Excerpt from my DOS

I just finished writing my Description of Service, which is the official document about my time spent in the Peace Corps. I am posting an excerpt from my DOS so that you can get a succinct idea of what my time was like here in Albania. There are many activities, experiences, and lessons learned that I have left out but the most important details are recorded below.

Assignment

Corey Rice’s assignment included working in the Vau-Dejës Municipality mainly in the Finance office. He worked with a staff of 30 employees that served a town of roughly 12,000 residents for 2 years. Some of the problems facing this community included easy access to drinking water, lack of public spaces, community distrust of local government, lack of youth activities, lack of proper educational institutions, lack of community identity and ownership, among others. The main strengths of Vau-Dejes are the Lake of Vau-Dejes, center of the Catholic dioceses, center for Judo in Albania, proximity to the commercial center of Shkoder, rich farmland, and a few medium sized businesses. Many public institutions are not present or do not function. In 2012, an Italian NGO called COSPE started working in Vau-Dejes and the surrounding region to promote environmental responsibility.

Corey’s assignment was to work with the local municipality to identity community problems and possible solutions. Unfortunately, lack of a vision and leadership from the Mayor, the hierarchal structure of the municipality, and poor communication made work very difficult in the municipality. The mayor of Vau-Dejes misunderstood the purpose of the Peace Corps, and expected Corey to write and win grants without any supervision and input from the Municipality. None of this was communicated directly to him but all of it came out in March of 2012, during a meeting with Corey’s supervisor from the Peace Corps and the mayor. Corey and his supervisor worked to help the Mayor understand that Peace Corps volunteers do not act alone but work in cooperation with members of the community. Corey began to write monthly reports to the mayor, which included possible projects, grant opportunities, and projects that he was working on outside the municipality. When it became clear that the mayor was not interested in opening up a line of communication, Corey focused his energy on external projects, which included small businesses development, English courses, and individual computer trainings. The three main projects of his Peace Corps service were Bashkpunimi Rinor Youth Group, Judo for Peace Tour, and Info-Muzik Amerikane radio program.

Bashkpunimi Rinor Youth Group

One of the main problems that Corey identified in his community was lack of community ownership and involvement. An idea that he shared with several of his friends was to create a community action group that would identify problems in the community, and organize activities to help solve these problems. Over a period of 4 months, he met weekly with a group of 7-10 young men to discuss the formation of such a group and what possible action can be taken. He equipped them with information on how to write a mission and vision statement and then create goals and objectives to work towards achieving their vision. Unfortunately, several issues endemic in Albanian society impeded the progress of the group. The first was that organizations without religious or political affiliation are often not taken seriously. By aligning the group with a religious view or political stance, they risked alienating members of the community. Another problem was lack of cooperation. Each member had a view of what he wanted the group to be. Some ideas were a political action group to organize community members against the municipality, a charity group that offered support to the poor, or a social group to help build positive ties between young people outside of bars and cafes. In the end, none of these were realized because everyone wanted to be a leader and no one was willing to compromise. This lack of a common vision eventually led to the disbanding of the group. Even though nothing came of it, it was a valuable experience for those involved because many important issues affecting the development of the community were discussed. It also gave Corey a lot of experience in how groups and organizations function in Albania and how the lack of organization destroys a lot of well intentioned efforts. This understanding was crucial in knowing how to successful execute future projects.

Judo for Peace Tour

In February of 2012, Anton Shkoza, the founder of Judo in Albania, approached Corey with the idea of holding a series of Judo demonstrations in every major city in Albania. The primary goal of the tour would be to promote the sport of Judo to kids of all ages and the secondary goals were to encourage kids to live healthy and active lifestyles. This addressed the problem of lack of activities for the youth that existed not only in Vau Dejes but in all of Albania. The first demonstration took place in Shkoder and was sponsored by THE DOOR, a Norwegian organization. It was difficult to find organizations and municipalities around the rest of Albania that were interested in sponsoring the tournament so together they wrote a formal project proposal and won $2000 in grant money to fund tournaments in Lezhe, Durres, Elbasan, and Vlore. Corey organized a demonstration in each city, and managed the project. The accurate projection and management of the project budget led to only $15 of unused funds. Demonstrations were videotaped and uploaded on to the Akademi Albania Judo Kodokan’s youtube page so that the demonstrations could reach an even wider audience. This was the first time a national promotional effort for the sport of Judo was executed. Anton Shkoza and Corey appeared and spoke about the project on local news in Shkoder and national television on the program Drejtperdrejt. Corey was also given an award commending for his contribution to the sport of Judo at an international judo tournament held in Shkoder on April 13, 2013.

