It was a very strong winter, in 2017. So strong that for a few months we were barely poking our nose out of the buildings, sightseeing was out of the question. Sitting in the cozy environment of Casa de Cultura Permanente in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, we were thinking: should we go to Moldova? It's not too far, but we cannot really find any interesting contact there, maybe it would be better to turn south toward Bulgaria? In the middle of our discussion Martyna sent us the contact of Tomasz, from Solidarity Fund PL, saying: you guys have to meet each other! Although our communication by Internet was kind of challenging, we decided to take the chance and go. It turned out one of the best decisions we made during our journey.
Tomasz, manager of Solidarity Fund PL: Officially the Foundation was established in early 2000, but it didn't really work. Its aim is to support development work in different countries using, among others, Polish funds. Similar foundations are working in Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Tunisia, Myanmar, central Asia. In Moldova we had a different approach, as it is the only country where the office is registered. A few years ago I arrived in Chisinau, capital of Moldova, my work was supposed to be implementing one project and then closing the office. But the work here was so good... Instead of closing the office I decided to make it bigger.
Tomasz is a volcano of energy. When we saw him for the first time it was like a storm entering the room, making some mess and swirling out. We looked at each other: well, it seems to be the beginning of an interesting adventure. And it was. Tomasz, together with Alina and other people from his team, organized for us events in almost all parts of Moldova, bouncing from place to place. We talked about the idea of changing the world in schools, in NGOs, in libraries, governments, churches... It seems training and workshops were needed and welcomed basically everywhere. One of the most inspiring meetings we had was with the young volunteers from People In Need Moldova (PIN).
Valentina, project manager in PIN: The methodology of People In Need was created in Check Republic 15 years ago. We started in Moldova 2 years ago. The first year was more like fighting, adapting, but at the end Moldova had the best results among the countries opened at the same time. PIN is using movies to speak about socially important issues. They work with teachers, but in Moldova I wanted to focus on youth. I started to organize summer camps for them, to teach them how to facilitate meeting with their peers, how to lead discussions, how to work with difficult participants. The number of movie clubs started to increase, we were slowly building a network. Right now we teach young people more about leadership, project management, getting resources, we give them small grants to implement projects in their own communities. After few years of work our youth decided to open their own, independent NGO, called OWIS.
Meeting those youth was the beginning of a much longer collaboration. Few months after the first training we came back to Moldova to lead the Changemaker Course for young people connected with PIN and Solidarity Fund PL, we also organized for them the first training of trainers. Now, 1,5 year later, they are launching their own Changemaker Course for new volunteers. We are planning next projects with Solidarity Fund PL, which turned out to be one of the most passionate organizations we met on our way, doing good both during their work as well as during their free time, which Anetta is the best example of.
Anetta, founder of Save Chisinau and employee at Solidarity Fund PL: At one point I started to be very interested in the old part of Chisinau, my city. I think it’s the thing that makes this city special. I thought: why not taking pictures of old buildings and making them public, so others can see them as well. I started with Instagram, and people were really interested. They wrote to me that they've never seen or never paid attention to those buildings before seeing them in my profile. That was interesting. While walking and taking pictures, you start to notice much more. It was getting really exciting. Afterwards I started to collect some information about the old part of the city and I discovered that there are a lot of very interesting stories which nobody knows. For example, during one of my walks I discovered an old building from the XIX century, in bad shape, but still with really nice elements. I went inside, trying to take pictures. One person living there told me that there was a prison before. I didn’t know. He proposed that I come the next day with some light to take more pictures. I was really afraid, you never know what to expect. But I decided to go. There was really a prison, created in the house of a rich Jewish family. I wrote a long article and I started a blog, just not to lose this story. I felt I own something to the people who have shown it to me. After I posted it, it got very popular. I kept writing about other buildings and in some moment I started to do more and more pictures of doors. I thought it would be good to put them in a database, one map. At that moment one guy called me saying he can make an application for me. I knew him only through Facebook. He did it for free. Now we have more than 100 doors in the app.
Discovering Chisinau (also with Anetta as a guide) was an amazing journey, but meeting people from other parts of Moldova was also really fascinating. For example in Ocnita – leading a workshop in the local library of this small border-town was the biggest language challenge we ever had. When we arrived, we discovered that nobody speaks English. But there was a woman who could translate from Italian. Ok, so let's let Andrea handle it. The teacher started to translate from Italian to Romanian, the official language in Moldova. Then we realized that only half of the participants actually speaks Romanian, the other half only speaks Russian. But the teacher, who also knew Russian, didn't want to translate it to that language, because all in all we are in Moldova... Here the language you speak is a political statement. Not an easy situation to talk about dreams, values, and changing the world, but we managed. The challenge continued during the night spent with Lilia, one of the teachers, and her husband. We ate delicious traditional food and drunk Moldavian wine, communicating in a mixture of Italian, English, Polish and Russian, which with every sip of wine became more fluent. Another night we stayed in Transinistria, which although officially is part of Moldova, it claims to be an independent country. They created a border - not so easy to pass, especially if you want to stay overnight. There is almost nobody living in Transnistria, a big percent of young people migrated, even more than from Moldova itself (and already in Moldova it is said that every 2-3 people are living abroad). The streets of Teraspol, the „capital”, are literally empty. People speak only Russian. They have their own currency, recognized nowhere else but here, and some consider those coming from outside (like us) a kind of spy. But even in this condition you can find people, who try to make a difference.
