Last weekend I took a short train ride to Thessaloniki, Greece, which is the capital of “historical Macedonia” – a nebulous and controversial concept which I don’t have the energy to get into here. (For instance, the Greeks were pretty peeved when Skopje renamed its airport “Alexander the Great” after the Macedonian conqueror, thereby apparently infringing on Greece’s claim to “Macedonia,” however one defines that term.) The city itself was amazing, with incredibly diverse cultural and architectural influences, from ancient Greek to the Byzantine and the Ottoman. (Sadly, thanks to twentieth-century ethnic cleansing, Thessaloniki is now almost entirely Greek, having lost large populations of Jews, Armenians, and Muslims.)
In Greece I met a Peace Corps volunteer who is working in a small village here in Macedonia (and whose family, strangely enough, is from Enid, Oklahoma – about an hour from my hometown). We laughed about the fact that we Americans tend to bum around here without makeup, wearing only flip-flops and the same two grubby t-shirts, while the Macedonian women always dress to the nines and look amazing even in areas where there’s no running water or electricity.
At ESE, I’ve been working on a fundraising and public relations/outreach campaign. This is critical, since (as I’ve mentioned before) NGOs here are often not perceived in a positive light. Consequently, although research has shown that Macedonians give generously to philanthropic causes and to individuals, NGOs have had a hard time tapping into local sources of funding. ESE has been a major pioneer in fundraising, which is a pretty new concept here – the vast majority of funding for local NGOs comes from foreign donors. So it’s great that ESE is leading the way on building sustainable financial operations.
I also recently went to a workshop ESE held for Roma high school students, to discuss the issues of domestic violence and gender equality. It’s depressing to hear these kids say that girls should do whatever their boyfriends say, shouldn’t make their boyfriends jealous by talking to other guys, shouldn’t complain if they “cause trouble” and get beaten for it. This view is widespread in Macedonia, among all ethnic and social groups. It’s very similar to attitudes I encountered while working in Georgia, and I know is common throughout the world. But since in many ways Macedonia is a comparatively developed and “European” country, it’s pretty jarring to hear these ideas spoken so casually and so frequently. Almost inevitably when I mention to someone that I’m working with a women’s rights group, the men will roll their eyes and moan about “feminists,” while women tend to just look confused.
But on the bright side, it was really great to be at this workshop and be able to literally see these kids starting to take in new ideas and challenge old beliefs. It was obvious that many of them had never been given any reason to question the stereotypes and norms–- and that when encouraged to do so, they are extremely thoughtful and perceptive. ESE will follow up with a similar workshop for parents in the next few weeks. It will be interesting to compare the adults’ reactions to the kids’….
Posted By Stephanie Gilbert
Posted Jul 18th, 2007