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.
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.
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.