Evgeny, current manager in Apriori: Apriori started in 2008. We have 5 main directions: Club 19, a place for meetings, events and discussions for young people from Transnistria; Festivals, above all movie festivals; Information service through which we try to involve people to become more active in understanding what’s going on. We also do some analysis, for example about laws for Non-governmental Organizations. NGOs which receive money from international sources are officially agents and they have to write everywhere that they are a foreign agency, they can be checked by anybody, all the time. We also have a resource center for NGOs and initiatives. These are mostly training for NGOs, forums, informal meetings and discussions. And finally juridical help. At the beginning it was focused on single mothers, then we started to work with poor people and now we try to focus only on cases in which citizens are in conflict with the government. It’s quite difficult stuff and not every lawyer can help with this.
As in any country with difficult issues, Moldova is full of amazing changemakers. All in all, there are only two kinds of people there: those who didn't manage to go abroad yet and those who consciously decided to stay and do something for their own country.
Alexandra, project manager in Apriori: For me working in Apriori is a possibility to develop. I came here after the university when I didn’t really know what I wanted. I started, I saw it was interesting, I can learn a lot of things, I can travel, I can meet people, I can know more about the region I live in. At the beginning I thought I would work one year, but in October it will already be 3 years.
Valentina: I come from Straszen, a village close to Chisinau. When I was 14, I started to volunteer in a youth NGO, we improved our village, we organized events. Then I was involved in many different organizations. After high school I went to study law, but I quickly realized it's not my thing. I was still involved in the social sector, I became the president of an NGO in Straszen, then I got a position in PIN. My parents were pushing me to work as a lawyer, but I didn't want to. I really like to be in PIN, it's an organization which allows you to grow. After a while I became assistant, now in my third year I have my own big projects with youth. I want to work with youth because of their massive migration. We were 4 millions a couple of years ago, now we are less than 3. I don't know if in 10 years this country will exist. If you want to go abroad, it's totally fine, go. Get the best from that country, then come back and implement it. This is what we miss. All my best friends are abroad. And they are asking me why I'm still here. If I can change something, why go to another country where you are always a foreigner, it's not the same as when you are at home. We fought with those who went to Romania to study and stayed there. They don't want to come back even for a visit. Cluj or Bucharest are the best. Why your village cannot be the same? This is the thing with Moldova. It's sad.
When so many among your friends and family are abroad, when most likely you have a Romanian passport which allows you to work and travel in the European Union, when you speak a Romance language which makes it so much easier to learn Italian or French, when you can earn more money and have better opportunities, staying in Moldova is a big decision. Why would you do that?
Tomasz: Each of us can take the decision to change something. Of course you need to be brave, have some courage. Maybe it’s easier for those who are optimistic, maybe it’s easier for those who had experience in making a difference, for example at school, who got inspired. But at the end I believe all of us can do it. And…. I think this is our task. In Polish we have an expression “Pan Bóg nie stworzył tego swiata zeby go diabli wzieli'' [God didn't create this world for the devil to take it]. When we are experiencing or facing injustice, we should do something to change it, that’s all.
Valentina: I'm only 25 but the way I'm thinking is so different. Sometimes I feel like a black sheep in society, it can be extremely hard. And I don't know how I reached this stage. Maybe because I had freedom from a very young age, nobody told me what to do, I was experimenting. That allowed me to recognize my values, and I think that's where everything starts. Only after identifying your values you can decide what you want to do, what you want to contribute to, what you want to change. And then, do not give up at the first obstacle. I always say to leaders, all this process is like a chess game. When you have a hard time, you don't know what to do, just wait. Someone has to do the move. Something has to change. And when that happens, everything will become clear for you. Don't panic, don't destroy everything. Be patient. Live the flow and be happy with small things. The most important is to have courage. If you want to be different, you have to accept that people will stare at you, they won't understand.
So why do it? For yourself, for God, for a sense of purpose, for values. Whatever motivates them, since years they are working for a better society in a country which many, including the European Union, tossed aside. They try to change the system to allow for a better life for those few who are still in Moldova. And they are proving change is possible.
Tomasz: To believe that change is possible, you have to be naïve or idealistic. And it can be your decision to be so. Maybe you won't be able to change the system, but I think... There are moments in history when you can really make a difference. We have to be prepared. Maybe it won't happen now, but we are preparing someone. It’s like a domino, finally the last person will manage to change everything but if some part on the way is missing, the move is blocked.
Anetta: Everything has its own reason. Don’t overthink and don’t listen to anybody who says what you are doing is useless, that you shouldn't do it.
Evgeny: In our society a lot of people are afraid to act. Even if they don’t like the situation, they are afraid to do something. Don't stop yourself. Even if you don’t see results, don't give up, some things you cannot see immediately, especially at the beginning.
Tomasz: What is also important is that life is a journey, remember about that. We think that our flat is our flat, our work is our work, but in fact everything is temporary. It’s just a journey.
Solidarity Fund PL - centruinfo.org
People in Need Moldova - facebook.com/PIN.moldova/
Save Chisinau - facebook.com/savechisinau/
Apriori - apriori-center.org