Yesterday all of us in Peace Corps/Albania Group 18 received our permanent assignments. We won’t begin the assignments for a few weeks yet, but the suspense is over!
I am incredibly excited about my placement: I will be in the capital city of Tirana working for US AID (U.S. Agency for International Development) on its Planning and Local Government Project (PLGP). A few weeks ago, the PLGP project director gave a presentation about the program to our Community and Organizational Development group and I was really impressed and excited to learn about the work they are doing.
In the not-too-distant future I will blog in detail about the project and what it is working to accomplish. For now I’ll simply say that emerging from Communism has been a struggle in Albania. People are 1) very skeptical about and mistrustful of government and authority; 2) not used to voicing their opinions about what they want; and 3) not used to the idea of paying for things that used to be provided by the government and, as a result, resist paying utility bills, taxes and the like. The Catch-22 in this situation is that municipalities without tax revenue can’t provide needed services to their citizens and this in turn compounds the sense of “why bother…nothing ever changes.” Local governments have difficulty counteracting the mistrust and inertia of their citizenries and aren’t necessarily skilled in knowing how to attack this problem…and that’s before you throw in some political patronage and a dash of corruption. Welcome to Catch-22 — or maybe Catch-25 or 26 or 27…
This entire situation is compounded by the fact that Albania is attempting to join the European Union and there is a large number of reforms that must by in place before the country can be granted membership. The list of reforms is long, but they reduce to five key areas: public administration, rule of law, corruption, organized crime and fundamental rights. The PLGP project focuses mainly on the area of public administration: helping municipal governments learn how to generate revenues, engage citizenries, provide needed services, etc.
My role in this project is “Peace Corps Liason.” I will work at the US AID office and help coordinate with Peace Corps Volunteers in the PLGP’s partner municipalities. This will entail a wide variety of activities that I won’t detail here — in part because I don’t want to bore you and in part because Peace Corps job descriptions are pretty fluid and my responsibilities are likely to morph even before I arrive in mid-May. What’s important is that I am excited about the project, believe the assignment is a good fit for my skill set and can’t wait to get initiated into the world of international development.
Nearly all of my compatriots in the COD sector are pleased with their permanent placements — both in terms of location and actual assignment. I think that the COD program staff did an amazing job of finding opportunities that play to people’s strengths and interests and it’s exciting to experience the collective enthusiasm of the group.
More to follow soon…