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Through a Caring Lens

Tajikistan, September 24, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Nestled in the heart of Central Asia, Tajikistan is defined by its 20,000-foot peaks, harsh winters and scarce arable land. This makes it challenging for families to eat a healthy and diverse diet. Mercy Corps has been working here since 1994 — and one goal is to improve food security in the Rasht Valley. Photo: Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps  </span>
    We work with pregnant women and mothers with babies age 2 or younger. Nearly 300 local volunteers teach seminars on such topics as food preservation, greenhouse construction, composting, maternal health, baby care and breastfeeding. Photo: Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mothers come together weekly to learn and share information. Since we began working in the Rasht region, women are more likely to see a doctor while pregnant and eat a more diverse diet. Photo: Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Children also benefit. Fewer babies are underweight; more infants are breastfed exclusively; and there is less diarrhea among babies in the villages where Mercy Corps operates. Photo: Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Greenhouses are a simple way to extend the growing season and diversify meals. Instead of waiting until late June for a harvest, Tajik families enjoy tomatoes, cucumbers and greens a month early, which is important because food stores run low after the long winter. Photo: Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Delbar, a Mercy Corps volunteer who also planted melon and peppers in her greenhouse, says that women now ask each other about their greenhouses as if they are children. She also says that she loves her role as a Mercy Corps volunteer. “I’m growing along with these vegetables.” Photo: Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Often reserved with most of their face covered, Tajik women become animated as they role-play certain scenarios during educational seminars. In this scene, a “doctor” talks about administering homemade oral rehydration salts and seeing a doctor when a baby has high fever and diarrhea. Traditionally, families take their sick babies to a religious leader for prayer. “You can do both,” she says in the scene. Photo: Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Timed to fill the gaps in food availability, Mercy Corps distributes staples of flour, lentils and oil to nearly 5,000 families twice a year—before and after the long winter. Families who live in high-elevation villages are often confined for six months of the year, or until the snow melts, and rely on their food stores to get through the winter. Distribution days are well-organized and festive as women chat and children play. “It’s like a holiday,” said one government official. Photo: Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps  </span>
    While working in the field, Tajiks often repeated two phrases. First: “Islam tells us that guests are a gift from God.” Second is a Russian saying: “Even during war, everyone stops at noon for lunch.” Sure enough, we are always invited into a family’s home for noontime prayer and then lunch. Here, we enjoy a traditional meal of otala and watermelon that has been cooled in the nearby creek. Photo: Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps  </span>
    A local doctor who works for Mercy Corps measures a young child whose family is participating in the program. Collecting information through household questionnaires and measuring and weighing children is one way to track the program’s progress. Photo: Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Working in Kyrgyz villages near the Tajik-Kyrgyz border, Mercy Corps is currently the only organization that translates its educational materials into the Kyrgyz language for residents who do not speak fluent Tajik. Photo: Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Unlike the Tajiks, the Kyrgyz are nomadic and many spend the summer herding animals to lush pastures (jailoo in Kyrgyz) at higher elevations. Local volunteers bring their educational seminars to the jailoo during the summer months so participants don’t miss out on learning. Photo: Amy Spindler for Mercy Corps

Amy Spindler spent several months in Tajikistan on multiple assignments for Mercy Corps. During her time there, she developed a deep fondness for the country and its people. In this photo essay, she captures the deep culture, color and spirit of Tajikistan.