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What is community?

Tajikistan, August 15, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Sadullo Ubaidulloev for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Everybody helps out in Tajik communities. Photo: Sadullo Ubaidulloev for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Sarah Royall for Mercy Corps  </span>
    A community in Obi Mehnat, Rasht Valley gathers to discuss their ideas to tackle youth unemployment. Photo: Sarah Royall for Mercy Corps

Tajikistan is a small former Soviet Republic situated just north of Afghanistan. The contrast between the two neighboring countries is striking. The occasional bullet-ridden and bombed-out buildings alongside slowly decomposing scraps of former tanks are regular reminders of the violent six-year civil war that ended just barely a decade ago and went largely unpublicized in the West. Some communities have suffered enduring conflicts with violent flare-ups as recently as last year — and this is where you’ll find Mercy Corps working.

Despite these past conflicts, all over Tajikistan we find communities working together to promote peace and improve one another’s situations. “Hashars” are Tajik community get-togethers. Unlike the neighborly meet-ups in my neighborhood in America where we share gossip over drinks, here the community gets together to work on a project that benefits everyone, such as improving the roads or cutting hay that everyone can use.

On a recent field visit to a village high in the mountains, we came to what appeared to be the end of a barely passable road. It’s obvious to see why the community has asked for our help in improving these roads. The community members decided to start the work themselves and organized a community hashar, repairing the worst part of the road. Since there are so many miles of roads that are in need of serious repairs, especially before the challenging winter weather sets in, our contribution can stretch a little further now that the community has started the first few feet.

When our recent project began in Tajikistan, we started by forming Community Action Groups (CAGs) who steer all of our work in these villages. A few weeks ago, our team led a training about the Vision for Change with one of our CAGs. Afterwards, the participants were eager to share how they related to our values. It was clear that this really resonated with them, especially because the idea of community-led development is already a strong concept in their culture.