Monday, May 9, 2011

Secondary Projects

In PC lingo, a “secondary project” is any project that falls outside of one’s primary program goals and partnerships.  In my case, that would be anything outside of the health education domain.

Most, if not all, PCVs worldwide have secondary projects.  For many, in fact, secondary projects often become primary projects, if not formally at least in the amount of time they take up.  There are a number of reasons for this.  First, it’s often unclear where a program ends and a secondary project begins.  At my site, for example, my work at the mayor’s office and the soup kitchen are both outside of the primary assignments at the school and health center that the HESC program manager set up for me.  But both include a significant health promotion component.  So is it primary, or secondary?

Second, the very nature of long-term intensive grassroots work in rural communities is such that the partnerships Peace Corps arranges for a PCV before they get there are often not the most fruitful collaborations.  Sometimes the organization doesn’t have two years of work, sometimes the local counterpart didn’t fully understand that a PCV normally means more work, or sometimes everybody just agrees there’s a different local organization the PCV can better help.  Peace Corps understands this, and it’s one of the reasons the organization is flexible and encourages secondary projects as a way to find the best uses for one’s time.

Finally, contrary to popular opinion, PCVs are human beings, and few human beings find total life fulfillment in their work life.  It just so happens that PC is so all-life encompassing that just about any non-work non-familial social activity is likely to be a secondary project, whether it’s playing basketball with community members or playing with kids at the pre-school.

There are two main categories of secondary activities: the kind one does at site, and the country wide Peace Corps activities.  Posts tend to have a number of these activities, which are run by volunteers and tend to focus on key national level development priorities.

Besides working at the soup kitchen and mayor’s office, I’ve also been working on a number of the country wide initiatives.  It’s fun to work with other volunteers, as it so often seems much more straightforward and there’s no language barrier.  At this level, my main secondary activities have been the Gender Workgroup (GWG), the Small Project Assistance Program (SPA), Girls Leading Our World (GLOW), and Haiducii.

GLOW is a global Peace Corps girls empowerment program based around summer camps that was started by volunteers in Romania in 1995.  Most (if not all) Peace Corps posts (countries) have a GLOW program run by volunteers for young women of the host country.  The traditional format is a summer camp, but as these are very expensive and reach a limited audience, GLOW Moldova has been experimenting with a new format this year by teaching short day seminars that are hosted in interested communities when requested by a local organization.  The topics run a gamut of topics that if predictable, are also highly important: leadership, human trafficking, alcohol/traffic, career development.  Seminars are for girls and young women exclusively, and all topics are couched within the general framework of building the leadership potential and aspirations of future generations of women.  I’ve helped teach two of these seminars so far, and consider it one of the most important projects PC Moldova supports, event though it’s technically “secondary.”

The Gender Workgroup is a collection of Moldova PCVs also organizing around gender and sexual identity issues.  So far, most of our work has been with Gender Doc-M, Moldova’s only queer organization.  I’ll probably be helping organize some safer sex seminars for Gender Doc next month.  It’s also an excellent example of the blurred line between primary and secondary projects, as well as demonstrative of the enjoyment that can come from secondary activities.  For me, it’s an example to pursue a personal interest (queer issues) and be involved with the local community – a small door to my village sized closet at site.

SPA is perhaps the most interesting of my various secondary activities.  SPA is basically a grant making body specifically for PCV supported projects, i.e. local initiatives that have a PCV working with them as a primary work assignment.  The money is actually from USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development), but the nature of the agreement between PC and USAID effectively allows each post to administer its SPA funds independently.  In practice, this means posts decide who gets the money while making sure that grants meet USAID standards and reporting the results to the local USAID mission.  Posts differ on how much funding they receive and how grants are reviewed.  In Moldova, we have a committee of three staff plus one PCV from each program.  Thus, for two years, I will be the HESC volunteer on the committee.

Worldwide, the SPA program exists to:
To increase the capabilities of local communities to conduct low-cost, grassroots sustainable development.  The SPA Grant Program supports the efforts of local communities to carry out projects that address their own priorities…Projects should include a clear training or capacity-building component.
SPA Moldova has an annual budget of $54,000.  To remain consistent with the emphasis on small sustainable projects, grants are capped at $3,000 and require at least 25% community funding.  We just wrapped up the grant-making period of the year, humorously referred to as the “SPA season” due to the relaxing nature of 8 hour Saturdays spent interviewing applicants and debating the merits of various projects.  While meetings have been exhausting, I’ve found this to be excellent experience for a post-PC career in international development and have learned a lot about how to facilitate better grant writing by “kicking the tires” of the applications we’ve reviewed.  And believe me, when working in a developing country, even when a PCV has been intimately involved in putting together a grant project, it’s amazing what will fall off when you kick the tires.

Lastly, there is Haiducii (pronounced Hi-do-chi).  Probably the coolest of my groups, Haiducii – which is a Robin Hood like character in Balkan folklore – is an injustice-fighting band of superheroes who go around Moldova teaching teamwork and leadership skills to youth through outdoor teambuilding activities (the type common in U.S. summer camps and low ropes courses).  We won’t really ramp up until the summer season, but as a throw back to my Boy Scout days, I’m looking forward to this group.  It involves lots of hitchhiking around Moldova, but then, isn’t that how Robin Hood travelled too?

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