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When John Ritchey wants a cool drink of water, he doesn’t have the luxury of turning on the tap. Not in Moldova, where he is a Peace Corps volunteer
When John Ritchey wants a cool drink of water, he doesn’t have the luxury of turning on the tap. Not in Moldova, where he is a Peace Corps volunteer.
Santa Cruzan looks homeward to solve Peace Corps problem
By JONDI GUMZ
Sentinel staff writer
SANTA CRUZ — When John Ritchey wants a cool drink of water, he doesn’t have the luxury of turning on the tap. Not in Moldova, where he is a Peace Corps volunteer.
He has to put the water through a distiller, a process that produces a liter of drinkable liquid after 90 minutes. Or he can buy bottled water.
That’s not all. Very few Moldovan homes have bathtubs or showers. People fill up a bucket with water from a well outside and carry it indoors.
But Ritchey, 24, a Santa Cruz native, has no complaints: "The lifestyle here is very different and my time here has been very interesting."
A graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a major in business and a minor in art, he joined the Peace Corps a year ago. He wanted to make a difference in the world.
He asked for Romania or Russia but ended up in little-known Moldova, sandwiched between Romainia and Ukraine. The country, about the size of Maine, is one of the world’s poorest. The annual per capita income is about $300. In the United States, the figure is more than $33,000.
In Moldova, people speak Romanian, but Ritchey didn’t know a word when he arrived. He learned the language and the country’s customs in his first three months while living with a Moldovan family, undergoing immersion- style training.
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His assignment involves working with a non-governmental agency to advise small farmers how to market their produce. When he’s not working, he hangs out with a group of young boys, organizing baseball games for them.
When he visited the Nisporeni Hospital and saw its family clinic operating without hot water, he decided he had to do something about it.
The hospital, which has 88 doctors and 240 nurses serving a population of 73,000, secured three wells and two water heaters with the help of the Swiss Agency for Development and an Irish organization.
But there wasn’t enough money to install pipes to the family clinic, which is across the street from the rest of the facilities. People carried buckets of water inside.
In addition, hot water was in short supply throughout the hospital. Employees would fire up a stove with coal or wood and heat water one bucket at a time. Both fuels are so expensive that doctors are unable to always sterilize their hands between treating patients.
"The water is not filtered or treated," Ritchey wrote in an e-mail. "The water is acceptable to drink by Moldovan standards, but these standards are much lower than ours in America."
He talked with the hospital administrator, Tudor Costru, and mapped out a plan to buy 10 electric water boilers for key rooms in the hospital complex and drill a new well for the family clinic.
The task of raising $7,000 to fund the project seemed daunting at first, even though Ritchey was an Eagle Scout who knew how to organize and recruit volunteers. His mother reassured him that people would be generous once they understood the need.
Indeed, they were.
The Santa Cruz Rotary Club donated $4,000 and members of First Congregational Church, where Ritchey and his parents are members, gave $2,500.
"We got him a good start," said Brooke Graff, parish administrator.
"I was absolutely amazed people reached into their pockets," said Ritchey’s father, Jack, a local attorney.
In fact, so many donations came in from Santa Cruz that Ritchey will be able to do more than he expected.
"Thank you, or as Moldovans say, multumesc frumos," he said.
For information about Peace Corps Partnership Projects, check the Web at www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.donors.contribnow. Ritchey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Jondi Gumz at email@example.com.