History of the Peace Corps in Macedonia
The Peace Corps received an invitation from the government of Macedonia in March 1996 to initiate and develop a program. By the beginning of June 1996, the first group of seven trainees arrived. They completed training in August and were assigned to the Ministry of Education’s secondary school English education program. Over the next three years, Peace Corps/Macedonia grew to include programs in business, environmental education, and municipal development.
Because of the political unrest in neighboring Kosovo, the Peace Corps program in Macedonia was suspended in 1999. The confusion and tension resulting from the sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Macedonia were simply too great to safely continue Peace Corps operations. The surprisingly quick return of these refugees to Kosovo meant that the Peace Corps was able to resume operations after only a six-month suspension.
Long-standing ethnic tensions, however, began to flare up in the spring of 2001. Grievances between ethnic Albanians and the Macedonian majority led to armed rebellion in several ethnic Albanian-majority communities. The conflict, which was isolated primarily to regions in the north and northwest of the country, became progressively more intense over the next several months. Finally, on July 5, 2001, events on the ground forced the Peace Corps to evacuate its Volunteers and suspend its program. Once again, further development of the Peace Corps program in Macedonia was cut short by political instability in the region.
As the conflict in Macedonia continued, the parties involved conducted extensive negotiations and after several months signed the Lake Ohrid Peace Framework Agreement (Framework Agreement) on August 13, 2001. At the request of both parties, a NATO task force performed disarmament of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army.
The Framework Agreement was confirmed by the Macedonian Parliament on September 26, 2001, and continues to be implemented. The constitution has been amended and laws on local government and amnesty have been passed. Ethnically mixed police forces are working to reintegrate the territory of Macedonia, a task that was monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). National elections took place in September 2002, further confirming the future stability of Macedonia.
After a rigorous safety and security assessment of the situation in Macedonia, the Peace Corps determined that enough stability had been achieved to support the return of the Peace Corps. In November 2002, Peace Corps/Macedonia welcomed the seventh group of Volunteers to continue the contributions of previous Volunteers and their partners to the development of Macedonian communities.
The security situation has improved so much that in January 2004, the European Union’s (EU) military force, Operation Concordia, was replaced by an EU police mission, Proxima, composed of only 200 mostly unarmed EU police. Proxima, in cooperation with the OSCE, completed training and deploying the newly integrated and ethnically mixed Macedonian police force. Proxima officially ended its activities on December 15, 2005. The international community has assessed that Macedonia now has capable security forces that can solve the issues of the country on its own.
Decentralization reforms, especially the Law on Territorial Division that reduced the number of municipalities from the current 124 to 84, were passed in 2005. These reforms decentralized authority to local government for education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other services. Financing these now local-level responsibilities will be critical to the success of this reform.
The peaceful municipal elections of 2005 and the parliamentary elections of 2006 took the country a step closer to membership in NATO and the EU. These memberships eventually will increase regional and international trade ties and political cooperation.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Macedonia
Macedonia’s objectives are to develop a multiethnic democracy; to provide economic opportunities for its citizens; and to move toward NATO and EU integration. Since the country gained its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it has made this integration a top foreign policy goal. A part of this strategy has been to encourage partnerships and cooperation with a wide range of international development organizations. The Peace Corps has worked closely with various government ministries in Macedonia to develop programs that will facilitate the attainment of this goal in several key areas. Since Peace Corps/Macedonia began in 1996, its program comprises two major sectors: English education development, and community development. The latter includes organizational development for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), municipal government, educational institutions, or other local organizations; business development; environmental improvement; youth development; and assistance to vulnerable and disadvantaged group.
The objectives for each of these sectors are outlined in documents called project plans, which have been translated into Macedonian and are used as the basis for discussions with potential sponsors that have requested the assistance of a Peace Corps Volunteer. As in all Peace Corps programs, work is done in collaboration with counterparts to ensure the Peace Corps’ goal of assisting countries to meet their need for trained men and women.
A number of different tasks are listed in each project plan, and you are likely to become involved with several of these tasks in addition to activities in the community. Information provided in the Volunteer Assignment Description (VAD) can be matched with specific tasks of the project plan for your sector. Both the project plan and the VAD explain how you can work with both your hosting organization’s program and the local community. It is up to you, however, to take the first steps to become acquainted with, and involved in, the program.
English language teaching was the original Peace Corps program in Macedonia. There is a need for qualified English teachers at both the primary and secondary school levels, especially in small towns. Until 2005, it was illegal for a foreign national teacher to teach in Macedonian public schools. The law has changed, but the custom continues. As a “resource teacher,” you will be paired with Macedonian teachers to work collaboratively. It would be very rare for you to have your own classroom. Volunteers work with their Macedonian counterparts to promote applicable and current teaching methods and approaches, especially interactive and communicative techniques. Many of the schools where the Peace Corps places Volunteers have limited resources for materials. Volunteers work with Macedonian colleagues and others in the community to develop strategies to improve the educational resources in their schools and communities.
Overall, Volunteers focus on assisting students to improve English writing, reading, and overall communication skills through creative and participatory language learning activities. Volunteers and their Macedonian colleagues have collaborated in many areas. These have included developing supplemental materials to support English language instruction and forming clubs at schools that encourage the use of the English language (writing clubs, drama clubs, an English or American film club, a debate club, and even a music club). Volunteers have also helped develop links among schools, communities, and the world through pen-pal exchanges and by creatively using computer labs and the Internet to enhance the use of information technology (IT). Volunteers are also encouraged to help the community at large, and they have assisted their communities to develop and implement a variety of projects that seek solutions to environmental, health, gender, and other social issues.
Peace Corps Volunteers in the community development program facilitate community development efforts in collaboration with local organizations. The program combines the knowledge and skills of Volunteers and their community partners in identifying common objectives, setting realistic expectations, and reaching informed decisions to address local needs. Volunteers are working with NGOs representing environmental, youth development, disadvantaged groups, women’s groups, and other grassroots organizations at the local level as well as educational institutions and departments of local government. Volunteers help these local organizations develop internally to become sustainable and capable of delivering needed services through organizational and managerial development, increasing project management skills, increasing grant writing and fund raising skills, and increasing networking skills.
In organizations focused on local business development, Volunteers and their local partners conduct market research, prepare business and marketing plans, build networks with the business community, apply better use of information technology, and provide information and advice for local businesses and associations.
In organizations focused on environmental activities, Volunteers and their local partners identify and distribute environmental education materials to schools, youth groups, and NGOS; develop environmental education programs for local organizations; develop and promote environmentally-sustainable practices in forestry, agricultural organizations, and local farmers’ associations; teach environmental classes in the public school system; work with eco-clubs to develop their capacity and improve their activities; participate in community beautification activities; organize community clean-ups; initiate programs for the collection, sorting, and/or recycling of waste; and organize community-oriented environmental awareness projects.
In organizations focused on youth development, Volunteers and their local partners provide information to youth via workshops and printed materials on topics related to social issues and physical and mental well-being, such as fitness, nutrition, prevention of violence, recognizing and handling substance abuse, self-esteem, gender equality, ethnic tolerance, and human rights. Volunteers and their local partners also organize activities that promote tolerance and equal opportunities for underrepresented groups, including those with special needs, the economically disadvantaged, and those from ethnic minorities; promote volunteer community service; and motivate youth to develop strategies and activities for the constructive use of free time.