With the help of citizens, a small village in Zîrnești commune, Cahul district, is transformed into a square

18 August 2020

In recent years, several municipalities and towns in Moldova are being modernised by involving citizens who want a neat and beautiful locality.

In recent years, several municipalities and towns in Moldova are being modernised by involving citizens who want a neat and beautiful locality. Thanks to civic spirit, in the commune of Zîrnești in the Cahul district, children will have a playground and recreation area. Experts are urging citizens to form initiative groups to promote their ideas for modernising the locality and gain support from local authorities and donors who encourage citizens to get involved in the decision-making process. Toloaca Balacea has become "Stables for Balacea" Until recently, children in the Balacea slum of Zîrnești commune, located on the banks of the Prut river, had to walk two kilometres to the playground in the centre of the village or play around the barrels on the toloaca next to the pond. But now the 40 children in this part of the village have a playground specially designed for them. Local Marina Caltea had been thinking about the idea for a long time, but she needed money to make it happen. Together with an initiative group, she applied to the grant competition of the "Joint Initiative for Equal Opportunities" project, implemented by the East Europe Foundation with resources from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Sweden. "Before writing the project, we often discussed that we had to do something for this part of the village, but we didn't have the money. While there is a playground for children near the House of Culture, as well as in other parts of the village, in our slum there was nowhere for children to play. So we thought of making a recreational area here," says Marina. The diaspora jumped in to help In 2018, the project submitted by the community group "Zîrnești+" was approved and the funders offered a grant in the amount of 90 thousand lei. For two years, this group has been going from strength to strength, participating in various training and mentoring programs. After consulting with the mayor and local councillors, the group decided to go beyond a playground and transform the Balacea playground into the "Stables for Balacea". At the beginning of August, several pieces of equipment were installed on the 15-acre site of the future square: a children's play complex, a double playground, four benches, a gymnastics complex, a chess table and a seesaw. Natalia Bazan, the leader of the community group, is convinced that without the active involvement of the residents, this project would not have come to life: "Out of the 90 thousand lei we bought the equipment, but the local administration also contributed 15 thousand lei. A prerequisite was the contribution of the people of the village, the participation of the community in the decision-making process and the development of civic and voluntary spirit. Even though the villagers had to contribute 4,500 lei, more money was raised, including donations from the diaspora." The locals helped in any way they could. Some donated money, others came with labour. Sergiu Groza, the father of a three-year-old boy who is also the village priest, is glad that the children's interest has mobilised the people of Zirns. "When you walk through the village, you're glad it's beautiful and you're proud. If we want the village to develop, the initiatives have to come from us," he says. Communication between authorities and citizens, online and offline The village and local government will contribute to the purchase of sand, paving for the pavement, kerbs and litter bins, and the people of the village will be trained in the actual work. The official opening of the "Staircase for Balacea" will take place in the autumn. So, after school, children will play on the field built and carefully arranged by their parents and grandparents. According to Nicolae Beju, mayor of Zîrnești, which also includes the villages of Paicu and Tretești, such projects give citizens a sense of responsibility and contribute to better communication between the local people and the authorities. The local councillor is pleased that the inhabitants of Zîrnești are interested in the town hall's management of public money. "People are interested in where and how the money will be spent. They come and listen to the local council meetings, they also participated in the examination and approval of the local budget. Because of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, we are now discussing online with the inhabitants of the commune, for this purpose we have also created a group in the Viber network, where we discuss all the problems and identify solutions," added the mayor. Citizens contribute to sustainability of projects Local public administration expert Vasile Cioaric, coordinator of good governance programmes at the CONTACT Centre, says that citizens' initiative groups are now more involved in the decision-making process than five years ago. Civil society organisations have also become much more active, and donors are accommodating the wishes of initiative groups and offering small grants for projects that contribute to the modernisation and development of localities. "Citizens with initiative need to join forces with like-minded people, because it's hard to solve problems alone. And local elected representatives must also understand that only together with citizens can they do good things in their locality," concludes the expert. Mariana Jacot