October 7, 2013 by theloneblonde
As you may know if you are reading my blog, I am a somewhat “expert” in community planning (or at least I would like to think I am, it’s what I went to school for). One of my biggest task that I have been faced with here working as an advisor to the municipality is the issue of transparency and the idea that the government is accountable to its constituents. I have been slowly working to make this idea stick into the heads of the members of the municipality.
When I first arrived I was always asked what are the problems with our town, and I would always answer that is not for me to say you need to ask the citizens. As a volunteer here we like to focus on the ideas of sustainability and citizen led projects. We are only here for a short time in the life of the city, two years is barely enough time to make a difference so the idea is we influence others to build their adaptive capacity so change can happen gradually.
Since the beginning I have been telling the mayor when he ask me time and time again that you need to ask the citizens what is wrong rather then me. Since his election he had never sat down with the citizens of town and asked them what their needs are or expressed what the town was doing in terms of living up to campaign promises. The idea of an open government is being built upon and is a new idea here because they are used to the former communist centralist government in which no one was involved at the local level. Decentralization has been quite the topic to make the local governments accountable to the local citizens rather then as just a body of the national government. It’s an interesting switch.
So last Sunday we had our FIRST town hall type meeting in which the mayor gave a speech to the entire town and then the entire town came out and asked questions about the direction that the government will be going in for the next few months. For me this was a major win in my book, and I would like to give myself a little credit for potentially reinforcing the idea for the need of public participation and hopefully in the future we can have even more! I have been working with a USAID project that encourages government participation all around Albania, so this was a big start in the right direction.
Sunday morning the entire town came out, dressed to the nines and filled up the old town movie theater (that has never showed a movie since I have been here) to talk about the issues. It was really interesting to see what came out of the meeting, which most of the issues expressed were by the elderly town generation (who were former workers in the municipality) and most of them were about cars or noise.
Trying to translate some of the town issues in my head was a little confusing but these are the main ones that were brought up:
- Roads to Villages: We have many roads that go to little villages which are unpaved or rather donkey paths, which makes it very hard to provide services and even get there.
- Bridge to the Pazar: The bridge that is where our town market is broke sometime in the last year (when a truck was on it) and their idea of fixing the bridge was just to push a bunch of rocks in front of it to have a make shift road.
- Road between here and Berat: the road between here and the next major city though only 46 km (28 Miles) takes over 2 hours because of the poor conditions, it’s unpaved and highly prone to landslides.
- Unemployment: there is no work, and no unemployment services, nor is there any hope of work that is not hard labour.
- Hospital: The hospital here is a bit of a scary place. There are few doctors, no water, and few supplies.
- Family Assistance: we can provide no assistance to families and children in need, there are many families that cannot afford the school registration fees which are 500 leke (under 5 dollars) .
- City is Dirty: Though Corovode, in my opinion, is one of the cleaner cities in Albania, many of the locals are very concerned that the city is dirty.
- Noise: many of the localis (bars/cafes), especially during the summer (wedding season), like to make a lot of noise that you can hear throughout town (I am happy that I am not the only one who considers this an issue).
- Red Cross and Aid Groups: Many of the local groups that have meet formerly have not been able to meet even though they claim they can assist the town.
- Parking and Cars: One of the most continual issues brought up by many of the older population was the idea of parking and cars in the city. They expressed that cars park wherever they want including in from of buildings and apartments where people down even own cars. Not to mention during the weekly market cars wiz through the market (even though they should be banned). Cars a clearly a nuisance that are wreaking havoc among the town of which they all remember a time when there were no cars (which was only about 10 years ago).
- Plumbing and Water at the School: this problem struck me as one of the most pressing issues that came out from the issue. In the past few years they have had school renovations but they did not renovate the pipes or the water situation. The schools do not have water during the day for the most part. The kindergartens don’t have water for the kids to wash up; the high school doesn’t have water for students to flush the toilet. Clearly this is a problem; I spent a good amount of my university career writing about the importance of toilets and water in public spaces (I could talk your ear off about it).
So it’s all about the little wins. You can see my mayor in action at this little gathering we had here:
Though with these little wins also comes another challenge we have been faced with; the challenge of the American government shutdown. Now, this may not be directly affecting you at home, and it’s even been less and less on the news, but this is something that is directly affecting my service and all other volunteers world wide. Now this may be a little political of me, in which I should not make any statements but just saying it would behoove you to write your member of congress and tell them that they should all just get along or else I may be knocking at your doorstep in a few weeks asking for a couch to sleep on (as my mother has reserved my room for my 3rd brother for the next few weekends).
I even took the time between the rolling winter blackouts to send a little message to my Wisconsin congressman expressing the importance of getting the government back up and running to protect our interest abroad:
Though your voting records reflect that you have continually voted to support the budget plan for the fiscal year, many of your fellow congressmen have not and the government is still closed.
While this may seem like a short term solution to the inevitable debate that has been present since President Obama has taken office regarding health care services to the American people, this is not the time to allow this to happen any long.
I am a currently serving Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Skrapar, Albania; and the realities of the government shut down are very much affecting my service to our country. With everyday the government is shut down is another day in limbo in the life of a Peace Corps volunteer. With 82 Peace Corps volunteers in Albania, and 212 Wisconsin Peace Corps volunteers serving their country worldwide we are currently serving on a day-to-day state of unknowing.
As a community and organizational development volunteer in Albania, I work as an advisor to the Albanian Government on how they can build their adaptive capacity to better serve their constituents. With everyday the American government is shut down is another day I cannot even begin to give advice on how to do this because my own government is failing on this matter.
With everyday the government is shut down we are slowly becoming and International joke; making my efforts as a Peace Corps Volunteer null. Not to mention our operations are being cut and the further this goes on our safety and security is slowly being threatened.
Bottom line, I don’t care what it takes but the reopening of the government through whatever compromises necessary is of upmost importance to all 212 Wisconsin residents service abroad as Peace Corps Volunteers.
With all due respect he government must reopen to protect not only those serving our country abroad but the reputation of our nation.
Peace Corps Volunteer
Peace Corps Albania
As I enter my 7th month of service, with 20 more to go I am going to see a little more little wins and a lot more challenges from a multitude of factors. It’s a whirlwind of an adventure as always.
Disclaimer: let me remind you that these are my own personal viewpoints and by no means reflect the viewpoints of the Peace Corps or other government institutions and are merely meant to display my personal reflections of the current situation.