Thursday, January 12, 2012

COD and I ain't talking Fishsticks!

This week marks 10 months of living in Albania as a PCV in COD (Peace Corps Volunteer in Community and Organizational Development). And all this time, I’ve been creatively dodging a popular question… “But WHAT is it that you ACTUALLY do!?” Well friends, the wait is finally over. (Sighs of relief are heard ‘round the world.)

First… A point of reference:
The 3 Goals of Peace Corps.
1) Helping people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2) Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3) Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Now… these are the World-wide Goals, and of course, each country has its own set of objectives for their specific needs. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with all of them. (Sighs of relief are heard ‘round the world.) But I can tell you briefly, Albania is focused on building capacity of personnel in local governments, health centers and schools. My “official” role is COD-ing at the local government, specifically the Municipality of Elbasan/Bashkia Elbasan.

So, why have I been so reticent to talk about my work? Well….quite frankly, at first, it didn’t really feel like I was doing much! Hmmm…. Not exactly what you want to be reporting to the American tax-payers. D’oh! And, it was making me feel a little guilty. After all, the whole reason I joined Peace Corps was to DO SOMETHING! Even though I was trying to get involved, my wheels were just spinning. If you know me, you know how frustrating that must have been.

But as PCV’s, we are constantly reminded by our staff and colleagues that THIS IS NORMAL. Our first several months are less about projects and more about relationship-building, observation and cultural adaptation. (Hey does this sound anything like fundraising and resource development?) OK… of course, I can appreciate that. But, I am my father’s daughter and I do believe reckless impatience is hereditary. But recently, my begrudged patience has begun to payoff.

Today, I’ll focus on Goal 1, and other posts can address my “extra-curricular activities. Lest we forget, as a PCV, my job is not 9-5 Monday through Friday, but 24-7 Sunday to Sunday. I don’t have the option of turning off my community status “The American Girl/goca amerikane.” Therefore, Goals 2 & 3 become muddled between my professional and personal lives. This may be the only time in my life where I have ZERO work-life balance and actually embrace it!

So WHAT is it that I ACTUALLY do?!
I’m a consultant. I’m an advisor. I’m a morale booster. I’m a trainer. I’m a co-grant writer. “co” because with everything we do… we should be passing our expertise on to our Albanian counterparts. I’m a “what if we try it another way”-er. I’m and English speaker and quasi-tutor. (But I’m NOT an English teacher!) Essentially, I’m whatever the Municipality of Elbasan needs me to be (Hey oh!) Perhaps I should rephrase: I serve many roles based on my expertise and experience.

I participate in meetings about developing a “marketing strategy” to promote good work being done and future city improvements. I support a public/private committee of staff from the municipality and Elbasan non-profits charged with promoting volunteerism (which lead to a community-wide clean-up day pictured here.) I offer my suggestions on professional development needs, anything from presentation skills to using Excel (many financial reports are done by hand! Wha-wha-WHAT?!). I ask a lot of questions. Then I usually ask them again because I misunderstood the Shqip, or because something was lost in translation or because…things just change! I listen to staff express their frustrations with political challenges (although PCVs do not make political judgments!) In these cases, I try to encourage creative alternatives…or somedays, just let my colleagues vent. I join colleagues at seminars on project design and management so that we can learn and collaborate.

Does any of this truly serve Goal 1? I mean… how am I doing, here? At a conference, we were told, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Ummm. Errr. Well. Ugh. Am I making tangible changes in Local Government systems? Not exactly. Am I making a change among the people that I work closely with? I think so, a little. Will those little changes make a difference in their lives, their work, their contribution to their country? This is my sincere hope! And only time will tell.

Peace, Love and Making it Count

PS: The concept of measuring impact always makes me think of the very wise, very much respected Debra K. Stevens, begging the question, “But HOW can we measure JOY!?”

PPS: It also makes me think of the very wise and very much respected David Saar who served as a PCV in Sierra Leon in the late 1960’s teaching English, among other things. He received a phone call in 2010 from one of his students…who had become… oh JUST THE COUNTRY’S PRESIDENT! Confirmation that the seeds we plant as volunteers do grow strong and mighty! :)


  1. HI Melia. Your blog is great. It reminds me of what my mom went thru a little less than 2 years ago. She has extended and is still in Zambia with a little less than 8 mos. to go. Here is her blog if you have time to check it out,

    Here is my blog but I feel like it is pretty superficial and frivilous compared to anything PC´ers are doing. So probably not too interesting for you. But if you want to be reminded about what us consumer crazed societies are doing take a peek,

    Big hugs from Spain and keep up the hard work.


    1. your mom's blog. And your's too. I might be penniless in Albania now, but that doesn't mean I've given up entirely on fashion! (although, good thing you can't see me right now.) Thanks for you message. I hope everything's going great for you!