Where in the World is the Republic of Moldova?

by Reykha Bonilla
Fall 2007 InGear

Pedals for Progress V.P. Visits Moldovan Partner

2007fallMoldovaPlaneTicketAfter many a raised eyebrow from friends, family, and even the travel agent who booked my ticket when I said I wanted to go to Moldova, I always found myself explaining why I was going there. And then I also ended up explaining where “there” was. Located in Eastern Europe surrounded by Romania and the Ukraine, Moldova is a small, landlocked country about the size of Maryland with a population of 4 million people. It was once a major agricultural producer for the Soviet Union. I headed there on August 13th, 2007, to meet our Moldovan colleagues and see their organization, Rural 21, firsthand.

Town Square in Stefan Voda

Town Square in Stefan Voda

I began the 22-hour trip (11 hours in flight) first flying to Rome, Italy, before arriving the next afternoon in Chisinau (quiche-now) the capital city of Moldova. I was met at the airport there by Andrei Rusanovschi of Rural 21. After communicating only through email over the past two years, I was surprised to find that Andrei was a young man in his 20s, not the older gentleman I pictured for some reason. I was also surprised by his fluency in English as my Romanian is nonexistent.

Leaving the capital, we headed southwest for the town of Stefan Voda, where Rural 21 is located. During the two—hour drive, it was obvious, even with the severe drought this year has brought to Moldova, the worst Since the 1940s, that this country is ideal for farming. On either side of the road were vineyards and endless flat fields of sunflowers, corn, and wheat.

In the early evening, we arrived in Stefan Voda at the Rural 21 office in the center of town. Because director Vitale Rusanovschi, Andrei’s father, is well known—he once worked in the government—and as a result of the work they do, Rural 21 has a significant presence in the community. A small welcoming party greeted me, excited that a P4P representative made the trip to visit their country.

Founded 10 years ago to help where the local and national government wasn’t able to, Rural 21 new comprises an internet café, photography and copying services, and, of course, the bicycle shop. All of these businesses raise money for other community projects, such as a new water system providing 24-hour water service, a new heating system for the Maria Beshu School of Arts, and new sidewalks for the town square.

Slavic and Valeriu in the Rural 21 bike shop

Slavic and Valeriu in the Rural 21 bike shop

Since 2001, Rural 21 has received 1,800 bicycles from Pedals for Progress, and sold over 1,500 of them in Stefan Voda and surrounding towns. The heart of the Rural 21 bicycle shop is Slavic and his brother Valeriu, who work out of the basement at the Maria Beshu school building. These resident mechanics are there every step of the way. They unload each container, inventory and stock the warehouse, wash and repair each bicycle with care, and restore them to their original glory. With limited space and tools they have created an excellent workshop. They even fashioned homemade repair stands to make their work easier. Eventually, Valeriu and Slavic want to start a mechanic training program to train young people in bicycle repair, and to pass on their passion for cycling. They are also trying to organize a cycling club in Stefan Voda to generate interest in the sport of cycling.

Rural 21 has an advantage over the local bicycle market because the quality of the P4P bikes they receive is high, and they are able to sell them for a very low cost and still cover their expenses. Slavic and Valeriu find that people will often go to the market first and price the new bicycles, then come to the Rural 21 bike shop and purchase a used bike of better quality for less money. Again and again, we find this is a feature of P4P bikes that our partners really appreciate—when we collect bikes, we make sure they are sturdy, reliable, and have many more years of use left in them.

On other trips that I’ve taken to visit our programs, I always compare the public transportation to bicycles and try to determine what people save by owning a bike. I wasn’t able to do this in Moldova, at least not in Stefan Voda, as there is no local transportation infrastructure. There are buses that go to and from the capital, but there is no way to get from town to town. Thus, bicycles are a necessity. I was told this is largely the case throughout the country and worse in the smaller and more remote villages.

In the course of researching this during my visit I had the opportunity to speak with several bicycle owners who were very excited to share their stories with me.

Victor on his way to work

Victor on his way to work

Victor purchased his bicycle in 2006, and works as a carpenter making doors and windows in Stefan Voda. Instead of the 30 minutes it used to take him to get to work, with his bicycle he’s there in four minutes, and gets more work done in a day, earning more leu, the Moldovan monetary unit.

Sergui, an employee at Rural 21, purchased his bicycle three years ago and has been very happy with it. In order to provide for his family, he also has two other jobs, which makes his bicycle essential. He even purchased a child seat so that he can take his son around easily as well.

Slavic and Gabrielle with the bike she earned working in the shop

Slavic and Gabrielle with the bike she earned working in the shop

At 10-years old, Gabrielle is the youngest volunteer at Rural 21. A budding bike mechanic, she helps out Slavic and Valeriu. In return, she received her own bike and is learning bicycle repair. With her new mobility she can get to the shop in just a few minutes where it used to take her over 20 minutes walking.

Inga is a 17-year-old missionary who travels from town to town and uses her bicycle every day to get to the more remote villages she’d otherwise never visit, sometimes pedaling as many as 20 miles a day.

Renell Pettinnelli heading for work

Renell Pettinnelli heading for work

My generous host during my stay, Renell Pettinnelli, arrived at Stefan Voda in the winter of 2006 and waited all winter to purchase her bicycle. Slavic picked out a bike just for her and repaired it. Now Renell easily gets around town to teach English and work with a group that sets women up in business. And of course, she gets to the market regularly and far more easily.

During my visit I spoke with Andrei and Vitale about expanding Rural 21’s bicycle program to become a wholesaler in Moldova. They’ve been speaking with other community organizations in the northern part of the country that are in need of both bicycles and income-generating activities. Because Rural 21 is in the nearest city to the port of Odessa, they’re in a good position to provide this service, and to share their model of success elsewhere in Moldova.

Before my return, I met with the mayor of Stefan Voda, who is very optimistic about what his office and Rural 21 can accomplish during his four-year term. Unlike a lot of town governments, rather than view an organization like Rural 21 as competition or infringing on his domain, this mayor is very supportive of their work. What’s more, he encourages other mayors and politicians to incorporate bikes into their towns, and he even bought two bikes from Rural 21, one so his daughter can ride to school. The mayor and Vitale have worked closely together for many years and are hoping to work together on a larger scale over the next few years.

My visit to Rural 21 was eye opening and inspiring at once. The majority of my travels have been in Latin America, so Eastern Europe was a new experience for me. There is so much need in this small country that I hope we can expand our program in Stefan Voda, and in so doing, help Rural 21 expand theirs.

Moldova is a country filled with hardworking people who have the same needs and wants as every human being—a good job, food to eat, and a place to live. Happily, I saw firsthand that bicycles from Pedals for Progress are playing a big part in helping the community of Stefan Voda achieve these things. More bikes will simply improve more lives there. And helping Rural 21 to grow will serve to improve even more lives throughout the rest of Moldova.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply