panel of judges who volunteered their time to come and learn about all these projects and to determine the winning semi-finalist Moldovan team. All of the girls were acknowledged for successfully submitting their projects with fancy Technovation certificates. Honorable mention, second place was awarded to team “Do it for Bunica” who has recently been making waves with their business idea in Moldova.

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Steve, fellow Peace Corps Volunteer with his girls from team “Do it For Bunica” from Orhei.

The “Do it for Bunica” team created an app that offers an online platform for migrant workers from Moldova to hire local youth helpers to assist their elderly parents with household chores. Recently they had also gone through another competition, Diamond Challenge where they made it to the finals and traveled to Delaware. They pitched their business idea and were awarded 1st prize and brought home $10,000 to help make the business idea happen!

Team HAI, composed of three high school girls from the capital city of Chisinau were awarded 1st place and a spot in the semi-final round of the Technovation Challenge. Their app, “Handmade Goods Moldova” is a shopping app, designed for social centers in Moldova to sell handmade goods produced by disabled persons. Socially-minded shoppers are able to browse photos of the products and proceed to buy them through the app.

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Team App Queens from Chisinau and Ungheni with their amazing mentors.

As a surprise, we announced to them at the event that they will have the opportunity to travel to San Francisco to attend the Technovation World Pitch Summit in July! Currently we are in the crowdfunding phase of reaching our goal to raise funds so we can send the girls along with their mentor so they can attend workshops, showcase their project, network with other girls around the world and tour tech businesses in Silicon Valley. This is an incredible opportunity for these girls, who for some of them, this was their 2nd and 3rd time competing in this challenge.

Help make this a reality for these girls! Click on the campaign link below to support these girls. A number of fun perks are available for supporters. Plus, each dollar given will be matched thanks to our partner sponsors: Tekwill, Sun Communications, and Girls Go IT!

https://www.indiegogo.com/project/send-technovation-moldova-team-to-san-francisco/embedded/9945721

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I’m sharing with the girls the surprise that they’ll be traveling to San Francisco for the World Pitch Summit as attendees.

The more I continue to work with these girls and their mentors and see the impact it has not only on them as individuals but also in their communities, the more I am inspired to keep learning and encouraging others to do the same.

The journey has just begun, these girls will make a greater impact on those around them!

Journeys from January

The first month of 2016 has come and gone. As I had shared before, I had the amazing opportunity to celebrate the New Year in Venice with 2 friends. I shared about our amazing travels last month in “Traveling into the New Year“.

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All three during our walk, this was the town we had stayed in Manarola in Cinque Terra, Italy.

Once I had returned from travels I got back into the swing of things. Not long after that, our volunteer group (M29!) had our COS (close of service) lottery for when we get to choose our dates of departure (by a lottery). I will be finishing my Peace Corps service on July 15! Gah!

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All of the M29 Community & Organizational Development Volunteers! 

I had the great opportunity to help coordinate and plan the M29 COS Lottery with an awesome team from our Peer Support Network (PSN)!

Then later in January we kicked-off the 2016 Technovation Challenge season with a “Girls Make Apps” workshop where we had over 75 people come to the event. We had about 14 teams represented and they had the opportunity to network with other teams and learn a little bit more about the AppInventor program which they will be using during the season to create their apps.

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Technovation Challenge is the world’s largest and longest running tech competition for girls. In Technovation, teams of young women work with mentors and coaches to identify a problem, create an app to solve it, code the app, build a company to launch the app in the market, and pitch their plan to experts all in 3 months. It teaches girls life skills such as how to identify a problem, design and test a solution, collaborate with a team, and communicate to different audiences. Teams pitch and submit their ideas (through video) and participate in regional competitions. Once all projects are submitted, ten finalists are selected worldwide to compete in the final competition in California.

This year I am the representative as country “ambassador” for Moldova and have the wonderful privilege to work with an amazing team to promote the program and coordinate events for this year’s season. The biggest goal is to increase the number of girls who will participate and learn and gain new tech skills with hopes that they will pursue a career within ITC someday. Technovation Challenge has been a huge highlight for me during my service as a Peace Corps volunteer. Not only have I learned so much from it, I can see the incredible impact it has on girls and mentors/coaches as well.

It’s hard to believe that there are only 162 days until July 15. These last couple months are going to fly by way too fast…

December Diaries

I’m a little behind on sharing from my last December as a PCV in Moldova. Better late than never, right? Here’s the wrap-up from this past December… so many good memories!

I celebrated my 33rd birthday! I had shared about it earlier, it was full of surprises and quiet celebrations.

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Having tea and cake with a group of students and volunteers who showed up to surprise me for my birthday.

Around 60+ students and teachers showed up to the Hour of Code that we hosted at a local school. It was quite impressive and I hope that they’ll all continue to learn and challenge themselves to try coding or learn new tech skills.

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Group photo will all the students and teachers who attended Hour of Code in Balti!

My primary organization and I continued to work on the project to help two kindergartens with keeping their doors open by adding new furniture and coordinating activities with them. We had implemented one of the activities in December in two communities about gender-equality with about 23+ kindergartners. I’ll share more once the project is completely finished within the next month.

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An amazing contact came from Chisinau to implement the activities on gender equality with the kids. Here she’s talking about what kinds of things girls and boys can do the same, like wash the dishes and play sports.

I also had the opportunity to have a little Christmas fun by participating in a “fun-run”. A number of us volunteers dressed up as reindeer, complete with Rudolph and Santa. We tied ourselves together as we ran pranced through the streets of Chisinau. This run also had “gifts” they gave every couple of feet as you ran through the course, hence the reason everyone is carrying boxes.

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Our team at the finish line, complete with covrigi (they’re kinda like a cross between a bagel and a pretzel) medals and all our fun run gifts in the FedEx boxes.

Since it was the holiday season, the center of town was all lit up complete with carnival rides, a stage, a large Christmas tree, food booths, and ice skating.

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The center of Balti this holiday season.

Then, two days after Christmas we were able to have a picnic outside while we made a quick afternoon visit to the village house with some special guests who were visiting for the holidays. This is not a norm in Moldova in the winter.

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A picnic outside complete with a bbq, house wine, and sunglasses.

Also, this past December I participated for the 3rd year in a row in the #dressember campaign along with a wonderful group of ladies here in Moldova as well as all over the world. There was a team from Moldova again raising awareness about issues of human trafficking and funds for IJM and A21 and the work they do to help with this issue.

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With Catia one day during dressember. Happy New Year!

And so… 2015 is complete. A full year of service with the Peace Corps. It went by quickly and so full of amazing memories, ideas, projects, friendships, and life. I am so grateful for this time to be here and serving alongside so many others who are here, and also those who have been here before me and those who have yet to come. La multi ani!