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Our travel to Moldova at the turn of October coincided with a national rally of pensioners against the increase of public transport prices and the celebrations on the occasion of the International Day for the Elderly on October first.
We Tania Markova and Anelia Zaharieva, landed at Chisinau airport in the late afternoon of September 30th, where received a cordial welcome from Alexandra Grajdian and her husband. Alexandra is the executive director of Woman and Child Protection and Support NGO, who are GIP's partners in a MATRA Clusters - funded project for the development of a pedagogical service for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN). From them we learned the latest gossips on the political and social situation in Moldova such as the massive altercations in Criuleni on the previous day and how the mayor had been beaten. A couple of months after Moldova's ruling Communist party was defeated in snap polls by four parties seeking closer ties with the West, which formed a new ruling majority in parliament, the political impasse in Moldova was far from over. All people, whom we met during our short stay, expressed their concerns and apprehensions about the future of the country.
On the next day Alexandra took us to the Regional Municipal Council of Criuleni, where we had an appointment with: Simon Dumitrou Chairman of the Regional Council, Grigori Savin Secretary of the Regional Council and Vladimir Soltanich Director of the Department of Public Education with the Regional Council. On entering the imposing building, Tania and I could sense a whiff of totalitarianism, thus invariably reminding us of Bulgaria's communist past: the dark corridors, the historical faces grimly looking from the faded portraits on the walls
In the course of the meeting, Mrs. Grajdian rendered an account of the project's progress, the accomplishments and problems, encountered during the implementation of the initiative for children with SEN. Then a cascade of pompous words and lavish pledges of good will followed. The local authorities effusively expressed their enthusiasm and thorough support for the social initiatives in the region. They announced the good news that the World Bank had granted 500 000 dollars to the Moldovan FIS (Social Investment Fund). The FIS, on its turn, had promised to give a part of this amount to the Criuleni Regional Council and thus they would insure the sustainability of the services established by Mrs. Grajdian.
We proposed to develop and expand the scope of the initiative, making use of the resources of the European Commission, encompassing a larger target group of children from the vulnerable groups. The idea envisaged the establishment of resource centres for integration of young people at risk on the basis of existing municipal structures the so-called psycho-pedagogical councils. If the initiative proved successful, it could be a pilot model for the entire country. The opportunity was put forward on the next day to representatives of the Ministry of Education.
The meeting with the local authorities ended on friendly terms with energetic handshakes (see photo).
Then we had a walk in the town, visiting the community youth center modern and well-equipped, but devoid of inhabitants at that moment, and the abandoned arts center for children, which was mooted for a house of the planned pedagogical service for young people at risk. Alexandra proudly recounted about the soonest opening of an inclusive kindergarten established after another initiative of hers. Thereby she envisaged to "close the cycle", i.e. to cover all age groups starting from the youngest with the kindergarten, then embracing the adolescents by way of the youth centre and the resource centre for children with SEN, and, of course the future upgrade of the existing pedagogical councils, and ending with the complex for elderly people the next stop of our trip. Being a small area with less than 9 000 people, we were pleasantly surprised at what we saw in Criuleni both in terms of number and quality of services.
Photo: Complex for elderly people, comprising a shelter and a day care center with a public canteen where poor old people from the community can eat without pay.
We were fascinated by the users of the center for elderly people, who did not look like peevish unhappy geezers. They had not lost the sparkle in their eyes and were flashing beaming toothless smiles at us, friendly inviting to their rooms and naughtily posing for pictures with Tania and me. Contrary to our expectations about such places, we were not led into shabby smelly dwellings but entered orderly, clean and cosy rooms. The staff, totalling 11 people, including supporting personnel, seemed to be highly motivated with a genuine enthusiasm for work.
Photo's: Festivities for the International Day of the Elderly
Tania and I were very grateful to Alexandra and her husband who took us for a car ride in the countryside along the picturesque banks of the Dniester river, which was spanned by several bridges, linking Dubasari district to the self-proclaimed republic of Transnistria. Our hosts told us that, although it sprawled at a stone's throw from us, we could not pass the military guarded check points without the necessary permits and, even so, we faced heavy odds. There was a tinge of fear and maybe paranoia in the voice of Alexandra's husband. He stopped me from making photographs for fear of infuriating the armed security and accusing us of spying. Later on, when we met Lyudmila Borodina and Larisa Gorbatenko representatives of organisations providing services for children with SEN in Tiraspol, who came especially to see us and talk about the possibilities for future cooperation, they assured us that it was not that difficult to cross the border. We "only" had to fill out forms and got our passports scanned, and to write the purpose of the visit and the duration of stay in hours (but not more than a day), and possibly fill up a customs declaration, and they Larisa and Lyudmila, would come to guarantee for us. Well, even before Bulgaria's admission to the European Union, passing of a foreign border at the airport seemed to me a far easier affair.
Photo: Meeting with Agnesa Eftodi Director of the Directorate for pre-University Education with Ministry of Education, Domnika Ginu Manager of the Secretariat of the National Council for child rights protection, and representatives of the Alliance of NGOs active in domain of social protection of children and family
By Anelia Zaharieva