Pictured above is 2007 Intern Rebecca Raney, back row, second from the right.
Podgorica, Montenegro I had no idea what to expect from my internship with IOCC in Montenegro since I had originally applied for the internship in Ethiopia. The Balkans had rarely crossed my mind since my background and experience was in the international relief and development of Africa. However, I became immediately immersed in the beauty, local traditions, ancient Christian history, historical complexity, and depth of the Balkan mentality. It is truly a fascinating part of the world and IOCC has played a significant role by providing vital relief and long-term development program and the organization is currently implementing civil society and capacity-building initiatives. IOCC is also working to develop creative, sustainable income-generating projects for some of the most vulnerable populations in the region.
During my three months in Montenegro, I had the pleasure of working on several wide-ranging projects. One of them involves IOCC’s unique partnership with a local organization that is working towards the full integration of people living with disabilities. I was a contributing member of the focus groups which drafted the first ever National Strategy for persons living with disabilities. The Strategy will likely be adopted into law next year. This is a crucial step for those living with disabilities to be able to protect and defend their rights and to develop including opening up access to public offices, education and employment opportunities. This initiative will also help Montenegro in its bid to join the European Union. I also enjoyed working with my Program Manager and the administrators of a local school for the severely mentally disabled. We designed new projects targeted at giving the residents meaningful work and an avenue to generate income for their under-funded facility. In this instance I was able to use my research experience as well as my background in market-based strategies for international development.
During my internship, our field office hosted our colleagues from IOCC Greece and their local partners who also work with people living with disabilities. The Study Tour we took them on gave me a regional perspective of the struggles that disabled individuals face. I also learned how to plan conference activities and manage relationships with donors and local government officials.
Montenegro is a tiny country but full of activity as it emerges out of its socialist past and finds its place in the market economy. Montenegrins are a resilient people as they seek to adapt and survive in a changing environment. The Orthodox Church is facing many difficulties but continues its ancient history of offering faith, hope and love to its people. Finally, the country’s landscape is of such diversity and beauty that is surprising for such a small territory. My experience here has been unforgettable and I leave a changed person with a wider perspective for the Balkans and for IOCC’s work as an Orthodox humanitarian organization.
Rebecca Raney served a three-month internship with IOCC in Podgorica, Montenegro, in the summer of 2007.