by Andrea Enright*; photography by Dragomir Ushev, Ilian Zinoviev, archives While the phrase "Peace Corps" might conjure up images of sun-tanned Americans teaching English, purifying water, or planting corn with villagers, the Peace Corps has evolved since JFK's initial proposal nearly half a century ago. In addition to those assignments, volunteers now help build organisational capacity, write grant proposals, teach English, bridge technological gaps, encourage entrepreneurship and improve health care.
Peace Corps ideals, however, have held out. As volunteers, our job is to spread American goodwill, transfer skills, adapt to a different culture and expand both our own world and those of the people around us. Every year, in over 75 countries, Americans make a 27-month commitment to leave the comforts of home and embark on an adventure where the best advice we get is: erase all expectations. But rest assured that as people who make an average Bulgarian salary, aren't allowed to drive and struggle to break through the post-Communist dust of this Balkan country, we are not your typical expats. In mountain villages, Turkish-populated towns and forgotten fields across Bulgaria, the Peace Corps is doing good without corporate donations, charity galas or fundraising committee meetings. Just as the 1980s television campaign touted, this is still the "the toughest job you’ll ever love."
Lincoln Groves, 28, teaches English to 2nd, 3rd, 8th and 11th grade students at the only school in Sofia's largest Roma ghetto, a crowded neighbourhood of 30,000 with as many luxury cars as there are outdoor latrines. However, whether he's singing songs, playing games or enforcing discipline and study habits, the fact that he's a white guy walking into a sea of Roma every day is part of his challenge as well as his reward.
"Having grown up in white-bred, upstate New York, this experience allows me to gain insight into life as a member of an ethnic minority," says Lincoln. After graduating from Binghamton College with honours and leading his rugby team to a Division One Title at university, Lincoln worked as a data analyst for the US Department of Justice, and then "sold out" to the private sector as an economic consultant to help pay off his student loans. However, he says that while the money was better, the work was far from rewarding. Cautious about "succumbing to consumerism", he joined the Peace Corps.
"Where I used to measure success in billable hours, my new indicators are hugs and smiles. I hope these are evidence that I'm doing good work."
This past summer, Lincoln coordinated a weeklong day camp for 60 kids, aged three to 13 in the Roma neighbourhood. His goal, since the vast majority of the kids don't attend school on a regular basis, was to provide a positive summer experience and pass on songs, constructive activities and learning games. While prizes and toys were donated from a Mom's club in the United States, the crafts, paint, sports equipment and daily breakfast came from Lincoln's own personal funds. He says not a day passes without one of his students mentioning the camp.
* Before she came to Bulgaria as an US Peace Corps volunteer, Andrea Enright lived in Denver, Colorado
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers