Climate change-driven social injustice and discrimination of minorities are much-discussed issues among young people today, Fridays for Future is a well-known concept worldwide. What does climate protection and its impacts look like in a country as small as the Republic of Moldova?
Barefoot, colorful hair and a big smile on their faces: Vladimir Ternavschi and Elena Tacu of EcoVisio Moldova (a pioneering sustainable initiative for a greener future) are already making a statement with their appearance. "We are young, we explore lateral thinking and want to raise people's awareness in the Republic of Moldova about climate change and get young people involved in things like environmental activism, project management, and community work. We encourage young people to build their activist muscles", says Elena.
EcoVisio was founded by teachers, trainers and other people from the education sector in the Republic of Moldova and Germany in 1990. Ever since 2014, the organizers have been focusing especially on environmental issues. Today, EcoVisio employs a total of 14 people. EcoVisio’s work is organized not only in the office in Chișinău, but also in their house in the EcoVillage, a small village community outside the capital of the Republic of Moldova. It is a place where they provide accommodation for refugees, organize cooking classes, workshops on water and waste management, build tree-houses and grow organic food in their greenhouse. "It is important to us that we have contact with the local villagers, which is why we encourage them to get involved in our projects. We go to schools, kindergardens, libraries and to other public places where different people meet and exchange ideas. For example, we organize a women's club in the EcoVillage, where women of different ages can come together. We champion environmental awareness and inspire collective action," Elena explains.
The lack of water, waste disposal infrastructure, and unawareness of recycling and sustainability are problems that Vladimir and Elena encounter in both urban and rural regions of the Republic of Moldova. "The climate in the Republic of Moldova has changed a lot in recent years. We have long periods of drought and no cold winter. Although the Republic of Moldova is such a small and economically weak country, we are very much affected by climate change. Everyone feels it here," says Vladimir. That is why they advocate for non-formal education and empowerment of young people and their individual needs. "There is a big gap between active people who are passionate about these issues and passive people who refrain from political or social issues," he says.
EcoVisio wants to close this gap. To do so, they need funding. The organization does not receive government funding, but finances itself mostly through local donors, embassies, foundations from Germany and Sweden, and from other foreign organizations. The EVZ Foundation is one of these foundations that supports EcoVisio with project-related funding. "We have been able to realize great international projects with the help of the EVZ Foundation. The cooperation with the organization Eco Misto from Chernihiv, for example, was very successful and productive. Together with young people from Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Belarus and Germany, we created a do-it-yourself guide on what sustainable urban planning can look like, and through shared examples from our practice. Many people don't even know where to start, so we explain, for example, how exactly to plant trees in the city," Vladimir describes.
But such projects require good management skills and a keen sense of strategy and planning. "It is difficult when we are only supported from project to project. How can an organization thrive without any core support? The lack of financial stability is something we struggle with a lot," Elena adds. It is not only office space, technology and staff that are needed - management and administrative skills, communication skills and teamwork are also important factors in building a strong and long-lasting organization. While people in Ukraine and Germany have gained a lot of experience in self-organization and capacity building in recent years, this experience is still lacking in the Republic of Moldova. "Many people in the Republic of Moldova do not know the rewarding feeling of being able to change something. They tend to think that someone outside should improve conditions, not us. We want to break down this narrative with our work", emphasizes Elena.
The war in neighboring Ukraine, the unclear border situation with Transnistria, rising poverty and a deep division between democratic and autocratic forces in the Republic of Moldova complicate EcoVisio's working methods and organizational development. "We try to free people from their apathy and isolation and make them feel that they themselves have the ability to change their living conditions", says Vladimir. The concept of social entrepreneurship can be a way to empower people with these skills and guide them. "Social entrepreneurship is an alternative strategy to get in touch with civil society. People can do good while ensuring their financial security. It is important to make businesses social and turn social activists into business people. We run many workshops on this topic in schools, universities and other organizations so that people learn entrepreneurial skills and keep a social mindset."
Despite the challenges and obstacles EcoVisio faces, they make a huge difference and have a great impact on the climate debate in the Republic of Moldova. They reach out to young people, actively engage in rural communities, and share their skills and methods with other organizations. That is a lot of tasks for such a small country, but Vladimir and Elena don't lose their motivation and passion: "The Republic of Moldova may be a small country, but it has a big heart," they say.
Written by Antonia Skiba