More coding fun during #codeweek in Moldova

Europe Code week was this past week starting on October 10 and ending today, October 18. Countries all over Europe hosted events during this period of time to introduce coding by engaging people in learning something new and exploring how code works.

I had learned about Code Week during the Girls Go IT camp this summer and thought it could be something we could do in Balti, the city I live & serve in (which happens to be the 2nd largest city in Moldova). After sharing it with a professor at the University here in Balti, we worked on the details, logistics, and he found the contacts to present 5 different topics for code week. (The surprise was on me when I discovered I was one of them!)

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I shared the first session about basic HTML to a room of 40 students (and we only had 30 computers).

So why code week? Why learn to code? As quoted from the Europe Code Week website:

“Today we live in a world that has been affected by rapid advances in technology. The way we work, communicate, shop and think has changed dramatically. In order to cope with these rapid changes and to make sense of the world around us, we need to not only develop our understanding of how technology works, but also develop skills and capabilities, that will help us to adapt to living in this new era.

Learning to code helps us to make sense of how things work, explore ideas and make things, for both work and play. What’s more it helps us to unleash our creativity and work collaboratively with wonderful people both near us and all over the world.”

Students helping one another during one of the code week sessions.
Students helping one another during one of the code week sessions.

I was impressed. The week went incredibly well, way beyond my expectations. Even though all of the presentations were in Russian (except for mine) I can say I learned a few new things. Those who attended were both high school and University students and they really enjoyed it. Many of them came each day to continue to learn. The topics that were covered at the Balti code week location were HTML, CSS, Angular JS, OLE Technology, and Git. Some of the students shared that they would like to continue to do more sessions like this in the future. So, we shall see what is possible!

What kind of fun happened in August & September?

As I try to keep a monthly recap from my time in Moldova as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I looked back at August & September and realized what a blur it was. A full two months of fun adventures, new experiences, lots of laughter, but not without tears.

In August I shared about my friend’s visit to Moldova but as I look back now and reminisce, I am so grateful for the opportunity to have had a friend visit me here. There’s something about being able to share the tastes, smells, sounds, friendships, and daily life with someone from home — a little glimpse of understanding of the life I’ve come to know and embrace over the past year. It was a sweet gift and I am so thankful for the opportunity to share daily-life adventures and laughter together during her visit.

Then for the last two weeks of August, I traveled to a nearby village to help with a summer IT camp for girls along with 5 other Peace Corps volunteers, and a number of trainers and organizers. It was both an incredibly challenging and rewarding two weeks — where I met some amazing talented young ladies and also bonded with fellow PCVs over trying to understand our role as volunteers at this new camp.

I will be honest in sharing that once September rolled around, I found myself exhausted, burned out, and in the middle of what Peace Corps calls the “mid-service crisis”. Peace Corps tells you about this during training. The mid-service crisis is known to come around right in the middle of one’s service where you may find yourself at a low-point and questioning your decisions asking things like…

“Can I do this again for one more year?… How is this the halfway point already?! … What am I doing?… What work have I done?… What will I do this second year?… There’s not enough time left!… What am I going to do after Peace Corps?…”

I am grateful that I was not alone in this and felt supported, understood, and encouraged by some amazing friends during that dreadful “mid-service crisis”. One thing is for sure, it was a great reminder to me that you can’t have the happy “this-is-amazing” moments without the low “what-am-I-doing” points in life.  After a busy summer full of helping with trainings, implementing new ideas and projects, saying goodbyes to the departing PCV group and hello’s to the incoming trainee group, I am grateful that season has passed. But that means we’re a little more closer to our end of service next summer. (Ack!!)

In other news, in September there was a big celebration for my host nephew in honor of his baptism. As part of tradition in the Orthodox church, a baby is baptized on a date decided between the family and the priest, not during a church service. This ceremony is called a botez and it involves deep traditions and rich cultural ceremonial practices within the Orthodox religion. After the botez (baptism), there is a big celebration involving copious amounts of food and drink, too many photos taken, lots of gifts given, and endless dancing the hora (dancing in circles). This momentous event for the baptism of the child is called a cumatrie, which would best be translated to “big celebratory party”.  The cutest and best dressed little one we celebrated that day enjoyed all the attention and dancing into the wee hours of the evening. I’m pretty sure he outlasted me!

Also, in September I helped my host family at their village house with the fall harvest. From beating the seeds out of the sunflowers to collecting corn in the fields I learned a lot about how much work it takes to keep things going in the village. For example, we collected the corn from the field by hand for the pigs to have food for the winter… but sadly, with the little amount of rain we had this year the corn was about waist-high and there wasn’t much corn to collect. My host dad told me that last year they collected 3 wagon loads of corn and this year we didn’t even fill the bottom of the wagon.

Also, the month of September was spent trying to catch up and meet up with some amazing youth I have had the privilege of getting to know either recently or over the past year. These girls inspire me and I am so encouraged by their passion for learning and willingness to try new experiences.

Then lastly, I spent two days in the capital, Chisinau for a conference that brought two of our programs together for some collaboration and sharing — perfect for the Small Enterprise Development (SED) and Community & Organization Development (COD) volunteers. Even though this conference was held on the first two days of October, I’m throwing it in as part of the fun from September. I got to spend some much-needed quality time with some lovely friends during this conference… so much-needed that we didn’t get a single photo together — hooray for living in the moment. 🙂

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These are just some of the COD & SED volunteers that were left by the end of the conference to take a group photo. And of course you can’t forget our new mascot, Mihai the hedgehog in the front. #MihaiInMoldova Photo by: Mark Gilchrist

As October has already shown that it’s rapidly speeding its way toward the end of the year, I am looking forward to all that is ahead within the next couple of weeks. Coming up soon: a visit from my mom and brother, beginning a communications club at a local school, introducing more code workshops during Europe Code Week, and kicking off Technovation Challenge Moldova for 2016. Here’s to a great toamna (fall) ahead!

Girls Go IT in Moldova

What happens when you bring about 40 young girls ages 16-20 and put them in a room with a number of talented local IT professionals & trainers together for two weeks to learn about IT?

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The last two weeks were full of a mix of multiple languages; Romanian, English, Russian, and coding. These girls learned how to build websites through different coding languages using Python, HTML, CSS, Bootstrap, Flask, in addition to other components like responsive design and social media marketing. This is the first year for the #GirlsGoIT summer camp with 2 goals; one being to introduce coding and critical thinking skills to young girls ages 16-20 and the other to integrate various social groups together in the same camp. The girls were divided up into 6 teams and worked together to build a website to solve a problem in their communities.  It had been a very intense schedule where the girls worked long days on their projects, sometimes 12-14 hours a day.

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Each team came up with names for their groups before starting their projects… Meet team Astrum Nigrum.
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The first couple of days of #GirlsGoIT camp were rainy and cold. Layers of clothing and lots of warm tea and coffee were necessary since the venue at Bahmut Club was a beautiful indoors-part-outdoors space.

I asked a few girls to share with me “What did you like most about the #GirlsGoIT summer camp?”

“Girls Go IT camp gave us the opportunity to meet awesome people, to learn about HTML, CSS, bootstrap, flask, and nevertheless, we created a site based on our new knowledge!”  – Carolina

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Carolina & Madalina working on their group project.

“People! People are amazing here. And it was funny, sometimes hard, but nevertheless, I liked it here.” – Valeria

Valeria, in the middle with some of her new friends she met at Girls Go IT camp.
Valeria, in the middle with some of her new friends she met at Girls Go IT camp.
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Veronica, who was usually all smiles when I saw her each day.

“These two weeks were the most beautiful weeks of this summer. Here I met the most wonderful, beautiful and amazing people ever.” – Veronica

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The trainers kept the sessions interesting with humor and jokes. Sergiu with the camp mascot watching over his shoulder.
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Code that the girls were working on to build their sites for their group projects.
Hard at work coding away at various points throughout the week.
The girls were hard at work on their projects and coding away all throughout the week.
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The girls and trainers working hard during one of the sessions.
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One of the days during the 2-week camp we all split up into smaller groups for some field trips to visit IT-related companies. I went with a group to visit Moldcell where the girls got a little tour of the facility and got to meet the marketing and IT departments. I think they really enjoyed seeing real-life experiences and seeing people in their working environment.
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A Moldovan holiday, Independence day (24 years)  ended up on one of the days while we were at the camp. To celebrate, we planned a surprise scavenger hunt for everyone in the evening. They were given riddles/puzzles to find their next location to find their next clue — can you figure out what this one was? (hint: remember we were at an IT camp)
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During the scavenger hunt there were various “detours” given to the teams to take photos or do random things. Vlad was ambushed by a group hug from another team. Lots of laughter was heard throughout the camp that evening as teams dashed around trying to find the hidden clues.
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Team “Electrons” (the trainers and camp staff) tried to fit the whole team into the outdoor BBQ grill during one of the photo detours trying to take a group #selfie in a small space.
On the last full day of the camp the girls presented their websites. Shortly after this, they deployed their sites online. Lots of cheering ensued.
On the last full day of the camp the girls presented their websites. Shortly after this, they deployed their sites online. Lots of cheering ensued.

On the last night of the Girls Go IT summer camp, our lovely hosts at the Bahmut  Club made a delicious meal and pulled out some fun surprises. We celebrated the end of the camp and their deployment of their sites with cake, paper lanterns, and a huge bonfire.

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Small groups of 2-3 lit paper lanterns all at once celebrating the end of the camp.

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The biggest bonfire I have seen was lit and we all gathered to reflect upon the past 2 weeks of summer camp.

A little cake-face-smashing happened somehow in the evening as well.

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Celebrind lansarea site-ului! #GirlsGoIT

A post shared by Ana Cobzac (@anisoaracobzac) on

And these ladies… words cannot explain how grateful I am to have served and worked alongside each of them these past two weeks and the “new” memories and experiences we shared during this time. As fellow Peace Corps Volunteers from the same year and program (yay M29 COD!) I am so glad we are here together in Moldova.

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So to answer the question posed at the beginning of this post… “What happens when you bring about 40 young girls ages 16-20 and put them in a room with a number of talented local IT professionals & trainers together for two weeks to learn about IT?”

It becomes a room full of inspiration, hard work, determination, tears, learning, laughter and best of all… new friendships.

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So thankful to meet all these inspiring ladies, trainers, mentors, and camp organizers at the first #GirlsGoIT summer camp.

{Photo Friday}: Learning how to code at #GirlsGoIT summer camp

This week has been been an inspiring and encouraging week because of an incredible group of 40 young girls ages 16-20 and 12+ local trainers & mentors from Moldova. They have been working and learning A LOT since the start of the camp at the beginning of this week in the first ever #GirlsGoIT summer camp in Moldova. For two weeks these young girls will learn various coding skills, how to build a website, and will make new friends. I have been impressed by these young girls and the trainers/mentors of this camp! More to come soon about this “foarte, foarte  fantastica” IT camp!

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Some of the girls working with their mentor, Marc as they learn about the coding program, Python.