The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Friday, December 18

Peace Corps Response and Chance Opportunities

If I tell you about my work week, you might ask, “Are you really in the Peace Corps?” 

Unlike popular images of trekking across barren lands to teach an English class or digging wells to provide safe drinking water for an entire village or saving the world in some other amazing way, my experience is more mundane.

You see, I spend much of my week in front of a computer. I'm searching for information, analyzing, thinking and writing. I might be working on a methodology for problem solving or a strategy for our Internet and Social Media presence or a presentation for a workshop.  Ordinary stuff. 

I'm always calling the staff together for strategy planning.  We use a lot of mind mapping and brain-storming.  Our white board gets used so much that it seems like we are always buying new markers. After meetings, I compile notes and try to keep us moving forward.  I guess I'm a nudge too.

Recently I've been learning about CRM or Customer Relations Management. It's a data base that can be used to build relationships with customers or in our case with our constituents. 

My organization is poised to use CRM.  We want to to deepen relationships with our contacts and engage them in our mission of positive social change. 

As a colleague often says, “We always had dreams, but we didn't know what we didn't know until we knew it."

But there's a problem. All the CRM software seems to be English based. It doesn't take or, more importantly, export Cyrillic letters. We're looking for a work around. If anyone has an idea, please let me know.

When I step away from my desk and computer, I'm likely to be meeting new people. Yesterday I repeated my workshops on Time Management and Mind Mapping for about 45 business, education and NGO leaders as well as some students and unemployed people.

It was part of Skopje's effort to equip citizens with new skills for personal development. It was well received and I'm even invited back in February.

That's about as pictorial as my work week gets. Mostly I'm at my desk.  I guess I could easily be mistaken for a bureaucrat whose office just happens to be in Skopje, Macedonia.

It's not that I'm complaining. I'm not. I believe Peace Corps work, like mine, has value even if it's not so flashy.

I'm part of the Peace Corps Response Program. It places returned Peace Corps Volunteers and other qualified professionals in assignments around the world. These opportunities are based on sharing professional experience and skills to help host country organizations grow in their reach and effectiveness. 

My organization in Macedonia, known as Public, has a mission of working for positive change in Society. They do it through social issue research, public education and calls to action. 

Sometimes my work week is interrupted by surprising opportunities.  As best as I can tell, it works like this... 

Someone who knows me tells another about me who passes it on to another and then to another. Finally, I'm asked, “Can you help us?”

Today, I'm making my way to the St. Kliment of Ohrid National and University Library. I know the way because a section of the Library houses the American Corner.

American Corner is a space where computers, English magazines and books are made available to the public compliments of the US Embassy. I few months ago Maja, one of the key staff, asked me to teach several of my Organizational Development workshops there. It was fun and a rewarding experience. I love teaching.

Now my trip to the Library is to meet with Maja's boss. It's about some grant they are submitting, but I'm fuzzy about details. I've been learning that I don't have to have it all figured out. All I need to do is show up and as they say, “Go with the flow.”

I lock my bike to a pole. I bike everywhere in Skopje unless it's raining. Maja greets me with a warm “good day” and takes me to her Director's office. 

Soon I'm confronted with a surprising opportunity.  I hear about an emergency of dire consequences.

“Our building is 45 years old. Inside, we have the irreplaceable cultural heritage of Macedonia - rare books and manuscripts, first editions of famed authors, icons, art works, and so much more.” She shows me list naming more than 30 different collections. I had no idea and now these collections are at risk.

“Our roof is leaking. It's getting so old. Every time we have a hard storm water leaks into the reading room and now into the stacks. We're trying to cope with buckets and plastic, but it's not working.”

Then she shows me a grant application. It's a US Embassy application for the “Protection of Cultural Heritage.” The director wants my help. She confides that she has little experience in writing grants and using English, especially for something so important. I gladly agree to help.

I'm thinking, “How fortunate to be here. Thank you Peace Corps Response. And how fortunate I am to have met Maja. And how fortunate I am to know about grant making.”  It's surprising how things can work out for the good.  

Together, the director, Maja and I settle in by a sunny window to work through the proposal. I make the director promise to let me know when she gets the grant and then to send lots picture of the new roof. She smiles broadly.

It's another one of those chance meetings that make a difference. With nearly 7,000 Peace Corps Volunteers serving in 63 countries world wide, I'm wondering...

  • How many chance encounters are saving cultural heritage,
  • Restoring human dignity
  • And yes, improving human lives with safe drinking water?
Maybe one day we'll do even more when we stop preparing for war and invest our national treasure in peace making.


  1. Hello Jud!

    I am always so happy to read about your continuing life adventures. Keep up the good work in Skopje!

    Justin Lemke
    RPCV 2009 - 2011

    1. Thanks Justin and trusting that you are making a difference in your adventures.