Tuesday, December 28, 2010


For many people in this country, and I expect throughout the world, special needs people are a sensitive and, often, shameful topic. They are not talked about, helped or properly cared for. Yet they are often the ones most in need. This is true here. Over the last two years I’ve seen special needs people pushed to the margins, forgotten, or ignored. It is considered shameful to have a special needs person and especially to have a special needs child. So sometimes it can be hard to work in this area, when the government, culture and everything else is against you. So when one does find people who truly want to work in this field, with these people it is so uplifting and inspiring.

In my old village, through various activities, I saw this population go from marginalized to known. Now they receive more help, recognition and support. They still have a long way to go but it is exciting to see what has happened in two short years. While I lived there I met some amazing people with big hearts who just wanted to help. Some of these people had special needs children themselves, others did not. They just wanted to share the love and increase awareness. It’s the same in my current city. I've met an amazing organization that goes out to orphanages and day cares with clothes and other items. They have provided funding for projects to special needs places and recently won an award for their work. However, this place is not the ones doing something. I've met people who have created special needs apparatuses for their clients out of household items. I've seen these children thrive by just being talked to, held or noticed. The people that work here receive very little pay and hardly in recognition, yet they come every day and do it. In this country, with its stigma and discrimination towards this population it truly is amazing. They have helped to open my eyes to the potential that exists here and that no matter how bad things can look there are always heroes. These people are just that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Different View of Culture

For two years I lived in a small local village. Now for my third year I’m living in a city. Naturally differences between the two have arisen and has given me different perspectives on culture. For instance, food is more readily available, the bazaar is closer, more cafes are available and general Kyrgyzstan-style fast food can be easily acquired. Indoor plumbing- toilets and water- are also more accessible, both at work and home, also electricity is generally always on. However, its not just amenities that are different, it's people too.

I've noticed that people in the city work longer hours, and often attend work more regularly than villagers. This is not saying villagers do not work, they just are often distracted by home issues- such as animals, sickness, etc. People in the city have a tendency to come to work more regularly, despite other outside circumstances. Also they seem generally less inviting. I haven't yet been invited to guest at a coworkers. I think this is because they are busy with other things and unlike villagers guesting does not make up a large part of their lives. There's nothing wrong with this, just something I haven't yet gotten used to. Its also very strange not to hear or see farm animals, nor to have people be working with them. I've noticed that in the city their lives do focus more around work than in other aspects. It's nice to have that for a change but still very strange after two years. Families are important but unlike in the village children are given more opportunities to excel. They have different school choices, from schools teaching English, German or Russian, to a specialized music school. Also unlike many villagers most younger children attend a daycare because both parents are working. In the village usually only one person is working- maybe- and many children do not attend daycare.

Therefore, there is much I am still adjusting to regarding a city verses a village. I enjoy being in a city but it is a very different lifestyle from the one I’ve had for two years. Sure, some cultural aspects remain the same, because they are more deeply ingrained within society but there definitely does exist differences between the city and village. I think its the same in America. Any thoughts?

(I apologize for the delay in posting Dawn's latest blog. You should have seen it a few days ago.)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Stranger in a Strange Land

Apart from being a book and an episode title on LOST, this term, I feel, applies to anyone that has every lived overseas or in an area where they are on outsider, a stranger. One does not have to live overseas to have felt like a stranger; you can often feel like a stranger in your own land. However, for me, and for many others that have done international development work, one often feels a stranger in their serving country and in their land.

When we first set out into the vast realm of international development work we enter with naive expectation and preconceived notions. We often think we know better than the locals, which is often not true. After some time we change, they change, everything changes. Yet no matter how well we truly integrate, no matter how well we speak their language, eat their food, or dress like them, we are never fully them, we are always a stranger in a strange land. For two years I lived in a small rural village, and I became pretty integrated and known, yet a was still a stranger. Now in my new site that is once again the case. Everything is new, fresh and must be relearned. People again stare and wonder. I wonder back and stumble along, knowing I am once again a stranger in a strange land.

Yet, for the general international development worker, we know this, we prepare ourselves for it. Yet, we often fail to forget that we are strangers in our homeland as well. We become vastly changed by our experience and we miss out on events in people's lives. We arrive back to find friends and family in different places than they were when we first left and find ourselves trying to figure out how to insert ourselves into their life, all while trying to cope with what we've been through. We try to share our experience while not really knowing how to and we look at everything through another set of eyes, eyes that no longer belong to the homeland, but not quite belonging to the adopted land, either. Its a conundrum. As we try to pick off where we left off we realize it really is difficult to go back. We are not how we were when we left. We are strangers in some aspects.

Being a stranger in strangle lands is unique and not for everyone. Those who do embark on this path know it is not easy but we do know its challenging and rewarding and one that can truly change. It makes life more interesting and unique. When was the last time you were a stranger in a strange land? Try it... you just might be surprised.

Monday, May 17, 2010


As a Peace Corps volunteer we often deal with differences, both regarding the local culture, people, language, food, etc but within our own community itself. The Peace Corps experience causes one to get close to people they may not normally get close to. This is due to volunteer proximity, and just the basic fact that there are so few Americans in this area. So you develop unlikely friendships and begin to cross lines that you may not have existed. I have seen this during my service here. I have developed friendships with people that I am normally drawn to but also others that are very different from who I am, so different that I probably would never have developed a friendship in the states. They are people from all types of backgrounds, states, beliefs and experiences. We have similarities and many, many differences. Yet, I’ve realized that in order to be successful, to be fulfilled, you need to be able to deal with people no matter how alike or similar they are to you and to willing to lift preconceived judgments and beliefs about people.

