Make a difference in the lives of women and children in Tajikistan - no amount is too small!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Rehabilitation and Training Centre for Children with Disabilities

My role as a VSO volunteer is to share social work skills regarding children and families with disabilities. I live and work at the Nur Centre for Children with Disabilities which is on the hospital compound. This is great news because it means I am guaranteed electricity 99% of the time!! This translates into heat, hot water and the ability to cook. Being on the hospital ground also means security; although, the centre has a guard on 24/7. There are 22 staff, 22 children attend the centre during the day, 20 children are seen in their homes because they can’t get to the centre, and 40 parents and children come to the centre for consultation. This is the first and only centre for children with disabilities in the Pamirs. I am very proud to be a part of the team and equally excited about bringing awareness of disability issues and child’s rights to Tajikistan.

Meeting Other Volunteers in Tajikistan

Wow, to my delight I was accompanied to Tajikistan by another Canadian (British Columbia) VSO Volunteer!! Thank goodness too because it was an exhausting 3-day trip traveling Victoria, Vancouver, Montreal, Paris, St. Petersburg then to Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan. There we spent 2 weeks with 4 other new volunteers from Germany, USA, England and Ise of Mann! It is so rewarding to meet like-minded people - not everyone understands why I would go to Central Asia to volunteer; least of all the citizens of Tajikistan.

We didn't have time to rest after landing in Dushanbe; we went directly into our 2-week in country training. It was very useful and a great way to introduce the culture. The greatest difficulty was getting used to the absence of street lights at night! Not to mention it was still like summer there and I had nothing but winter clothes with me – YIKES. Secondly was learning how to walk again as all the roads are in very bad shape and there are uncovered man-holes. I didn’t see much of Dushanbe when walking.. always looking at my feet. Dushanbe is about the size of Victoria BC. There are a number of different volunteer agencies working in Dushanbe, so I didn’t stand out as much as I was worried I would. Whew.

Myself and another volunteer were heading south to work in small communities, 2 others were heading north, and 2 were staying in Dushanbe.

I was off to Khorog, a small town boardering on Afghanistan. I had read that the flight from Dushanbe to Khorog is the hardest in the world; the plane doesn't have the luxery of digital technology and dependens on the sight and sound of the piolot. As the plane negotiates the peaks and valleys of the Pamir Mountains, I sat in awe and fear LOL. Although, they say the plane has only gone down once, 10 years ago - it was shot down by Afghanistan.. oh really!!! Nice, didn't want to know that.


Tajikistan?? How the heck do you pronounce that and where in the world is it!!? Thank goodness I wasn't alone with those questions. It boarders to the north of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to the west of China and south of Russia.

Tajikistan is perhaps best known for its rich history and diverse culture, which is a mix of the Islamic faith, Soviet influence, and Central Asian traditions. It served as a key post along the Silk Road and marked the end of Alexander the Great's extensive rule. It was the birthplace of the great Persian poet Rudaki and famous Islamic philosopher Ibn Sina. And it is home to epic mountain passes, communities that still speak the ancient Sogdian language, and a civilization that dates back to the 4th millennium BC. But, Tajikistan is also the poorest of the former Soviet republics. The civil war, which ignited soon after its independence from the U.S.S.R., further damaged the already weak economy. In addition, 93% of the country is mountainous and only 7% of the land is arable. These conditions have resulted in high levels of unemployment and have forced hundreds of thousands to seek work in other countries, mainly Russia. While the people of Tajikistan are working to improve its agricultural production and manufacturing sector, nearly two-thirds of the population still live in abject poverty.
VSO is new in Tajikistan and they are working hard to share skills in health care and sustainable resources. After much research and discussion with family and friends, I accepted the challenge and opportunity to help make a difference!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

VSO Preperation

Whooo hooo... what the heck does Assessment Day mean? Well, there are 4 people who assess a group of volunteers on how well they work together as a team, under pressure and with limitted resources. Then you spend a couple hours with one of the assessors who ask you some very important questions. It didn't take me long to figure out how important this Assessment Day is to both the volunteer and the organization. They really make sure you aren't getting yourself in to hot water.

One question I remember is "Lisa, what can't you leave home without?" The first thing that came to mind is I can not go without the blessing of my girls. Tim Horton's coffee was a close second. Fortunately, my girls came to Vancouver with me when I went for my assessment. They spent the day shopping, but were all ears at the end to hear my story. I love them, they are so supportive.

It takes about 3 business days to hear back if you've passed the Assessment or not.

Following that, I started all the paper work to prepare for living overseas. It is a lot of work, but one thing is for sure, VSO makes sure everything is covered from a medical check to what to pack. As well, there are 2 weekend trips to Ottawa for training. Meeting other volunteers taking the same journey was the greatest enjoyment!

How it started.

It's been a life long dream to volunteer in a developing country. It is on the top of my "bucket list." Have you seen the movie? I was young when I had my family so I knew it would be something I would be doing later in life. Social work was my area of study in university, but following some research on volunteering, I realized I needed some Project Management knowledge and skills as well. So, with a couple years of social work and a couple years of project management, I felt equipted to begin my journey.

As Fate would have it.. if you follow me.. the Government agreed to a joint partnership with CUSO-VSO, a volunteer services organization. Government employees are provided the opportunity to volunteer over seas and come back to a job!! WOW. Sign me up! So after a couple of months of self evaluation and discussion with friends and family - can I really do this? what if I fail? What if I meet up with the bugs hahah.. no seriously, me and bugs don't get along - and of course the biggest question ever... can I leave my girls behind? I applied.

All you do is apply online

A couple days later I was contacted to set up a phone interview. Very informal.