My ‘work’ here hasn’t been that interesting for most of winter so I haven’t really talked much about it but a lot has changed so time to share what I have been up to here. I’ve been continuing to support AVEP as best I can with their various agriculture-related projects. Danko has a couple of large projects I’m not that involved with now, an oil cleanup and a new Balykchy museum, but that may change next month and I’ll write more about those then. The biggest change is that I wrote my own grant which is not something I had planned on doing.
Coming to Peace Corps, we started hearing about grants all the time. I came to understand this would be a part of our lives here yet I’d never written a grant and really had no clue how the process worked. After a few Peace Corps trainings and exposure to grant applications from one of my worksites I started to get a handle on all the ways money flows into this country (and nearly all poor countries in the world) through grants. At AVEP (the larger of my worksites) we’ve been working on a lot of grants for their various projects. These are fairly large (as much as $500k from a Canadian company) but my role is mostly to support them and act as a consultant. At my other site, Danko, it’s mostly just the director and myself working so I have a lot more hands-on work to do which is a little more fun. Danko is primarily a youth organization and my counterpart/director, Alexander, has been great at looking at my interests to see what kind of projects we can do at Danko. After attending the Peace Corp Project Design Management training (a misnomer as there was almost no training on project design) we decided we’d write a project about starting a Photo Club at Danko that I’d teach.
Writing a project is basically code in Kyrgyzstan for asking for money in the form of a grant. In fact during my first (failed) photo club since we didn’t ask for money my counterpart said it was a ‘work program’ not a ‘project.’ So, we wrote our project which we submitted to Peace Corps. What I didn’t know until arriving was that all Peace Corps posts have pools of money that come from various initiatives that we can apply for. The money can be applied towards specific types of projects but in the end, it all comes from US taxpayers so if you pay taxes give yourself a small pat on the back as you read this as a tiny fraction of your taxes go towards projects like this.
About 8 weeks ago we received the great news that our grant was approved by Peace Corps and just last week the funds reached my new bank account which meant we could actually start the Photo Club. So what is this project exactly? First, it funded the purchase of 6 decent cameras and 12 SD cards. During my first photo club attempt, part of the reason we saw it fail was that kids had to have their own camera to participate. Few kids here do have a camera and the ones they had were fairly terrible so it was really difficult to teach them anything. Starting this week, 12 kids will be coming to the Danko Resource Center for a weekly photo class that will last 12 weeks. At the Resource Center we have 6 computers with internet so they kids will be able to pair up to use a camera and computer. I’ll be able to teach the composition and photography techniques and we’ll do some basic editing. There’s going to be another photo course later this summer so all together we expect to teach basic photography to 24 kids this year.
One of the most exciting things we’ll be able to do with the grant money is take each photo class on 2 field trips, one to Bishkek and one to a scenic spot here in Issyk-Kul. These kids rarely get out of Balykchy so it should be really fun for them and I think they’re going to get some great photos as well. As their skills progress I’m going to start giving them assignments of things to shoot around Balykchy. The more motivated kids are going to work with me to take those photos and create content for a new website about Balykchy and Issyk-Kul that we’ll be setting up, also with grant funds. Lastly, at the end of the year we’ll be printing large copies of the students’ best photos for a public exhibition. I have no idea how it’s going to go but people keep telling me that people will want to see it so I’ll be crossing my fingers that they’re right!
I’ll keep the blog updated on what’s going on with the photo club. I’ll publish some of the students’ photos as well. Wish me luck that it goes better this time now that we have funding! In the meantime, I hope you all are convinced I am working in Kyrgyzstan.