Info-Muzik Amerikane

From November 2012 until March 2013, Corey hosted a radio program in Albanian about American music. The program covered city by city the evolution of country, blues, and rock music in America and the historical events that influenced them. For example, an episode on Bakersfield country discussed the dustbowl and the effect it had on taking the Nashville country sound out West, where it evolved into its own distinct sounds. Corey wrote and produced 16 episodes. Each episode was aired twice a week on Radio Jehona 107.6 mhz. The radio station reached audiences in Albania, Montengro and Kosovo.


Help Fund an Balkans Children’s Judo Tournament in Albania

My final project for Pece Corps is going to be a Children’s Judo Tournament that will promote Peace and goodwill in the Balkans.
In order to hold the event we need help raising money to purchase scoreboards and maps.
Take a look at our indiegogo campaign and help us out!

http://www.indiegogo.com/KidsJudoAlbania/x/1965044


Chopping Wood

Chooping Wood

A while back I bought 2.5 cubic meters of wood and without thinking carried them all up four flights of stairs to my apt. The only problem is they weren’t split.
A couple days ago I began the long process of carrying them all back down one crate at a time and splitting them. A neighborhood kid stopped by and snapped some pictures because evidently an American chopping wood is a novelty.


Judo for Peace on Albanian Public Television

I appeared on Albanian public television to support a serious of Judo demonstrations that we finished. We held Judo demonstrations in 5 Albanian cities to promote youth participation in sports and healthy lifestyles. It was the first time that a national promotional effort has been undertaken for the sport of Judo.
I appear with Anton Shkoza the founder of Judo in Albania and my personal hero. He is a huge inspiration of overcoming obstacles and pursuing the things you are passionate about.


Judo Demonstration at Rozafa Castle – 03/24/2012

Judo demonstration I helped organize at the Rozafa Castle in Shkoder. The goal of the demonstration was to promote the sport of Judo as a positive form of exercise for boys and girls of all ages that promotes discipline and respect.


Karnival – An Albanian Mardi Gras

Here are some pictures from Karnival in Shkoder. I think it is the largest Mardi Gras in Albania because Shkoder has the largest Catholic population in the country. This year the event was four days long to celbrate Albania’s 100th year of independence.

I am not sure what the plan was Saturday but all the costumed groups gathered in front of the stage and took turns performing. It was incredibly hard to watch because everyone was so crowed. People also kept walking in between the performers to take pictures or vidoes or just watch so I had a hard time taking pictures. The American in me wouldn’t let me break ranks and wander through the crowd of performers but I probably should have. If everyone’s doing it, the it has to be ok, right?

Sunday there was a parade. Which meant all the performs lined up and led everyone else on a walk through the city that ended in a square on the other side of town. I think there was supposed to be performances again but the rain ruined the mood and not much happened.

More pictures can be found here.


Vau Dejes gets worst snow fall in 25 years!

 

Last week we got a couple meters of snow in Vau Dejes and many people were saying it was the worst snow fall in <insert number> years. I heard that the last time we got snow fall like this was anywhere from 20 to 5 years but on facebook I saw a picture from a couple years ago of a significant amount of snowfall in Shkoder. Who knows how long its been since Vau Dejes got snow? All that really matters is that we were blanketed.

School was cancelled. Our work day started with a snow photo shoot and snowball fight. The main street through town became a war zone as groups of teenage boys armed themselves with an arsenal of snowballs. All in all it was a lot of fun unil the day after, when a light drizzle and slight raise in the temperature  turned the streets into slush. Luckily, a decent rain washed everything away the next. Nothing is nastier than a slushy mix of snow, ice, and water.

After a three days of precipitation, strong winds from the Vau Dejes valley blew through town. The winds were so strong they damaged several buildings, blew over the iron fence at the Bashkia, and kept me up all night with their howling! I had heard all summer about the terrible winds during winter and they had finally arrived. Thankfully the didn’t stay long and everything is back to normal. The forecast says that temperatures should begin rising around the 15th. I couldn’t be more ready for summer.

Snowy view of Lac – Vau Dejes

Kids playing in the snow below my apt

View of the dam from my apt

 

Building that was blown over


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