It’s been a while since I’ve posted last. Not to say I haven’t reflected or written or thought about experiences to share, but more that there have been so many changes in the last months of 2014 and the first of 2015 that I haven’t been sure how to tackle them all in writing. In that past 6 months I have moved towns, host families and organizations. Some of these changes have been long, some have been difficult, and some have brought about a positive light in my experience here that I never would have expected. So here is a little bit about:
What I do in Kyrgyzstan
It’s a question I’ve been trying to answer to the past (almost year) and piecing together an idea of my role in my organization, my home and host family and as an aid worker in a foreign country has been a long process. So let me tell you a little about it.
I now live in Karakol City, a large town located on the far eastern shore of Lake Issyk Kul.
This city offers the very best of Kyrgyzstan, beautiful mountains, a great ski resort, the second largest salt-water alpine lake in the world, and a bazaar that has (some) vegetables even in winter (sometimes). Despite the fact that I still have a hole in the ground for a toilet and light a coal burning petchka for heat, I’m incredibly spoiled.
Karakol Valley in the summer
Karakol Ski basin in the winter
My new organization is called “Ravenstvo” which means equality in Russian. We have an office in the bottom of an apartment building where the director, office manager, and program coordinator work. It is nice to have an office but I spend most of my days at our children’s center. This center “Ornok Center for the Early Intervention of Children with Disabilities” is partially funded by Ravenstvo and operates out of the bottom floor of School No. 14 in Karakol. The center was given six rooms in the back of the school and after months of remodeling, officially opened in November. We have about 20 students, of whom about 12 come in regularly. These children have a range of different disabilities from physical, cerebral palsy and spina bifida, to cognitive and learning disabilities, many non-verbal students, some with autism. The center is completely staffed by the caring mothers of children who attend. They are all incredibly hungry for new information about how to help their children and work very hard to provide a positive and active learning environment but the center also provides a space for them to act as support for one another and have time to socialize with other adults.
Over time we have developed a schedule of activities that cater to each student including music and art therapy, class time and individual work time, a sensory room and a space for physical therapy and massages.
When I tell locals I am a volunteer here in Kyrgyzstan the overwhelming assumption is I am an English teacher. I like being able to tell them about my work with children at the center but was surprised when I started noticing a trend in the responses. “Oh you must hate that, it must be so sad and difficult” many people say, perhaps in an attempt to empathize with me. I am proud to be able to respond (in limited broken Russian of course) that in fact I love it. I never feel sad about my work and it is, in fact, never depressing. Being greeted with big smiles and hugs every day and being able to watch as the students learn a little bit more, both academically and socially, every day is my favorite part of my service.