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Jenna Tajchman helps families and youth in Moldova

Staff writer

Jenna Tajchman, a Lincolnville native, recently completed a two-year mission to the Republic of Moldova under the auspices of the Peace Corps. She served for 27 months including three months of training. She arrived in September 2007 and returned home in November.

It wasn’t her first experience abroad. She spent a summer in the Czech Republic while attending Kansas State University.

“I loved it and decided I wanted to work abroad, preferably in Eastern Europe, when I finished my education,” she said.

After graduating from Centre High School in 2002, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness in 2005 and a master’s degree in agricultural economics in 2007.

Tajchman, who had no knowledge of a second language, jumped at the chance to work with agriculture and business development in Moldova.

As a member of the Peace Corps, her mission was to teach Moldovans about Americans and to learn about the country and culture of Moldova. Upon her return, she is expected to teach Americans about Moldova.

“Personally, I wanted to learn more about a little-known country as well as learn more about myself and share my education to improve the lives of Moldovans,” she said. “Furthermore, I wanted to continue to develop new personal and professional skills.”

A former Soviet state, Moldova is a small country between Ukraine and Romania in Eastern Europe. Although much of the country has rich, black soil, it is considered the poorest country in Europe.

An elected Communist Party led Moldova from 2001 until July, when a coalition of democratic parties won a majority in the parliament.

Serving as an agriculture and rural business volunteer, Tajchman’s primary assignment was to work with a non-governmental agricultural organization that disseminated information to farmers and other agriculturalists.

She lived in Straseni, a city of 20,000 located 20 miles from Chisinau, the capital city. She assisted 10 local farm consultants with university degrees, who live and work in surrounding villages.

In that region, the main produce are grapes for table use and wine; vegetables — mostly tomatoes and cucumbers; fruit — apples, peaches, and plums; and walnuts. Small grains are produced by hand on small plots.

Tajchman helped the farm leaders set up plots to demonstrate new production technologies. She also provided basic computer training for them.

“I found that a 50-year-old Moldovan farmer can become just as frustrated with a computer as a 50-year-old American farmer!” she said.

One of her favorite projects was working with a youth organization consisting of approximately 30 members ranging in age from 14 to 27.

With a grant from the U.S. embassy in Moldova, Tajchman and a Moldovan partner prepared them to go out and educate the youth in the region for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

“These students are amazing and it gives me hope for the future of Moldova!” she said.

Developing an idea

A man from a neighboring town approached Tajchman about how to help an impoverished village in the region. She decided to help him implement a rabbit project to improve their income. Together, they formed a beneficiary group composed of families whose average income was less than $100 a month.

Tajchman secured money through fundraising in the U.S., and she and her partner trained the participants in rabbit production practices. In August, they purchased 70 rabbits and distributed them to 14 families, to breed, raise, and cooperatively sell the rabbits for meat. Each family must raise and pass along to another family in the village the same number of rabbits it received.

Tajchman didn’t jump right into these activities. First, she had to overcome the language barrier. Upon arrival, she completed 10 weeks of intensive instruction in Romanian, the official language of the country. She learned the basic language skills that allowed her to function.

After she was sent to her assigned area, the only person she could speak English with was the English teacher at the high school. Therefore, she was forced to speak Romanian at home with her host family, at work, and when interacting with the locals.

“It was difficult at first, but after two years, I was able to accomplish nearly any task while speaking in Romanian,” she said.

Although some people were suspicious of Tajchman’s purpose in Moldova, most Moldovans were open and hospitable.

Tajchman learned that food plays a large part in their culture. Any celebration is accompanied by a “very large meal” called a masa. At a masa, the women place many plates of food on the table, and the meal begins when someone gives a toast, usually with homemade wine. People often stay together, eating and drinking, for hours.

“There were times when families who could barely clothe their children insisted that I eat with them,” Tajchman said. “It was hard to eat their food knowing that they needed it far more than me, but refusing would undoubtedly have hurt their feelings. The people with the least often had the biggest hearts. Meeting these individuals is what makes development work enjoyable.”

One of her most memorable experiences was meeting the mayor of the capital city. He was elected at age 29 and has been a progressive force in what was a communist government. Tajchman said if he continues down his current path, he will undoubtedly become president once he reaches age 40.

Tajchman said her Internet connection in Moldova was about five times faster than her current connection in northern Marion County. She stayed in touch with family and friends through e-mail and used Skype to video chat with them. The program allows free calls between computers.

“The ease of communication made being abroad easier for everyone,” she said.

The standard of living

Tajchman lived with a host family the first eight months in Moldova. She said they have a comfortable house but still use an outhouse. They do have indoor running water, but many families do not. The city does not have a central water or sewage system, though there are remains of a system that did work in the Soviet era.

After the country gained its independence, the land was divided up among the population. Many received plots of two to three acres or so. Every man had an opportunity to become a farmer.

Most families practice subsistence agriculture, having yards devoted to growing vegetables rather than lawns even in cities. Furthermore, most families have chickens, and some have milk cows and pigs.

Industrial agriculture does exist in Moldova, but it is far from being fully developed, Tajchman said. Moldova is not a member of the European Union, though it aspires to join.

A large economic disparity exists, which can be seen by watching a Mercedes and a horse-drown cart travel down the same road.

“Moldovans are intelligent, capable people; unfortunately, most of the best and brightest have left for better-paying jobs abroad,” Tajchman said. “The country is experiencing a brain drain which is hindering its growth. Despite these setbacks, the people continue to hope and work for a brighter future.”

Tajchman is the daughter of Joe and Barbara Tajchman of Lincolnville. She is enjoying a short stay at home while being temporarily employed at Agri Producers, Inc., in Tampa.

Because she enjoyed her Peace Corps experience and living abroad, she would like to work in international agricultural development in the future.

“I also would like to work with U.S.-Moldovan relations with respect to agriculture and/or business development, if possible,” she said.

Peace Corps recruits individuals starting at age 18. There is no upper age limit.

“If an open-minded person is looking for a two-year adventure, Peace Corps may be for them,” Tajchman said. “It truly is an experience of a lifetime!”

Last modified Dec. 17, 2009

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