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Richfield residentís daughter takes on Peace Corps project

7/3/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Pam Lifke

She’s hoping to improve sanitary conditions at Moldova school

Outdated and unreliable kitchen equipment make food preparation difficult. The school’s 300 students, kindergarten to 12th grade, eat two meals a day at the school.
A cafeteria worker retrieves food from the school’s pantry.
Photos courtesy of Barbara Sylte
RICHFIELD — When Barbara Sylte’s daughter joined the Peace Corps, she hoped to use her gardening skills to help feed people in Africa. However, a change of plans has her helping to feed schoolchildren in Moldova in a way she didn’t expect.

Sylte, of Richfield, recently returned from visiting her daughter, Carol Stadden, 56, in Moldova, an underdeveloped country nestled between Romania and Ukraine. Stadden, a Cleveland resident, has been in Grozesti, a small village about 75 miles west of the country’s capital of Chisinau, for the past year. In May, Sylte had the opportunity to see where her daughter has been living and working.

Stadden signed on with the Peace Corps hoping to teach gardening skills in Africa, said her mother. A baker by trade, Stadden earned Master Gardener credentials and hoped to put her knowledge to good use, said Sylte.

Landing in Moldova, a country already well versed in agricultural pursuits — especially winemaking — Stadden has found another way to feed people and educate them about healthy eating.

Early in her stay, Stadden learned the 300 students at Prometheus High School, which houses students in kindergarten through 12th grades, eat two meals a day at school, said Sylte. Food preparation is made difficult by the unsanitary conditions and unreliable equipment in the 30-year-old kitchen, she said. According to Stadden, the kitchen currently has only a four-burner stove-top and the tables and cupboards are collapsing.

Some parents will not allow their children to eat in the cafeteria because of its condition, according to Peace Corps documents. So, in addition to helping the students learn English, Stadden has launched a campaign to update the school’s kitchen.

Stadden has requested a $10,000 Peace Corps grant to cover the cost of cabinets and racks for dishes, tables for food preparation, thawing equipment and a new sink for washing pots and pans. The community is responsible for a 25 percent match, which Stadden said will come in the form of donations of a stove and refrigerator and in-kind services like painting and removing old equipment and installing new equipment. The community also will donate soil, seeds and labor for a companion garden project, Stadden said.

The remainder will come from individual donations to the Peace Corps Small Grants program fund. Stadden’s project has collected almost $2,200 in donations and still is seeking the remaining $5,300 needed to fund the project, according to the Peace Corps website.

Stadden said if the remaining funds can be raised in time to order and install the equipment before school starts in September, there’s a bonus: A local organization will donate about $3,000 to install a new kitchen floor. The new floor is sorely needed, but outside the scope of the grant, Stadden said.

Stadden also has plans for a Learning Garden at the school, Sylte said. Her plans, however, had to be altered when she found local livestock is allowed to graze in the schoolyard during summer break, Sylte added. The learning garden is a raised bed garden for children ages 9-10. It will be planted with vegetables not found in the average Grozesti garden: lettuce, chard, kale, patty pan squash, broccoli, quinoa, cherry tomatoes and a variety of herbs, Stadden said. Children will learn in both Romanian and English about mulching, organic gardening, composting, worms and saving seeds.

The climate in Moldova is similar to that of Ohio, Sylte said. The school year for Prometheus students begins in September, roughly the same sort of calendar as schools in the U.S., according to Stadden.

Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe, Sylte said. In Grozesti, Stadden rents a room from an older couple, Lisa and Misha, Sylte said. There is no running water in their home, a common situation in Moldova. Water for bathing, cooking and cleaning is brought into the house from a pump in the yard, Sylte said. Their home, like the school, has an outhouse.

Although the living conditions she experienced while visiting were somewhat primitive, Sylte said she enjoyed the trip. 

“It’s a beautiful country. It reminded me of Ohio — of how it used to be all green and farmland,” she said. “The people are very nice.”

Sylte said it seemed life had to have been better for the Moldovan people at some time, noting the beautiful carpets and rugs on the floors or used as wall hangings.

Stadden’s daughter, Jessie Walker, an employee of Air France living in New York, flew with her sister, Ariel Stadden, of Cleveland, and Sylte from Cleveland to Paris and then on to Bucharest. From there, the three boarded an overnight train to Moldova’s capital.

While in Moldova, Sylte and her granddaughters visited a monastery, a winery and stayed overnight in a treehouse.

Stadden expects to complete her service in Moldova in July 2015. If the full amount of the grant funds has not been raised by that time, none of the funding will be applied to the project, Stadden said.

Donations for completion of Stadden’s renovation of the school kitchen can be made at www.peacecorps.gov/ggm/smallgrants/. Select “Donate to Volunteer Projects” and enter Stadden’s last name in the search box. Her project is titled Promoting Health with Cafeteria Renovation and Learning Garden.

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