And so November begins… and the task of completing my last 7 months of service is here. It’s amazing to see the changes that have occurred since March of 2009. My thoughts then were filled with “what ifs” and questions as to what my future might hold. But being here has provided more insight. I have seen the importance of building respectful relationships. I have learned that patience is a crucial component to accomplishment. I never thought that coming here in my thirties would be so challenging. Many think it’s an escape, I mean why would anyone in their right mind leave their home/job, etc. for 27 months to “explore other opportunities”? What does that even mean? Well, I have that answer now – and the timing couldn’t have been better.
This experience has prepared me for the next chapter. It has allowed me to understand the importance of this period in life. The period of knowing that it’s not all about what people think or say. It’s about listening and having the confidence to speak up. It’s about not buying into the antics of others just to be accepted. It’s about sincerity, inner strength, and building a life that, when looking back, you can say you’re proud of. Because in the end, isn’t that what we all want?
As for post Peace Corps, plans are in the making, and exciting times are on the horizon. Of course the more options the better, as we all know not to keep those eggs in one proverbial basket. But the things here that I’ve seen, these are things that are making a lasting impression on me. The look of a child (or adult) learning English for the first time, the smiles of my neighbors when I greet them every morning, the opportunity that is here to create an environment for people here that they never thought possible. This is why I left. And for the next 7 months, it’s all about getting things done.
So – what’s to get done? Well, we (meaning the local government office) just received funding from Peace Corps and USAID to prepare a 10-year strategic plan for the city of Elbasan. This includes plans in all areas under government authority, including urban planning, environment, housing, infrastructure, education, culture/tourism, small business development, social services, and transport. An important element is to address how Elbasan is going to change over the next 10 years in order to meet EU standards. As part of this plan, we will use data from a local government citizen survey that is being developed by the Institute for Development Research and Alternatives. This allows us to gather information on how citizens view local government, and what areas are in need of improvement.
This is a huge project, and many are skeptical about these plans. Do cities actually follow them? Or are they just put together as coffee table books, eventually put on the shelf to gather dust? In preparing the grant proposal, this was a big concern. One way to address this is to make sure that the annual budget process is based on the contents of this plan. We also have enlisted the help of an outside consultant, who is working with each department to ensure conformity and accuracy. Another aspect of this project is to make sure we inform all employees within the local government office about what the plan entails and how they play a part in implementation. In order to do this, we will train over 300 employees. This will include a comprehensive presentation of the plan, and give employees the opportunity to ask questions or raise concerns. The goal is to finish this project before my close of service. It’s not just about finishing the plan though; it’s about what happens in the next 10 years.
In addition to this project, we are also anxiously waiting to hear from the European Commission if we have received funds for a cross border project with a local government office in Macedonia. We submitted the application for this in July, after 2 months of collaboration with our Macedonian counterparts. (Click here for a story featured by USAID). The Elbasan municipality submitted two proposals, one for a new tourism office in Elbasan (worked on with the city of Tetovo, Macedonia) and one for enhancements to culture centers and cross-culture promotions between Elbasan and the city of Mogila, Macedonia. This was a learning process for all of us (I worked with Mogila, my sitemate worked with Tetovo, and our co-workers in the Elbasan office of Economic and Strategic Development also were involved). We attended multiple meetings in Macedonia, including a training session that took us through the application process (the final proposal submitted was over 70 pages). Hopefully I will have good news on this soon!