Playing the Moldovans at Tennis

Playing the Moldovans at TennisI was on holiday recently and I finally took the time to read Tony Hawks’ book “Playing the Moldovans at Tennis”. I actually knew Tony Hawks more as the founder of a Chisinau-based centre for kids with chronic conditions coming from socially vulnerable families, where a few of my friends from the British/international community in Chisinau either work or volunteer. I now discovered what he is actually most known for, his writing talent and very funny vein (I actually went on to read also his earlier book about travelling around Ireland with a fridge, just to keep laughing a bit longer).

Reading the book – set in Moldova in 1998 – makes you smile but awakes some conflicting emotions too, if you have lived in Moldova. So much has changed since then – the city centre streets do now enjoy public lights, there are plenty of restaurants and pubs and probably less potholes, and the soviet past is now a distant memory, basically unknown for an entire generation of young adults. On the other hand, so much still rings true and many of the author’s frustrations cannot but resonate with any foreigner who is trying to bring forward a project – even one that is not as crazy as trying to play tennis with 11 football players from the Moldovan national team, and beat all of them to win a 100 dollars bet struck with a drunk friend back in England.

If you got curious, read the book and enjoy some laughs – or you can check out the 2012 movie based on the book, or the 18-minutes TEDxChisinau talk from 2013 where Tony Hawks illustrates his vision for a fair repartition of the world’s economic resources.

How to change the world… starting from providing free IT training to children

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How to change the world... starting from providing free IT training to children

During the past months I followed an amazing 6-week online course on Coursera called “How to Change the World“. It was an interesting review of the main concepts related to aid and development, focusing in particular on some areas such as poverty reduction, gender equality, climate change, health issues. One of the – maybe obvious – lessons of this course is that there is so much that can be done to change the world, so many well know solutions to existing problems, and so many people already changing it – who just need to be joined.
Well, I have seen many charities and NGOs here in Moldova, but the one closer to my heart is TEKEDU (I am actually now a proud member of its Advisory Board).
TEKEDU is now out of start-up phase and fully operational, and for Easter it is launching a fund-raising campaign to give a jump-start to its IT training activities in residential schools for children without parental care. Maybe you want to consider giving 20 or 50€ to these guys, and make a little contribution to changing the world.

An abandoned, soviet-times maternity ward

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I was helping out Hospice Angelus the other day when I landed on another planet. The building pictured here used to be a maternity ward in Soviet times – apparently functioning until 1991. Now it is in a pitiful state, and one cannot help but wonder which stories have been lived between these walls, and what happened to those who worked here.

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A glimpse of community life in rural Moldova: Selemet

20131205-152843.jpgA few days ago I was in Selemet, a Moldovan village with a population of about 4000, just about one hour south of Chisinau, in the province of Cimislia.
The occasion was a community event to discuss violence against women, organised by the mayor as a reply to a call from UN Women.
It was inspiring to see many community members – teachers and school directors, social workers, parents, both the christian churches present locally, victims of domestic violence, and even some ‘good model’ husbands and fathers – sitting around a table for a lively discussion about how to do better together to combat violence against women and girls.
After the round table discussion, we met the kids of the local kindergarten who sang for us some heartbreaking songs about parents leaving the kids behind to go find work abroad. Very many of them raised their hands when asked who had a parent or both abroad – most having left to Italy and Russia.
Their kindergarten was surprisingly spacious, colourful and well-equipped, thanks to the initiatives of several organisations, including the Norway-Moldova association who had just financed the restoration of the building.
I always have the feeling that there is so much positive energy in this country – so much to do, and so many willing to give their best.

The tragedy of orphanages

In the last few days I learnt more about the work of Lumos, a UK-based charity funded by J.K. Rowling which operates in Moldova and other Eastern European countries. In Moldova it has some 20 staff. When you want to volunteer or contribute to making a change in Moldova, it is quite inevitable to come across orphanages and many other organisations working to help them do better. The peculiarity of Lumos is that it is not trying to make orphanages a better place, but to make them disappear – to be replaced by community-based services providing children with tailored care. This is based on many years of research that proved that orphanages are much more damaging for the health and wellbeing of children than less expensive alternatives.
This 10-minute TED talk by Lumos CEO Georgette Mulheir, “The tragedy of orphanages”, tells you a story of courage and committment.

Providing IT tools and training to orphanages: TEKEDU

Today I met the guy behind TEKEDU, an interesting start-up with the ambitious goal to provide donated computers and IT training to all orphanages in Moldova, as a way to empower the kids staying there and helping them find their opportunities in life.

TEKEDU is still busy with preliminary research and not yet in roll-out phase, but the young people behind the project seem to have thought through their ideas. I came across them on Twitter, started following them, they followed me back and then contacted me to offer me help with my own projects. Soon they’ll start collecting donation PCs and other IT equipment, they’ll have them fixed by a network of volunteers, and then distribute them together with computer tables, software and appropriate IT training to the 60-something orphanages across the country.

I offered them my help with communication – so expect to see more about them, either here or on my Twitter feed!

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