For instance, three friendships that have blossomed for me here have developed long after my preconceived notions about them were lifted. They are very different from what I originally thought, and I to them. Its sad how often we left first impressions guide us. We need to be more willing to look deeper, to truly explore the person and not just what they show on the surface. As my experience has shown me here, everyone holds stuff back and never fully show themselves. I do it, we all do and only when the layers begin to be peeled back can the true light begin to show. We must be willing to take a leap of faith, to become vulnerable, to trust, to open up. I recently told a good friend of mine here that I am a very different person than I was before I came. I have developed friendships with many people different from me and it’s made me a much better person; a person better able to handle differences and to accept them.

Recently I met some of the new volunteers in country with a fellow volunteer. This volunteer has become a good friend of mine, but only after I was willing to remove some preconceived notions I had and willing to take a jump. Now she’s someone I can always count on and whenever I’m in her area always visit. We are from very different backgrounds in the states and very different places. So different that we probably would never have really interacted much in the states. However we were together when we met some new volunteers and after spending about 3 hours with them we left. They later told her that they just couldn’t fathom us hanging out together in the states because we seemed so different. It fathomed us both because we couldn’t imagine not. We couldn’t understand what it was they were talking about and/or observing. To us it was natural, as it is to many volunteers who have been in country a while. This experience changes you in ways we ourselves never see but to outsiders it’s noticeable. We become accustomed to differences in all forms and learn how to interact, accept and handle them. We embrace them and they help us to grow into more fully developed individuals. I for one am so thankful for this and know that I have benefited in so many amazing ways from everyones’ differences. As my service is nearing an end I continue to look for them and hope to become even more changed. Will you do the same?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Donkey Ride

I recently went guesting at a house. The hosts are an amazing young couple that my site mate and I have established a great relationship with. We had such a great time. It was the first time in a long time that we were able to interact with people around our age. Everyone there was under age 30 and eventhough they were married; they were not dominated by it. They all have ambitions and aspirations which is great to see. The two married couples there are all younger and teachers and we have had the opportunity to establish a great relationsihp with them. I look forward to the next chance.

However the real fun came on the way home. We had walked there that evening but when we left it was very dark and late. So the other couple that came took us home in a donkey cart. Yep, a genuine real life metal cart pulled by a donkey. I felt so bad for the donkey because not only is it pulling a heavy metal cart but inside it are 8 people! Then on top of that we're going up hill, around bends, over rocks, etc. I came very close to falling out once and if it hadn't been for my quick reflexes I would have. It was certainly an adventure. I'll do it again in a heartbeat because we were all laughing and having a great time. The donkey ride was a great way to end the evening.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


With only 6 more months left in country, I like many fellow volunteers, have begun to look at the impact I’ve made on my site. If just looking at the school, the classes and the system that I sometimes work in then it can be really depressing. There’s no great change that has occurred in that sector. Yes, I do teach two health classes a week when before there was none, but once I’m gone that will discontinue. Will my health organization still continue to teach, I don’t know and I think it’s likely. Do the clubs I run actually provide any major impact to those students that participate? I don’t know and I won’t know during my time here. Sure there are the few outstanding students that have been impacted and will make something of themselves but by just looking at the school it’s not there. There is no new health teacher, nor are the teachers themselves educated on health. So without a health volunteer there will be no health education… how sustainable and life altering is that?

So where then can the impact be seen? I think in two areas: work and family. My work has definitely seen an impact, if only in the forms of “stuff” that they’ve gotten. Sometimes I think the impact I’ve made on them is in obtaining grants. Without a grant they don’t really do anything, so if there is no grant how are they impacting the community. Sure they’ve been able to produce a new juice project and do an environmental project, HIV/AIDS education and several others, but it was all based on grants. Which then leads me to think would any of this have occurred without a grant and is my impact on them only as a grant obtainer. I’ve never been able to implement monthly health seminars for themselves, they need training just as much as everyone. But at least through these grants I have been able to see people’s lives changed (the anemia juice project). They themselves as an organization has seen change in terms of health education teaching. I’ve been able to teach them about interactive teaching, presentations and a large improvement has been noted in their lessons, which is definitely going to impact many people. Also another impact I’ve seen has just been with them learning new information. Through these grants we’ve been able to bring in consultants and other professionals which have only helped their professional development. So although it may look like there may not be much impact, there truly is.

The final are of impact is the family. I do think I’ve had some impact on my host family; I know the previous volunteer did. I’ve been able to develop relationships, educate them and just become a part of their lives in ways I didn’t imagine. I’m not sure what will stay with them but I know something will and by them just having a volunteer for 2 years has been an impact on them in some many ways.

So when it looks like I may not have any areas of impact I can always look at my host family and realize that some has occurred in some ways, and if it’s only one family reached and changed in some small way, well then it’s worth it. Volunteer often think we don’t really make that much of a difference at times but the truth is we do; we just have to look for those special people that prove it.