Migration on the radar of Moldovan town halls

If for over two decades local authorities were helplessly observing people leaving home villages and towns to find a better life either outside the country or in other communities of Moldova, now they know they can transform migration into an opportunity for local development. This change of approach was possible for 38 partner communities of the UNDP “Migration and Local Development” Project, funded by the Government of Switzerland.

The boom of the 38 hometown associations established with UNDP support, as well as the active role of the persons responsible for migration appointed within the town halls formed a bond between emigrants, locals and authorities. They now consult each other and discuss their joint problems both face to face or in online communities. Moreover, they teamed up for more than 55 local development projects, benefiting over 300,000 women in men in Moldova.

Vorniceni village in Straseni district faces massive emigration of its villagers, as other hundreds of Moldovan communities. Today, according to official data, Vorniceni has 4,000 residents, with 1,200 less than 10 years ago.

Unofficially, only 2,000 persons live at the moment in Vorniceni. The others moved to Russia, Italy, Greece, Spain, USA, Canada, Portugal and United Kingdom.

 “Initially we did not know how to engage people in local development considering they had have left the village more than 20 years ago. We were very skeptical. But this feeling turned into confidence. Step by step, we succeeded to ‘bring back’ more than 30% of migrants, at least temporarily,” said the mayor of Vorniceni, Vasile Tofan.

Vasile Tofan, as other mayors, realizes that migration is a phenomenon that exists and should be accepted as such, but that can be used by benefiting from the ideas, experience as well as voluntary contributions of those who left in other communities or countries. This is possible only if there is trust in local government. That is why the meetings of the local council became accessible on social media, and the town hall webpage is always updated with information of public interest.

A hometown association was established with UNDP support, with the ultimate goal to unite those born in the village for a joint cause: improve living conditions in Vorniceni village. Similar associations were created by all partner communities of the UNDP project.

Also, the 38 town halls appointed persons responsible for diaspora, migration and development (DMD).

The model piloted by UNDP worked out and the benefits were obvious, so in September 2017 the Government approved a decision on the state policy coordination mechanism in the field of diaspora, migration and development (DMD).

 “The Government recognized UNDP model as successful and rolled it over in the entire country. A first step undertaken by the town halls was to appoint persons responsible for migration at local level. It means that the authorities have decided to be pro-active and make use of the migration phenomenon to support local development,” said the Manager of the UNDP “Migration and Local Development” Project, Oxana Maciuca.

 The DMD responsible in Vorniceni village is Viorica Mamaliga, bachelor in international relations and political sciences. Viorica was hired by the town hall of the native village when she was 26, in 2016. In the same year, besides key duties in public relations and investment attraction, she has accepted yet another challenge: to become the person who knows everything about migration into and out of the locality.

That is how Viorica’s pathway in becoming a trustworthy person in her community continued. Viorica does not hesitate to volunteer her free time for contributing to the prosperity of Vorniceni.

Viorica has created from scratch a database of those who left the village to live in other communities either in Moldova, or abroad. In three years, she managed to collect information about 2,000 persons who left Vorniceni.

 “My job means more than a database; it means building a trustworthy relationship with the person who left the village. It involves communication and dedication. My first step was to contact my acquaintances or relatives who live abroad and inform them about the Hometown Association’s creation and our need to have data. I used all sort of occasions to fill up the database — events, social media, meetings with classmates,” notes Viorica Mamaliga, person responsible for DMD in Vorniceni village.

All in all, the 38 partner localities of UNDP collected information about 71,300 migrants, persons who were then involved in solving challenges faced by the hometown localities.

To energize communication between those born in a certain locality, the persons responsible for DMD at local level have created accounts on social media for the Hometown Associations.

“Without the support and trust of people, you cannot achieve anything,” says Viorica Mamaliga, who created one of the most active Facebook pages of a Hometown Association — Hometown Association of Natives from Vorniceni village.

Daily, Viorica dedicates at least four hours for updating the webpage of the locality and the Facebook page of the Hometown Association. She reads every comment and answers every question. She does it immediately, regardless of the time zone.

 “I talk to people who migrated from Vorniceni 18/24 hours. I do this to keep awake civic spirit, to engage people in local development, to promote the village. My personal satisfaction drives me, and the simple fact I am treated as a trustworthy person in my community makes me feel so lucky,” said Viorica.

 Hence, about 30% of persons who left Vorniceni were contacted by Viorica and encouraged to come back, at least temporarily, to exchange with locals ideas, best practices and knowledge gained abroad.

 “If initially I was thinking it would have been good for this job to be compensated, after three years of experience, I do believe that no amount of money can buy the attitude and confidence of people. I am keen on talking with them and informing them on social media about changes at home, either good or bad, listening to them and supporting them when they call me,” said Viorica.

The 38 social media profiles created by people like Viorica reached more than 40,000 active members.

In the last three years, besides online engagement, Viorica managed virbrant social campaigns, such as Diaspora Days, creating beautiful memories and reuniting people from all over the world.

Viorica also conducts public polls, organizes discussions and consultations on local priorities.

The first project voted by people was “Better roads for Vorniceni”. As a result of consultations, it was agreed to procure a grader to clean the roads, as after rains or snows the roads became impracticable, and the access to national road Soseaua Balcani was blocked.

For the project to become a reality, it was necessary to collect funds from people born in Vorniceni. The mission seemed impossibile, as migrants are spread all over the world. Vorniceni, with UNDP support, dared to conduct its first crowdfunding campaign.

“Before launching the campaign, we conducted an online survey for people to vote for a priority project. Then, maximum transparency was ensured during the crowdfunding campaign. I updated the Facebook page of the Hometown Association, so as people could follow the entire process of collecting the contributions, donors, and donated amounts,” emphasized Viorica.

Thanks to Viorica’s activity, of the Chairperson of the Hometown Association and of the local authorities, 300 people born in Vorniceni, living all over the world, donated about Euro 9,000 to purchase a grader for cleaning and maintenance of the village roads. This amount was topped up with USD 20,000 provided by the Government of Switzerland through UNDP.

Viorica has three dreams for her community and hopes to see them come true in the nearest future: to have a full database of migrants, to implement a street light project for the entire locality and to open a social centre for the elderly.

Viorica is decided to mobilize her peers, so as Vorniceni can flourish, and be as full of life as she remembers it from her childhood.

During 2015–2018, over 10,000 Moldovans who left 38 communities contributed with more than USD 257,000 to local development. This amount was topped with USD 1.19 million, as grants awarded by the Government of Switzerland through the UNDP “Migration and Local Development” Project.