In ‘the biggest village in Europe’, a single mother develops a profitable business from ethno-tourism… with EU support

Ana Statova welcomes her guests

Ana Statova, a single mother of two, has recently become a local celebrity in the Gagauzia region of Moldova. News about the traditional touristic complex ‘Gagauz Sofrasi’ built in the village of Congaz has travelled fast.

Ambitiously named ‘The biggest village in Europe’, Congaz is proud of the complex reproduces the setting and charm of traditional peasant houses: stoves with heated beds, small wooden windows, small wall-rugs and traditional carpets made of natural wool.

Ana was one of 30 entrepreneurs who obtained financial and technical support for their small businesses from the European Union, through the programme for ‘Support for agriculture and rural development in ATU Gagauzia and Taraclia district’ (SARD), which is implemented by the UNDP in Moldova.

During construction, Ana insisted on using ecological materials. The four houses are made of clay and straw walls, with reed roofs that make them warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Passionate about tradition

“I was always passionate about history and dreamed about helping preserve local traditions and culture, like the dowry I inherited from my mother, and the many traditional Gagauzian food recipes I collected over the years,” she says.

Traditional Gagauz dishes, like shorpa, a spicy lamp soup, or bulgur cooked as pilaf in lamb stock with tomatoes, carrots, onions and red peppers, have been a hit with local and international tourists.

Since the opening in 2016, the staff has grown to 14 women and men. Ana has further plans to keep growing.

She is now working from dusk until dawn to establish a Gagauzian wine cellar, where she plans to organise regular wine tasting events.

Gender discrimination

It’s not easy for women like Ana to run businesses in Moldova. Gender-based discrimination and stereotypes still run deep. Women in Moldova face more difficulties in finding a job, even though they have higher levels of education than men.

Even when they do, a lot of them still have to interrupt their employment to take care of children or other family members, often becoming financially dependent on their spouses.

In the region of Gagauzia, only two out of the 26 mayors are women, but the Governor of the region is for the first time a woman, a sign that maybe times are changing.

Ana’s success is also a good omen, an inspiration for many other women from the region. “It is never too late to follow your dreams and it is always possible to change your life in a better way,” she says with confidence.

Local entrepreneurship

Support for local entrepreneurship initiatives like Ana’s is one of the three main components of the SARD Programme. It also includes activities for empowering communities, renovating infrastructure facilities and promoting inter-municipal cooperation in ATU Gagauzia and Taraclia District.

Financed by the European Union with a €6.5 million and implemented by the UNDP, the SARD Programme aims to boost collaboration between central and local authorities, as well as among regional organisations from ATU Gagauzia and Taraclia District in order to foster social and economic development in the region, in particular, and in Moldova in general.

The EU also supports small businesses in Moldova through its EU4Business initiative, with one project – Women in Business – specifically aimed at supporting women entrepreneurs.