Tess Cannon:: Macedonia
Today is my two-week anniversary with Skopje, Macedonia! As a present, the weather warmed up a bit and the sun has peaked out to melt the bothersome snow. And although I may still be a bit resentful that my placement is the only one that requires regular winter-wear, I could not be more thrilled with my work and situation here in the FYROM!
Let me back up a bit and describe what I’m doing here in the homeland of Alexander the Great (well- according to Macedonians). I am working with the Primary Education Project (PEP), which is a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) sponsored program, but run by Agency for Education Development (AED) to facilitate educational reform and renovations in Macedonia! There are 5 different components to the project, namely, school renovations, ICT in education, improving math and science, improving assessment, and workforce development. While I’m here, I’m working with two different parts of the Renovation component.
So the first part of my Scope of Work (SOW) is working with environmentally friendly “green schools”. I am currently developing a system of evaluation that is designed to increase communication among schools and promote a bit of (friendly) competition. Last Tuesday I was able to visit one of the schools, located in a rural Albanian suburb of Skopje. Part of what was difficult for me during Tuesday’s visit were the differences between the things that can be evaluated and assessed in the United States and the things that can be done here. To be considered “green” in the U.S., there is a whole list of standards you must comply with, in addition to decreasing energy, heating, and water bills. Oh and to earn the most points, there must be a regional aspect- meaning that the materials used come from within a 100 mile radius. And these are just the standards that I, as a non-science person, actually understand. When I began outlining standards for the Macedonian system, I started with the assumption that these types of statistics would be available. I knew that there were certain technologies that it would not be possible to use here, but never anticipated that the schools would not have their heating or electricity bills on record. Or that because of different factors, they are not usable as quantitative data! So back to square one. I have now written more of a qualitative (shout out to Therese) survey for the schools to fill out after their two-phase face lift (1st phase being the USAID sponsored renovations and 2nd phase being the establishment of Green Clubs inside of the school for smaller changes), to give us an idea of how the money and energy put into their projects have been effectively used… Anyway, it’s all very interesting.
So the second part of my work here in Macedonia is working in Struga, better yet: струга, with a half Macedonian, half Albanian school. I went there yesterday with my immediate boss, Nebo, and another coworker. It was a 2.5 hour drive over a huge mountain, and we literally went through four different seasons, ending up in this beautiful seaside town Lake OHRID (Охрид) that was about 50 degrees with beautiful sun! The school has an interesting history: Because Struga is quite near to the Albanian border, there is a lot of perceived ethnic tension in the area. Although some of them are legitimate as many national problems have risen from the 2001 civil conflict between Albanians and Macedonians, some are only presented as such because it is easier to blame it on such things. As Nebo said , "If I hit a Macedonian, there is no issue, because it's a Macedonian hitting another Macedonian. But if I hit an Albanian, all of a sudden there is ethnic conflict. Sometimes the issues aren't racial, they are personal". So that is the problem in the Macedonian school in Struga. There are two schools on one campus: One with a Macedonian name, one with an Albanian, but the students are not divided on ethnic lines in the two groups. The school asserts that any conflict that happens in the school does not originate there, rather is it the result of outside influences and forces upon the impressionable minds of high school students. USAID is there to build a better fence around the school- what the school themselves decided they needed- and then another organization, the German one that I will be working with, works with the students, parents and teachers themselves to lead discussions about what further actions could be taken to increase the quality of the school environment.
So that’s my work here! On a more personal note, I live in the top floor of a family’s home, with another intern-esque woman, Nive(dita). We cook delicious food every night, ranging from Mexican to Italian and she’s promised to teach me how to cook an Indian brunch before I leave! I’ve toured a bit around the city and even gotten a taste of the nightlife, as my coworkers have been incredibly hospitable and are always inviting me out to lunch or for salsa dancing nights!
I’ve also had a bit of time to start learning Macedonian. I’ve learned the Cyrillic alphabet- mostly from American TV shows with subtitles, and am beginning to be able to put short sentences together: He is boring, she is beautiful, I am tired, etc. It’s not much, but I like learning languages and am proud of my progress!
For further information about my work and personal experience in Skopje, please visit my blog website: www.tessinmacedonia.blogspot.com
So here I am. My winter wear that I resented upon arrival is long packed away, my Macedonian language exceeding any and all personal expectations and I was told last week by a local, “You know enough about our country to get a Macedonian passport”. I’m not quite sure that’s true, but I accept the compliment with pride as I look back at the wealth of knowledge, personally, academically, and professionally I have acquired over the past few months here in Skopje.
I mentioned in my first reflection that I was working with Green Schools. My involvement with the environmental friendly skole ending up scrapping my idea of a qualitative evaluation system as many of the schools were unable to provide data or figures from which one could properly and fairly asses schools, and instead resigning their website and creating “project profiles” for the four pilot schools that are in their second year old Green Clubs now. I figure that since a main part of the evaluation system was for having concrete ways to show improvements done, the profiles will do that same this in a more holistic and qualitative approach. They look not only at decreases in expenditures, but also at changes in students’ behavior and attitudes, teacher-student communication, and student empowerment. Although my role in the Green Clubs has been almost exclusively one of observation, I was moved and inspired by the students involved and am incredibly proud of each of them for the passion and enthusiasm they display.
As I am still not yet done with my internship, I cannot comment on the completion of the second half of my work here, but I have become involved with peer-mediation clubs and organizations working with inter-ethnic dialogue and non-violent communication through the Forum ZFD. It is with this focus where I have discovered a passion. In high school back in Alaska, I worked in this area as a member of the Student for Social Responsibility and Mediation, but have not revisited or connected this interest with my recent world traveling until now. Here, I have discovered the value of education and youth work in social change, especially in the realm of multi-culturalism and inter-ethnic dialogue. In contrast to adults, the students I have observed and met feel passionate and empowered to change the status quo in the way they see their nation being ripped apart. As young as I am, I realize how easily jaded one becomes by society constantly rejecting social change from below, and am even personally inspired by them. And again, very very proud. These kids are amazing.
I’ve begun writing my social analysis paper due at the end of spring quarter. Reason number one for starting so early is my own fantastic forethought that I will probably not want to spend multiple hours in front of a computer during my senior spring quarter, but reason number two that has become much more important since I’ve begun the process has been the perspectives and assistance I have received from friends and colleges. Being so diverse and with ethnicity such a touchy subject, having differing backgrounds and cultures of my proof-readers has made a world of difference.
I will be sad to leave Skopje. I’ve made good friends, started pilates, and now will only eat French fries with sirenja (amazing Macedonian cheese) on them. I’ve established a life. Although I’m excited to go back and join my Seattle U and Alaska communities in the next few months, I look forward to coming back to Macedonia [next time I’m skipping the winter]!
Again, if you want to read more about my experience, please feel free to check out my blog: www.tessinmacedonia.blogspot.com
In peace (and non-violent communication),