2009.06.30: June 30, 2009: Headlines: COS - Albania: Princeton Union Eagle: Bill Trunk has left his mark as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural part of Albania

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Albania: Peace Corps Albania : Peace Corps Albania: Newest Stories: 2009.06.30: June 30, 2009: Headlines: COS - Albania: Princeton Union Eagle: Bill Trunk has left his mark as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural part of Albania

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Bill Trunk has left his mark as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural part of Albania

Bill Trunk has left his mark as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural part of Albania

"I was surprised how nice it was," Trunk said as he recalled his thoughts about Albania when he first arrived. For starters, he found a significant number of what he called nice homes and the country appeared nice in general. But Trunk found that Albania had "big issues underneath." One of the main problems, he said, was the extensive corruption, he saw, and because of that, a lot of distrust in the population. For example, people are very reserved conversing with anyone until they know them better, Trunk said. But Trunk knew Albanians had, for many years, felt threatened with prison or death for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person under the communists, Trunk said. Trunk was assigned to work in community development with a micro-credit organization called Opportunity Albania, which is owned by Opportunity International. After completing the required Peace Corps pre-service training, he moved in with a new host family, a middle income married couple - Cimi, his wife Teuta, and their daughter Bebe, 9. They were located in the city of Fushe Kruje. "It was a wonderful experience living with them," Trunk said. "It was very good."

Bill Trunk has left his mark as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural part of Albania

Trunk sees opportunity for aid to Albania

By Joel Stottrup

Princeton native Bill Trunk, 46, has left his mark as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural part of Albania.

He was assigned to community development to help create job opportunities for the 35 percent that are unemployed in Albania. Trunk said Albania is the second poorest country in Europe.

The country is bordered by Greece to the southeast, Montenegro to the north, Kosovo to the northeast and Macedonia to the east. Albania, a parliamentary democracy, has a population of about 3.6 million, with nearly one million of that in the capital city of Tirana.

Trunk also noted that Albania was the last country in Eastern Europe to end communism. It was under a communist dictator after World War II until 1992 and just became a member of NATO this year.

From the corporate world to Peace Corps

Trunk grew up on a dairy farm in rural Princeton, got an undergraduate degree at St. Cloud State University and then worked for three years at PricewaterhouseCoopers, in Minneapolis.

He then earned a Masters in Business Administration in finance at Indiana State University and began working for 17 years at 3M.

While at 3M he spent three years in St. Paul, 10 in Austin, Texas, two years in Atlanta and two in India.

Trunk, who is single, found the Peace Corps a good fit with some of his interests which include international travel, foreign films, the arts and volunteering.

He joined the Peace Corps in 2007 but had become interested in it long before. Some years before, while attending a personal development retreat in Minneapolis, he heard a woman describe her dream to join the Peace Corps. Even before the retreat, he had thought about joining the organization but not until retirement.

Then, in his early 40s, after having worked for 3M for 17 years, the catalyst arrived.

3M announced it would be moving his work group from Austin, Texas, to St. Paul. He reviewed the options of either making the move to St. Paul, finding a different 3M job in Austin, or taking a severance package and leaving 3M.

He quit 3M, deciding he did not want to spend his whole working career at 3M.

Checking out the Peace Corps, he found that his values aligned with the Peace Corps mission.

Another of its missions is to help people in developing countries meet their needs with trained volunteers.

Trunk said that he had figured the Peace Corps could help him with a personal goal, to work in international development.

Heading into the Peace Corps

It took Trunk almost a year, from the time he applied for the Peace Corps, until he left for Albania. The assignment meant learning Albanian, which he says is a moderately difficult language.

The Romans occupied the country nearly 2,000 years ago and then the Turkish Ottomans occupied it for five centuries until 1912.

Seventy percent of Albania's population is Muslim, 20 percent is Orthodox Christian and the rest is Catholic, according to Trunk.

Many Albanians have left Albania to find work and about 700,000 are living in Greece and about 200,000 in Italy.

Today there are about 70 Peace Corps volunteers in Albania, according to Trunk.

Trunk was in a group of 38 Peace Corps volunteers that received training in language, programs, cultural awareness, community integration, safety, security and medical. He was not the traditional Peace Corps volunteer whose age is closer to 20, he noted.

During the three months of pre-service training in Albania, he lived in a village and trained in a larger city. He lived with a retired couple during that time.

