With a questionnaire and pen, Elizaveta Nichita Tentiuc walks the streets of Drăsliceni and knocks on her neighbours' doors to ask a series of questions about garbage collection.
Lacking a centralised garbage disposal system, residents in Drăsliceni, a village in Moldova, need to figure out by themselves how to transport the waste at the landfill, situated on a hill right above the village's lake. Near the end of the survey, Elizaveta asks a crucial question.
"Would you be willing to pay taxes for a centralised disposal system?" Most people reply yes.
Confronted with a lack of services or dysfunctional governance, active citizens like Elizaveta are taking matters into their own hands. They form citizen groups that organise door-to-door exercises, events, public consultations and use social media to understand the pressing problems of their communities. With all the information gathered, they organise community-led projects and advocate for solutions in front of local authorities.
This is all part of "Instigation for Democracy", a project run by CPR Moldova and supported by Democracy Reporting International. In its latest edition, the project selected 70 civic activists, of all ages, from 20 to 70, who had shown an unflinching drive to mobilise their communities and solve local problems.
The documentary below follows the journey of Elizaveta Nichita Tentiuc in advocating a centralised garbage collection service among citizens, in parallel with an educational campaign for citizens on how to sort waste and how to produce less garbage; and that of Natalia Caraghiaur, who along with a group of mothers from the village of Cuporani, organise themselves and work to create a children's playground.
Empowering advocates of local democracy
The civic activists went through the "School of Democracy", a training specifically designed to equip them with the necessary knowledge and tools to mobilise communities around issues and advocate for solutions with policymakers. Participants ended up forming nine groups and reached around 13.000 citizens through canvassing, public meetings and social media. The biggest campaign took place in Caușeni, where the team managed to have 600 people respond to a survey on local budget priorities.
Some of the groups fundraised money in their communities; Elizaveta, for example, secured 1.500 euros from the community to take steps to create an infrastructure for sorting garbage. Also, they managed to convince the authorities to assign resources to address the problems they identified. The Drăsliceni council allocated financial resources to improve the waste collection infrastructure in the village, as did authorities in Cuporani to contribute to a playground for children. About fifty participants managed to have contact with local public authorities and, in some cases, with members of parliament.
Aside from waste management and building infrastructure for children, the community initiatives coming out from the School of Democracy addressed problems such as lack of street lighting and road security in Chisinau, the presence of stray dogs in streets, deficient transparency and accountability of local authorities, a lack of infrastructure for youth and other environmental issues.
Advocates bring policy solutions to the table
Over the course of the Instigation to Democracy project, participants witnessed how some of the problems they had identified were picked up by policymakers. Many succeeded in bringing change to the community and most of them continued their activities on their own.
In Chișinău, the team working on road safety still works to convince public servants to address the lack of sidewalks and pedestrian crossings. They are currently working with experts and public servants on an action plan. Authorities and an MP promised another team in Chișinău that they would install street lighting and paint pedestrian crossings in a dangerous road section.
The team in Cărpineni requested a youth centre space from the Town Hall, while in Colicăuți, 18 officials attended events to decide on youth infrastructure. Meanwhile, the stray dog team focused on citizen awareness since they did not receive a response from authorities in Chișinău, who are more reluctant to respond to citizens' requests.
Fifty-one participants graduated from the program "Instigation to Democracy", with women making up a majority in all teams. Beyond their work to solve pressing problems faced by their communities, graduates have formed long-lasting bonds, and many continue to make a difference in their communities.