November 27, 2014

Salut, Balti: How One Peace Corps Volunteer is Helping Her Community Rethink Volunteering

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Leah Kieff ’11 is participating in an initiative in Balti, Moldova as a Peace Corps volunteer. Photo courtesy of Peace Corps.

Peace Corps volunteer Leah Kieff, 25, of Fairfax, Va., has been serving as a Community Development volunteer in Moldova since June 2013. Kieff is working with her community to encourage youth volunteerism through the Salut, Balti! initiative. She graduated from the University of Mary Washington in 2011 with her bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Philosophy. We did a Q&A with her to learn all about Salut, Balti! and its impact on the community. Bottom line: Peace Corps volunteers do really awesome things!

Q: Where is your Peace Corps site?

A: I live in Balti, Moldova. There are about 150,000 people who live in Balti. For the U.S., it would be a pretty small city. In Moldova however, Balti is the second largest city and it’s sometimes referred to as the northern capital.

Q: Can you describe it?

A: I love my site! When I was first placed here, it wasn’t what I expected for Peace Corps because I was in a city. Now I think of Balti as the absolute BEST city in Moldova. Balti offers me all the advantages of being in the capital – restaurants, grocery stores, gyms, English speakers – without the over-crowded hustle. I also love being in a city with so many active NGOs. I feel like I have an unmatched ability to make a difference on a large scale!

Q: What sorts of volunteer activities are you doing?

A: I love all of my work in Moldova from planting trees, to writing business plans for social enterprise applications with my NGO, to working at a food booth fundraiser, but my particular favorites are giving trainings in Romanian and marketing for fundraisers.

Q: What is Salut, Balti?

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Leah Kieff ’11 presents her initiative in the city of Balti. Photo courtesy of Peace Corps.

A: The project is called Salut, Balti!, which translates to Hello, Balti. In June 2013, Moldova’s national government passed an extensive piece of legislation on volunteering. Among other things, the law stipulates that each of the major cities in Moldova implement a municipal wide volunteer initiative. In August, two other Peace Corps Volunteers in Balti and I began working with the mayor’s office on implementing their volunteer program.

Q: What is the goal?

A: The goal of Salut, Balti! is to promote volunteering in Balti. While this may sound like a simple or perhaps unnecessary task to someone from Northern Virginia, it’s far from simple here. Salut, Balti! offers anyone in Balti a chance to gain skills and to make their community a better place.

Salut, Balti! works as a medium to bridge civil society and local government and assist them in meeting their common goals. The program also offers a chance for youth to gain skills, empowerment, and engagement in their community.

Q: What progress is Salut, Balti! making?

A: The first concrete work of this project was youth trainings implemented over three weekends in November. These youth trainings invited two students from every high school in Balti to be trained on leadership, volunteering, and project management. Over the course of three weekends, we trained over 50 youth. After the trainings, the youth formed project teams, got assigned a mentor, and completed a community project of their choice and design.

These youth work diligently with their mentors and we saw all except one team complete a project within three months. At the end of the three months, we held an event to celebrate the work of the youth and to offer them a chance to continue to stay involved in Salut, Balti’s work.

Q: How is the community involved in the project?

A: To ensure that there would be organizations that were equipped to handle and effectively use the volunteers, we also held a training for NGOs. During the workshop, we offered sessions on how to recruit, train, retain, and reward volunteers. The training was attended by more than 20 representatives from local NGOs and was also covered in the local media.

Salut, Balti now has an office at the municipal government building with resources for local volunteers. The project has successfully placed many youth with organizations in need and currently we are working on a website that will offer a volunteer matching service.

Q: Why should people consider Peace Corps?

A: I would recommend the Peace Corps to anyone who wants the chance to help change the world in a small way. It’s for anyone who wants a job where every day, every week brings new challenges, new funny stories, and more lost in translation moments than most people accrue in a lifetime.

To learn more about the project, check out Salut, Balti! on Facebook: facebook.com/SalutBalti

Article and photos courtesy of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office of  the Peace Corps. 

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