(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program blog; the views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nice Work if You Can Get It

A friend emailed me, “I read about all your travels in your blog.  Are you really working?” Well, as Fred Astaire sings, “Nice work if you can get it.” 

I am teaching Masters courses in NGO Program Evaluation and Juvenile Delinquency Rehabilitation (teaching a family therapy model used effectively with juvenile offenders), and doing guest lectures in Qualitative Research, Social Work Management, and Social Work and Social Economy (their version of Social Entrepreneurship).

My Office: Facultatea de Sociologie şi Asistenţă Socială
While I thought my course expectations and assignments were modest, my expectations that students attend class, that they read the assignments, and that they apply the course concepts in service learning activities in local NGOs, are far from the reality of students who balance work obligations with their educational aspirations.  Because of the economic situation in Romania, students are very discouraged about their future as social service professionals.  The jobs are few, the work stressful, and the pay is low.  I think the best thing I am doing in class is to invite practicing social service workers to provide case studies of class concepts and talk about what they do.

I have encountered challenges in accommodating to the culture of higher education here.  The government cut all state employees’ pay by 25%, including all professors in higher education, in order to comply with IMF standards.  So I have come during a time a great stress, and many faculty members seem extremely busy, unavailable, and discouraged. In addition to enduring a pay cut, most of them teach two or three overload courses, unpaid. The junior faculty members have enthusiastically welcomed me. I recently moved into their office, which increased access to the internet, printer, copy machine, office supplies, and the espresso machine.  I have to ask for the help or advice that I need, while at the same time being respectful not to make more work for them.

A second dimension to my work is meeting staff of NGOs to learn about their mission, program activities and impact.  I am averaging about one NGO visit each week. I have met some very effective NGOs and some highly energetic, committed staff.
o      Caritas Cluj, a social service agency sponsored by the Greco-Roman Orthodox Church, has six programs: social work, disaster relief, home health care support, medical supplies for older people, drug intervention, and after school tutoring program.
o      Association Benone was developed to advocate for fair treatment and provide support to children with AIDS contracted during the late 80s due to improper needle practices; under Communism, because of medical supply shortages, they would vaccinate entire classrooms at school with a single needle. 
o      Foundation Light in the Darkness provides after school tutoring to rural Roma children. 
o      The Little People Romania has developed play therapy rooms in four pediatric cancer treatment hospitals where volunteers bring some joy to children in treatment.  Beyonce visited their program in Bucharest before she opened her European tour.
o      ProVobis: The National Volunteer Center of Cluj develops volunteer centers that link willing volunteers with NGOs who need help. I visited the Cluj office and the Sighisoara office.

Senator William Fulbright, the founder of the Fulbright program, said the purpose of the exchange program is “Fostering empathy between cultures,” so the third dimension of my job description is to experience and understand the culture.  Our living situation is perhaps the most culturally enriching aspect of our stay here. Nancy wanted to experience a home stay, and I wanted a space we could call our own.  We have the best of both: we rented an apartment from a retired couple, Cornel and Lucia, whom we talk with in Romanian everyday. We have been invited to several family gatherings, where we have enjoyed traditional Romanian home cooking cooked on a wood burning stove. They live in the middle of town, but their entire yard is an orchard, garden and chicken farm. Older Romanians grew their own fruits and vegetables to deal with food shortages during the Communist era, and this retired couple continue this custom. They have shared homemade fruit jams, juices, and pickled vegetables. We helped them harvest their grapes and pressed the grape juice; Cornel makes homemade wine, and Lucia turns her half into grape juice.  We can hardly wait for Cornel to share.

My weekend travels are also part of the third dimension of my job description: part of learning about the history and culture of Romania.  Like the song says, “Nice work if you can get it.”

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