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Reflections on active citizenship
November 21st, 2016

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Reflections on active citizenship
July 6, 2010
Vincent and Jessica Noth from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, (see picture) are based as Peace Corps volunteers in Cahul, in the south of the Republic of Moldova, formerly one of the states in the Soviet Union.

They are working with Speranţa of Cahul (a local NGO) and the Educational Society for Malopolska (MTO) of Poland to introduce The Village and Public Achievement formats for developing and training practical, grassroots democracy in 18 to 24 communities in Moldova.

Reflections from a U.S. perspective on practical democracy

By Vincent Noth

A young man asked me what I thought about his country the other day. We were sitting at this huge outdoor table with twenty or so Moldovans. There are so many compliments I could’ve said—Moldova’s natural beauty, its local organic food, the hospitality and generosity of the people ... But we had just come from a burial service and, mitigating an inflated view of the US, I said, “I’m amazed at the depth and extent of your traditions. Our culture is so young compared to yours.” Then an old woman sitting a few seats down (that I didn’t know was listening) said, “Yes, but your democracy is much older than ours.”

I rarely thought about the strength of our democracy back home. I was too concerned with what we needed to work on—the under-represented, the disillusioned and the disenfranchised all over our nation. But living in Moldova has made me realize that civic participation was an integral part of my growing up. Whether it was parent-teacher associations raising money for safe playgrounds or neighborhood committees organizing trash pick-up, from the steady flow of volunteers making extra-curricular and church activities function, to condo associations managing common spaces, these were the roots of a culture and a tradition I didn’t really know I had.

A little background …

In April of 2009, political riots broke out in Chisinau, Moldova’s capitol – burning and severely damaging the parliament and presidential buildings. In the same month, coincidently, the Moldovan government made civic education obligatory for all grades. Indeed, the April riots evidence a passion among Moldovans for a stronger democracy.

Yet they also suggest a lack of awareness for how to promote change in that democracy – the very goal of civic education. A wealth of research shows however, that civics book work alone, without students’ participation toward community change, has little, and at times, negative value.

The Moldovan government has taken the positive step of implementing civic education but – especially in a post-Soviet setting – the formal school curriculum needs to be supplemented with extra-curricular programs like The Village and Public Achievement, which already have a remarkable international track-record of empowering students to embody citizenship through action. Speranţa, a small educational NGO, has had thrilling results implementing these programs in the south of Moldova.

(For details about The Village and Public Achievement, please refer to the Programmes section on this site.)

These civic programs will be executed in collaboration with local leaders and will be evaluated in partnership with the Ministry of Education of Moldova to explore an official relationship between civil society organizations and the public schools in order to achieve their many common goals for adolescent civic development.

It is the organisors’ belief that opportunities must be forged for schools and local NGOs to work together towards a more engaged, active and informed society. Programmes like Village and Public Achievement meet the need of the civics teachers and their students who are looking for participatory application. And the classroom curriculum topics provide a natural launch point for civil society organizations with a passion to expose youth to local leadership and citizenship participation.

Hence the drive to promote these programs in more localities in Moldova in order to explore specifically how these formal and informal entities can better work together.

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