Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Enjoying the sun in Struga, Macedonia.

Being a volunteer In Macedonia

I am a Peace Corps volunteer in Macedonia. My name is Patty Provencher. I grew up in Lewiston and graduated from Lewiston High school and received my bachelor’s degree from Colorado State in Fort Collins, Colorado. Macedonia is located in Eastern Europe and is bordered by Greece, Albania, Serbia, and Bulgaria. For me volunteerism so far has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster; a struggle to hold on to that irrepressible optimism and idealism that I started with and a fight against the enormous cynism that one encounters on almost a daily basis. True, the lows are often lonely, depressing and have me asking myself what the heck am I doing in this foreign land so far from friends, family and the entire things familiar. But, and it is an important ‘But’, just when I think I can’t stand it anymore, along come highs: wonderful, exciting and full of new, fantastic experiences! I can only describe this as part of the complex and amazing challenge that comes from being a volunteer! And, ultimately, the highs do far out weigh the lows, if they didn’t I wouldn’t still be here!

While being a volunteer can certainly frustrate and infuriate even the most well balanced of individuals, it has also provided me with the exceptional opportunity to learn more about myself and develop new practical skills for the future! I’ve learned both my strengths, weaknesses and limits; met some of the most amazing people I’m ever likely to and certainly there have been those who have driven me completely up the wall, yet I’ve met many more who have captured my heart and imagination!

The ones who captured my heart and imagination the most, was the people that lived in the village that I stayed in for three months of my training. We had language training, community development training and technical training. There were 8 other Americans that lived in the village also. We all lived with families. We arrived there knowing little Macedonian Language and left there able to hold a decent conversation. In the village, I visited the neighbors having coffee, making wine, rakia and Avair. Always were greeted with three kisses on each side of the face and the biggest hug. My family and friends in the village are very close and dear to me. I played soccer with the young children and practice English with those that were learning at a new center that was built with the funding from World Bank. This center was to educate the people in the village and increase their skills for future work. They take computer skills classes and English language skills classes.

One of my fondest memories with my family is if we can pick the grapes from the covering of the patio roof. I didn’t really ask in their language but more my language with my hands pointing. He looked up, picked some of the grapes, and gave them to me. Often we would sit out on the back porch and crack walnuts while watching the sun set behind the mountains. We didn’t even have to communicate to understand that we were enjoying that moment together. He is someone very special to me. He is truly my grandpa. He treats me just like his grand daughter. He will often pick roses out of their rose garden and give them to me. He just looks at me often with such a sincere grin and shakes his head with such acceptance of me. When it was time for me to move from the village, he started crying and told me, I am supposed to stay with them. This 80-year-old man has a very special place in my heart.

In the village, the people were so hospitable. Always taking you in for coffee or tea and demanding you to eat. If so were to say just water please they think it was an insult like there was something wrong what they would be serving you. Even if you
were thirsty or hungry you just accept what is given to you even if you don’t finish it. The whole village accepted us volunteers as a part of their family.

The other volunteers and I wanted to help the people that we have grown to love and the ones who took us in as part of their family. We asked around the village for ideas that will help them and children further develop as a community. Many wanted some big things like new T.V. stations, new roads, and a sports complex. They thought since we were from America either we have the money to fund this project or we have connections to get enough money for them. We finally explained to the people that we don’t have money so we need to help with a project that will cost very little money or none. They always would say that we were from America that we have lots of money. What television does to one’s thoughts? What they all came up with was to develop an English library in the Center that the take computer skills class and English Language classes. With this library the children will have books as well the people in the village that know English and don’t have the chance to practice.

All of us volunteers decided to talk to friends and family back home and ask if they can donate books to the center. We had a tremendous amount of support from everyone and collected and between the eight of us we collected about 3000 lbs of books to donate to the center. We have more books than we thought so these books won’t just help this village but will also be donated to other villages nearby. The guy that runs the center said he could get funding for the shipping of the books through World Bank but once we gave him the amount of books we had collected he told us that he didn’t get the funding. Now we have books in several different states and no money to send them.

I would like to thank Lewiston High School students for helping in the book drive and Cathy Lagorie for putting that together. It is great to know that people of all ages are willing and want to do something for others in need, this was their way of volunteering their time to a good cause that will better themselves and the community and people they are giving their time and heart too.

I hope that people in all over the world would also like to be active in building the type of world we all want to live in, a just world, in which all minorities have the freedom to exercise their basic rights in which disadvantaged people can participate in their own communities and influence those decisions that affect their lives on a daily basis.