September 20, 2004: Headlines: COS - Bulgaria: Married Couples: Register Herald : Judith Ahrens and Douglas Kramer, married in 2000, had a peculiar honeymoon - they spent two years in Bulgaria as members of the Peace Corps

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Bulgaria: Peace Corps Bulgaria: The Peace Corps in Bulgaria: September 20, 2004: Headlines: COS - Bulgaria: Married Couples: Register Herald : Judith Ahrens and Douglas Kramer, married in 2000, had a peculiar honeymoon - they spent two years in Bulgaria as members of the Peace Corps

By Admin1 (admin) (151.196.185.151) on Saturday, October 02, 2004 - 2:54 pm: Edit Post

Judith Ahrens and Douglas Kramer, married in 2000, had a peculiar honeymoon - they spent two years in Bulgaria as members of the Peace Corps

Judith Ahrens and Douglas Kramer, married in 2000, had a peculiar honeymoon - they spent two years in Bulgaria as members of the Peace Corps

Judith Ahrens and Douglas Kramer, married in 2000, had a peculiar honeymoon - they spent two years in Bulgaria as members of the Peace Corps

Pine Plains pair finds fulfillment in retirement

By: Bob Audette , Staff Reporter 09/20/2004

Pine Plains residents Judith Ahrens and Douglas Kramer, married in 2000, had a peculiar honeymoon - they spent two years in Bulgaria as members of the Peace Corps.

Kramer, formerly a lawyer in New York City, and Ahrens, a management consultant from Philadelphia, have been making music together since they first met. Literally.

Kramer plays the clarinet and Ahrens plays the cello. They first met while playing chamber music at a workshop.

"We brought our instruments to Bulgaria with us," said Kramer. "It was a great way to meet people. Folks wanted to talk about our instruments and we performed in small concerts with local players."

In Bulgaria, the pair worked on projects related to community economic development in an area near the Black Sea.

"We helped out with business incubation and at a business center helping small and medium sized businesses in Bulgaria," said Ahrens, who has a doctorate in business administration and computer sciences.

Kramer and Ahrens' later venture is just as challenging, if not more challenging, as their two years in the Peace Corps.

"We are off to Russia on September 23 to provide assistance for three months to a human rights resource center called Sutyajnik," said Kramer.

"We are being sent by the International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP) and will be working in the city of Ekaterinburg, a city of about a million and a half in western Siberia on the eastern slopes of the Ural Mountains," said Kramer.

According to Kramer, Sutyajnik is a human rights litigation organization founded after Russia's new constitution was written in 1994.

"ISLP is made up of active and retired lawyers," said Kramer. "The group provides research assistance for human rights groups throughout the world. ISLP finds lawyers in large firms to do pro bono work and matches them up with organizations looking for help."

Kramer said this is the first time ISLP has sent lawyers to Russia. He said one reason it has taken ISLP so long to travel to Russia is because the government is too proud to admit that it might need assistance from foreigners.

Kramer said he will be helping Sutyajnik develop a strategic plan for its next 10 years and will also be giving them training in litigation and class action cases.

Ahrens hopes to help Sutyajnik develop an office management system with an emphasis on internal communications. She said she would also be helping the organization with its English language office skills.

"I would like to help them work on a way of building their base of support in Ekaterinburg," said Kramer. "Most Russians, like residents of other formerly Communist nations, don't have much of a history of getting involved. ISLP hopes to get more people interested in organizations like a civil liberties union."

Kramer said he hopes his work can help strengthen Sutyajnik.

"These countries need independent non-governmental organizations as a counterweight to strong government."

"And I'm interested in letting Russians see ordinary Americans, not what they see on TV," said Ahrens.

"It will be interesting to see their reactions to ordinary Americans," agreed Kramer.

"This is a great way to continue to do something that is useful and interesting and get to travel," Kramer said. He said that, even though ISLP would pay for the travel and a good deal of the living expenses, he and Ahrens will be responsible for any extra travel or other activities.

Ahrens said, even though they will only be there for three months, they are looking forward to living in their own apartment and visiting the opera.

Of course, they will be bringing their musical instruments.

"Playing is an absolutely excellent way of meeting people," said Kramer. "In Bulgaria we hiked every weekend with a hiking club, into the mountains, picnicking, drinking and singing songs. It was wonderful and a great way to meet new people."

"Working in a place for a few months is preferable to being a sightseer," agreed Ahrens. "You get to know people and learn more about the place. It's just not the same when you're a tourist."

"When you're there, you want to get out and meet people and visit places," said Kramer. "You make good friendships."

Ahrens said they returned to Bulgaria in May to attend the wedding of a friend they met while in the Peace Corps.

"It felt like we were going home," said Ahrens.

"Our experiences in Bulgaria, as a transition economy, have made us very interested in being active in the democratic process, even here at home in Pine Plains," said Ahrens. "It's important for us to be active in the community."

"I was not terribly active in politics until recently," said Kramer.

Kramer and Ahrens said after they return from Russia, they hope to go back into the Peace Corps.

"Maybe someplace in central Asia," said Ahrens.

"For people getting ready to retire or wanting to do something different, you won't find a better option than the Peace Corps," said Ahrens. "Ten percent of Peace Corps volunteers are more than 50 years old. There is a lot you can do and the Peace Corps takes care of you wonderfully."

Ahrens and Kramer will be back in Pine Plains on Dec. 23 and hope to give a lecture about their experiences soon after they return.

©The Register Herald 2004





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Story Source: Register Herald

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Bulgaria; Married Couples

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