I interrupt this blog post to make an important announcement. On Monday, September 22, 2008, Mason Cole Waters was born in a hospital in Georgia (8 pounds, 20 inches!). That makes my brother Albert and Shannon first time parents, and it makes me an uncle. I wish I could be there to meet the little guy, but I probably won’t see him for a couple years at least. Anyway, I got a call from them on Monday night, and it was probably the highlight of my week.
Back to news from Kazakhstan…
As part of our technical training, we OCAP volunteers have a practicum at a local (or somewhat local) NGO. Each NGO has two or three volunteers assigned to work with it. We go a couple times a week and are supposed to work on various projects, some Peace Corps assigned, mostly whatever they have us to do. The NGOs range from schools to two person groups to a nature reserve. I am working at the Local Community Fund with Aaron and Christina.
The Local Community Fund is an interesting organization that is rather unique in Kazakhstan. In my mind, it’s like a small United Way. They try to collect funds from large donors, small donors, whomever really, and then give them out to local NGOs. They are like a middle man between people with money and small, grassroots organizations. Our NGO has more technical training than some of the smaller NGOs in the area, so they are more capable of doing the reports and technical things.
Working with our NGO has been a great learning experience. We have helped them with a volunteer project, practiced some English teaching, and gave some technical computer assistance. All of this will be things that I will definitely do in Kaz no matter where I end up. However, until this week, their role in the community has been pretty abstract. They told us about their numerous projects, but a lot was lost in translation. We didn’t, or couldn’t, really know their impact.
This week we were working with them for a whole day just once, rather than twice a week for half a day. In doing so, we were able to actually visit some of the sites that they gave money to. We began the day at a site for disabled children. They can go there and get physical and speech therapy. Before that, they were pretty much stuck at home all day. In many smaller cities in Kazakhstan, the school system is not capable of accommodating children with special needs. The place we visited fit a large community need and seemed to be doing it very well.
The second place we visited was a club for sport orienteering. The grant from our organization allowed them to buy equipment for the children so anyone can participate. And the guy who ran the club was one of my favorite people in Kazakhstan. He’s a 65 year old retired farmer who has been doing this for over thirty years. He spoke really loudly all the time, and really cared about the kids in his club.
Then we were treated to a great lunch. Even though it was Ramadan, I broke the fast for that day because my NPO had put an amazing spread of food on the table. I know I could have refused, but I wanted to be a good host to them. I tried Manti for the first time, which is great. And they were impressed with the way I really cleaned my plate. It’s true, that one skill I definitely have is the ability to eat.
Finally, we went to a school for a festival where some other volunteers were. The festival was delayed due to power outage. But eventually they were able to put it on, and it was like a huge school talent show. Lots of singing. Dancing. Some dombra playing. Oh and, the whole thing was to celebrate the accomplishments of a high school girl working with disabled youth all summer. It was her own project that she started that our fund had given money to.
Anyway, this post is getting long, and probably boring. I’m bored writing it. It’s just a jumbled description of various things. Overall, the message is: We got to see some local NGOs in action. We got to see good things happening in Kazakhstan. It was a refreshing sight. And hopefully a taste of what to come. Occasionally. Over the next two years in Kazakhstan.