An estimated 730,000 Moldovans migrate to find work in other countries, according to research conducted by German Economic Team Moldova in 2015. Organizations, such as the Peace Corps, are working to combat this by creating internal job opportunities.
By Hunter Frint
Liudmila Kiseeva and her husband, Valerie, spend the majority of the year in different countries. His work as a truck driver in other European countries is essential to support their family in Moldova, where the average monthly income is around $150.
Income from Liudmila’s job in Moldova and the money they are paid for being a host family to Peace Corps volunteer, RayShawn Payton-Kilgore, is just enough to cover their monthly rent. Payton-Kilgore said his host father does a lot of housework when he is home to compensate for when he is gone.
“Once he left, my host brother took over a lot of the housework that his father was doing before,” Payton-Kilgore said. “My host mother misses her husband, but she also understands that it is necessary.”
Lack of opportunity forcing migration
Many households in Moldova face these same issues, with about 20 percent of the population turning to migrant labor. Studies and experts refer to this as a “brain drain” of the country’s labor force.
Professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University, Steven D. Roper, PhD., said remittances, or sums of money sent from outside the country, account for one of the largest percentages of GDP of any country in the world.
“You can go to whole villages and it’s very difficult to find individuals who are between 20 and 50 years old because they’ve all left to find work,” said Roper who has intermittently lived in Moldova and studied the country for two decades. “The reasons are simple. There are not the types of quality jobs in the country, particularly in rural countryside areas.”
According to studies from German Economic Team Moldova, the most common place for Moldovans to migrate to for work is Russia. Russian is one of the most commonly spoken languages in Moldova aside from Romanian, the official language. EU countries have the second largest number of Moldovan migrant laborers at approximately 330,000.
Creating jobs to counteract the problem
Creating jobs in the rural countryside is the exact objective of certain sectors of the Peace Corps, a U.S. government-run volunteer program, such as Community and Organizational Development (COD) and Small Enterprise Development (SED).
The Peace Corps has been in Moldova since 1993, when the Moldovan government requested they come to teach English. It wasn’t long before they began teaching health education as well. In the mid 2000s, Moldova saw in increasing need for COD volunteers and the SED sector was created as well.
Tracey Hébert-Seck, Director for Peace Corps Moldova, explained that COD volunteers work with various organizations and are placed in different towns to work on capacity building. They help businesses write grants for more finances and work with mayors to build up the community where they live.
SED is the newest sector for the Peace Corps in Moldova. The government had began opening business incubators to assist new businesses. Volunteers were then placed at the incubators to enhance their development.
Hébert-Seck said the Peace Corps has about 25 volunteers working in the SED sector to help local business owners to make sure their businesses are viable and profitable.
“You have small enterprise organizations, medium enterprises, which are trying to get up and running,” Hébert-Seck said. “For example, how do you capitalize on the fact that you have an incredible wine industry here? So, you may have a small family winery, but how do we export?”
Business and bringing the community together
Payton-Kilgore is a volunteer in the SED sector and has been in Moldova for about six months. He is stationed in Comrat, the capital of the Gagauzia region in southern Moldova. The region is one of the poorest in Moldova and lacks many viable job opportunities.
“We are placed in communities that are interested as to who we are and why we are there,” Payton-Kilgore said. “This gives us the opportunity to build relationships with our community members.”
RayShawn Payton-Kilgore and his host mother, Liudmila Kiseeva. He has been living with the Kiseeva family for four months. Liudmila’s husband works outside of the country for several months at a time. Liudamila told Ray she is grateful to have him there to keep her company. “As time goes on your host family begins to feel like your true family, with its difficulties,” Payton-Kilgore said.
In the middle of the town of Comrat is the town square where there are a few places to eat, a park, other small businesses and a large yellow Orthodox Church. There is also a university in Comrat, where Payton-Kilgore works most of the time. Currently, he is running a business English club, assisting with a conversational English club and in the process of organizing a spring job fair in Gagauzia.
“This will be to help show university students that there are still opportunities within Moldova,” Payton-Kilgore said.
Degrees from most universities, such as Comrat State University, are only recognized inside of Moldova and are not transferable to other countries, giving people another reason to work and train outside the country.
A little outside of the town center there is a business incubator, but it has been shut down after accumulating a large amount of debt. The success of the business incubators varies from town to town.
Technology jobs and providing opportunities for women
Sara Hoy, a Peace Corps COD volunteer, originally from Pennsylvania, has been in Moldova for two and a half years. She signed on to stay longer after her initial two years. Hoy works as a consultant to help organizations and communities with applications and grants.
She is currently working to assist with Information Technology to develop programs. Hoy said she focuses on encouraging and training girls in entrepreneurship and IT skills to create mobile apps.
“My job is to help develop technicians and a team to continue the program,” Hoy said. “I see a direct change in the communities, but most of all I see a direct change in people.”
Soon, Hoy is moving from working in the capital, Chisinau, to smaller towns where the hardships are most prominent. The volunteer will be involved with a project to open an IT center that will work with business start-ups and accelerated programs.
“There’s no question that creating a business environment in which small businesses can thrive outside of Chisinau would be important,” Roper said regarding attempts at stimulating the economy.
The intricate formula for a solution
Even with assistance from the Peace Corps and other organizations, economic issues and the migrant labor force have been a problem in Moldova for several years, and there is no clear-cut solution so far. Experts like Roper and the volunteers do agree on one thing; the reasons behind the problems are as personalized as the people.
“Many people leave because of the economic situation of the country,” Roper said. “Other people leave because of what they perceive as simply lack of opportunity, professional opportunities. So, it’s hard to discuss any one solution because I think the problems really are multifaceted depending on the circumstances of the individuals involved.”
The complicated history of Moldova
A combination of political and geographical issues stemming back to the 1800s has led to the complications in modern day Moldova. For more information on the background and history of Moldova take a look at the timeline below.