As I near the halfway point of my stay, I thought I would give a quick recap of my experience here in Macedonia.
Things that I love about Macedonia:
1) Ohrid: If you ever have the chance to visit Macedonia, be sure to visit Ohrid. There’s a reason why the locals rave about this town. You won’t be disappointed.
2) Relatively little hooliganism: I’m not sure what the situation is like in the rest of Macedonia, but the soccer team here in Bitola isn’t great. That’s not to say that there isn’t some skinhead graffiti around town. On the whole, however, Bitolans seem much more passionate about handball, and I’m not aware of any handball hooliganism in the area.
3) The people: Macedonians are incredibly friendly. This is nice when traveling in a country that is just getting used to dealing with tourists. I’d probably be somewhere in Albania right now had some kind-hearted locals not given me directions when I was walking around Struga yesterday.
Things that I don’t love about Macedonia:
1) The weather: Ok, it isn’t fair to single out Macedonia because there’s been a heat wave across Europe, but the high temperature has been above 100˚ F. for my entire stay. Unfortunately, we can’t have air conditioners at work because the YCC office is located in a historic building and the city will fine us if we put anything in the windows. Needless to say, it’s been hot.
2) Fear of drafts: This complaint is tied to the recent heat wave. Ordinarily, I’m pretty good about respecting cultural differences, but my tolerance was tested a week ago when I took a bus (sans air conditioning) to Skopje. There is a superstition here in Macedonia that drafts carry some sort of evil spirit. Some people, typically older Macedonians, take this threat very seriously. Evidently, an older woman on my bus did, and during pit stops she would close all of the windows on the bus. She then yelled at me when I opened the tiny window next to my seat, which I considered the only thing saving me from a trip to the hospital. I tried to explain to her that I would take evil spirits over heat stroke any day. She didn’t buy it.
One of the biggest surprises for me is that young people here in Bitola are really enthusiastic about volunteering. In fact, YCC’s main problem is that it struggles to keep up with the demand. In order to provide more long-term volunteer opportunities, the YCC is trying to build relationships with local institutions and businesses. We are also waiting for a new law on volunteerism to be passed in the parliament, which will likely happen by the end of the week. The YCC was one of the principal NGOs to lobby for this legislation, and we all hope that this new law will add some legitimacy to our cause. Presently, many institutions are skeptical of our work, and volunteerism is usually viewed by the public as a way to dodge labor laws not as a way to do something good for the community. It’s also difficult for Macedonians to understand why anybody would want to volunteer when the unemployment rate is hovering around 37%. As is often the case, we pesky adults are the ones who are most cynical of new ideas.
This is where I come in. I am currently working on two big projects for the YCC to introduce YCC’s message to new target groups. The first project I will be working on is planning the festivities for Macedonia’s participation in Global Youth Service Day 2008. I haven’t ironed out the specifics just yet, but what we have come up with so far is a two-day event. On the first day, volunteers will take part in various service-learning activities across Macedonia. On the second day, we will host a festival in Skopje to highlight volunteerism in Macedonia, and the volunteers who participated in our activities from the previous day will be invited to celebrate their work. Tasty barbecue and beverages will be provided.
I would like to use this event to reach out to new groups of volunteers. Right now, most of the volunteers at the YCC are teenagers whom I would categorize as part of the “alternative” crowd, complete with dreadlocks and guitars. Watch out senior citizens and families with young children! You’re on my target list.
This event will also present a nice opportunity to reach out to businesses in the area. That way sponsors will be able to get some good PR, and we will be able to introduce them to the idea of corporate volunteerism.
The second event that I will be working on is the establishment of an annual fundraiser for a local school for children with special needs. Again, planning for this event is in the beginning stages, but I would like to use this event to get members from the business community involved in our work, not just as donors and but also as volunteers. Thus, I will likely pair a volunteer action, perhaps a holiday party for the kids, with a more traditional black-tie fundraiser later on in the evening. I am optimistic that once we start building relationships with members of the business community, some of the misconceptions about NGOs, i.e., that NGOs are just a scam to steal money from the public, will go away.
Posted By Katie Wroblewski (Macedonia)
Posted Jul 2nd, 2014