His group had to complete a community project at the training site. The project included conducting computer training for some of the teachers at an elementary school in the village.

Learning about Albania

"I was surprised how nice it was," Trunk said as he recalled his thoughts about Albania when he first arrived. For starters, he found a significant number of what he called nice homes and the country appeared nice in general.

But Trunk found that Albania had "big issues underneath."

One of the main problems, he said, was the extensive corruption, he saw, and because of that, a lot of distrust in the population. For example, people are very reserved conversing with anyone until they know them better, Trunk said.

But Trunk knew Albanians had, for many years, felt threatened with prison or death for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person under the communists, Trunk said.

Trunk was assigned to work in community development with a micro-credit organization called Opportunity Albania, which is owned by Opportunity International.

After completing the required Peace Corps pre-service training, he moved in with a new host family, a middle income married couple - Cimi, his wife Teuta, and their daughter Bebe, 9. They were located in the city of Fushe Kruje.

"It was a wonderful experience living with them," Trunk said. "It was very good."

Being creative

He was the first Peace Corps volunteer to work at the site he was assigned to, he said, so he therefore had to be creative in starting things. Trunk had to determine what had to be done and who was really interested in working together. "I couldn't do it by myself," he explained.

It did help that the Albanians like the United States which dates back to Pres. Woodrow Wilson pushing for Albania to become a country.

Trunk's accomplishments

Trunk ended up accomplishing the following during his time in Albania:

Co-developed a course called How to Start a Business. It was for economics students at the university in Elbasan.

Conducted Training-of-Trainers sessions for five different organizations so they can teach the How to Start a Business course throughout Albania.

Trunk noted that his training materials for the course were published and have become a model for the Peace Corps globally.

He also coached the Opportunity Albania Financial Literacy Team. The team has provided accounting and financial analysis training to business owners.

Expanding the book collection at a new community library in Fushe Kruje.

Advising the programming manager for a non-governmental organization (NGO) on program activities, as well as for a country-wide anti-begging campaign, and reporting and personal development planning.

Attending the international conference on Violence Against the Girl Child, which was conducted in the Hague, in the Netherlands.

Was finance officer for an NGO focusing on HIV prevention and human rights.

Was on a task force to advise the U.S. ambassador to Albania concerning human rights.

Collaborated with NGOs to develop a tourist site and improve the surrounding environment.

Provided program design and training in management, computers, English, job search and career counseling for residents.

Big success story

But Trunk called one more accomplishment his "big success story."

It had to do with a 22-year-old man named Edi, who was struggling, trying to find a job.

Edi lives with his parents and sister and the father is frequently unemployed so they rely closely on Edi, Trunk said.

Edi had never graduated from high school, was computer illiterate, unemployed, and needed English tutoring.

Trunk worked with Edi for a year, teaching Edi how to use the computer and helped him practice his English.

Trunk also helped him find a job.

When a position came up for processing Albanian ID cards, Trunk recommended Edi for it. It required using computer equipment and Edi had learned to do that from Trunk's teaching.

Edi got the job and became very successful in it, Trunk noted.

Immersed in the community

Starting and carrying out projects as a Peace Corps volunteer in Albania had its difficulties, Trunk made clear.

One of his frustrations, he said, was witnessing a social system that had a significant amount of corruption.

In order to get various government services such as health care, certain permits, and to be able to pass school courses, the recipients sometimes had to pay people in power positions, he said.

He saw some reduction in corruption while he was there, but it was "no drastic change," he said.

The Peace Corps does what it calls "asset mapping," meaning focusing on the strengths of a community and then working with those, Trunk said.

One of the things that Trunk said he learned from his experience was not to get frustrated when there were roadblocks, but to find options.

Another gain that Trunk listed from his experience in Albania, was a personal one. By the time he entered the Peace Corps, he had already long left the small town of Princeton to live and work in big cities like Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Austin, Texas.

When he was sent to Albania, he had to live in the small town where he was assigned to work. If the volunteer lives away from the people the volunteer is trying to work with, they won't gain the residents' trust, he said.

By his second year in Albania, he was greeted regularly by residents where he lived, he said, explaining that he had gained their trust.

But what turned out to be his most difficult task in Albania, he explained, was saying goodbye to the families he had lived with and to Edi.

The Peace Corps has a saying, Trunk noted, that being a volunteer in the corps will be the "hardest job you'll ever love."




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Story Source: Princeton Union Eagle

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