(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.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Reflections at the half-way point

I was asked to contribute to the alumni magazine of my home university.  Their questions offered me a chance to reflect on my time here in Romania.  I went through my blog posts and looked at the themes that have emerged in the past five months.  
-Why Romania?

It all began with the St. Mary's in Madrid program.  My wife, Nancy, was Program Director of the St. Mary's Madrid program in 2000, and I took a developmental leave to accompany her.  We moved the whole family to Madrid and had a wonderful experience.  Ten years later the time was right for another international experience for our family, so I looked at the Fulbright Scholar program for opportunities to live and work abroad.

I chose Romania because the state of social services seemed to fit best with my skills and experiences with social service agencies in San Antonio.  For the past ten years I have been involved with efforts to improve fragmented services for children and families.  In Romania for the past ten years, development has focused on governmental advocacy, legislation, external funding, and organizational capacity. My proposal focuses on "downstream" development and provides assistance with direct services, outcome assessment, and developing sustainable partnerships with other organizations.

-What do you hope to accomplish there?

The five courses that I proposed to teach will give students the skills to improve services to children and families in Romanian social service agencies.  In addition, I proposed to offer an organizational development workshop for local social service organizations on strategic planning and organizational development.  Since I arrived in Romania, I have been meeting representatives of social service agencies to assess the needs for organizational development.  I am trying to put together a workshop in the spring that will bring together corporate social responsibility leaders from the world of business and leaders from the social service world to understand how to create sustainable partnerships.

-What can students learn from your work in Romania?

I am always telling my students to find a need and fill it with the skills in counseling and family therapy that they learn in our graduate program.  People who are concerned about needs in the Romanian society are creating institutions of social service from the ground up. My students can learn about how all the services to solve human problems can fit together, and then learn how well the services serve the needs of their clients.  By taking a big picture view of social services in the San Antonio area, we can improve services for children and families.

-What have you learned so far in Romania?

Probably the biggest thing I've learned in Romania is the legacy of communism in the daily life of average Romanians.  We rent an apartment from a retired couple next door, and, typical of families during the food shortages during Communism, every square inch of the large yard is devoted to growing food.  Our dining table looks out on a large grape arbor and an apple orchard.  We helped the family harvest and press the grapes, and enjoyed their fresh homemade wine when it was ready.  Around the back of the house are more fruit trees (apple, pear, cherry), and vegetable gardens with broccoli, potatos, celeriac, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers.  And chickens!  The back corner of the back yard has a chicken coop and we get fresh eggs every week.  In December, the family killed the pig that they had raised, and their small kitchen, complete with wood-burning stove, was filled to capacity with pork.  A neighbor smoked the pork roasts and sausages that they made, and we have enjoyed tasty meals courtesy of our "host family." 

Another legacy of communism is that bureaucracy is a fact of daily life in Romania.  Every transaction with a public institution requires a number of signatures and stamps, all requiring waiting in lines at widely scattered windows.  Getting money from the local bank to pay the monthly rent requires five steps, and I’ve gotten the time down from 90 minutes to 20 minutes of waiting in line.  I have found that many social service agencies must employ one full-time social worker exclusively to attend to all the reports and forms that the bureaucratic funding agencies require. The idea of starting new initiative in social services to meet the needs of Romanian society is strangled by the bureaucratic burden.

Another legacy of communism is an appreciation of one's religious faith after it was illegal for so many years.  My wife, Nancy, came home from church one day commenting, "How many American churches have pictures
in the lobby of their former priests who were martyred for their faith?"  In the foyer of the church are portraits of former priests beside their prison identity card photos.  Priests were some of the most consistent opponents of the Communist regime, and the Sighet prison, one of the most notorious political prisons in Romania, was the largest monastery in Romania during communism. 
During Christmas, several of our Romanian friends commented how their family would go into the basement, cover all the windows and sing Christmas carols. At the winter concert of the Cluj Opera, the finale was a retired clarinetist who played traditional Romanian carols. Afterward our Romanian friends told us that in their winter concert in 1980, the artist, Dumitru Farcas, closed the concert with an arrangement of a traditional Romanian folk carol, "O, ce veste minunata"  (O, what wonderful news), the first time it had been played publicly in 40 years. He got into considerable trouble for his act of defiance, but at the time the audience silently stood out of respect for the song and its sentiment. 

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