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In Central Asia's hidden treasure

Tajikistan, October 26, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mercy Corps Tajikistan  </span>
    Maternal and Child Health Program Director Ramesh Singh and I on the way to Gonchi village. Photo: Mercy Corps Tajikistan
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Manasi Sharma/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Focus Group session in Urmantol Village, Asht district. Photo: Manasi Sharma/Mercy Corps

As a Desk Officer going on a field visit for the very first time, I could not have asked for a better place to visit than Tajikistan. I’ve come to think of it as a lost and/or hidden treasure in the middle of Central Asia. This may be because most of the non-Mercy Corps folks I told I was coming here usually couldn’t locate it on a map or even believed it was the name of an actual country.

I’ve spent almost every day in the field since my arrival, visiting our beneficiaries in the Tajikistan Stability Enhancement Program (TSEP) and our Maternal and Child Health (MCH) project on the outskirts of Khujand, a northern city where Mercy Corps has an office. Tajik villages lack the most basic necessities most of us in the Western world take for granted: clean drinking water, basic infrastructure and the list could go on and on.

But there are also limited number of places where you walk out of your home every morning and are surrounded by the breath-taking views of mountains that cover the Ferghana Valley… this picture speaks for itself.

With help from our extremely dedicated Khujand staff, I’ve been conducting Focus Groups in target villages where Mercy Corps’ TSEP program is constructing water point systems for clean drinking water, a medical clinic for basic primary health care and training workshops such as sewing for young Tajik girls. I’ve never met such hospitable, warm and welcoming people. Every single visit has concluded with the villagers thanking me for making such a long trip to visit them and inviting me to their homes for tea and some Tajik pilau (traditional Tajik rice dish with vegetables and meat). Though I’m sure I am learning more from these people than they are from me.

I was able to attend two of the MCH community events, one in a small town in Spitamen district where Mercy Corps has targeted different schools engaged in the Child-to-Child (CTC) Training of Trainers where ninth and tenth grade students are teaching each other about hygiene practices that prevent waterborne diseases. Members of Village Development Committees, Department of Health and Department of Education attended this event, where Mercy Corps presented progress on project indicators and school children performed skits and dances from the different Central Asian nations.

The other MCH event was organized on Global Hand-Washing Day and was held in a village called Gonchi, nestled in the middle of a beautiful valley, surrounded by the Ferghana mountains. The road to Gonchi is hardly a road and alongside the mountainside which kept me wondering how these people are able to ever leave their village unless they have a four-wheel drive?!

At this village, the school children and some of the Community Health Educators performed skits on hygiene and even sang and danced to Hindi songs (Bollywood is huge here!). Just like the TSEP communities, our MCH beneficiaries could not express more gratitude for the health interventions that they claim have improved their lives, especially those of children who have shown a marked decrease in the prevalence of diarrheal disease and other illness.

The enthusiasm and motivation these people have to improve their communities does not go unnoticed, as does their appreciation for Mercy Corps, since I feel like I’m in a photo shoot with the amount of young kids wanting to get a picture with the girl from the Mercy Corps office in America. And everyone visiting any Tajik event where dancing is included should know that no one is allowed to stay in their seats!

My trip is only halfway over but I already know that this will not be my last trip to Tajikistan.