Spring in Balykchy

Spring in Balykchy

Spring has finally come to Kyryzstan!  Until it turned out to be a tease and it snowed again… But the sun came out again and it’s not exactly swimming weather but at least I finally was able to put away the warmest jackets.  Spring means kids playing in the dirt courtyard outside our window (throwing rocks at things usually,) the heat is turned off in our building (so it’s colder than it was last month in here) and I don’t get yelled at for wearing a t-shirt (actually, that still happens.)

The best part of spring is I actually feel busy!  We went on a bike ride to visit another volunteer’s village last weekend and have numerous hikes planned out for the next couple months.  My photo club is in full swing and I met a bunch of people from my home state here at a meeting.  More on both of those but first, a few photos from our trip to Tory-Aiger to visit Janet, who’s working as an English teacher.  Her little village is great and she lives with an awesome family.  Hopefully we’ll get to visit them again later this summer.

As it’s now spring, it means for AVEP* it’s time to get ready for the KARAGAT+ program (focused on improving the Issyk-Kul berry industry) to get into full swing.  This is the last year of the program under the original funding and they are hoping to extend it.  I took a trip around Issyk-Kul with them so they could talk with an apricot farmer and a couple politicians.  All the meetings were in Russian so I just walked around talking to random people and taking photos.  Sometimes these meetings are aggravating because I feel like I’m there as a token American but it’s still better than sitting in an office.  The farm we went into was pretty impressive, a massive apricot farm in the middle of a barren desert.  The farmer had recently drip irrigation too which is a very new technology here.

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It’s not all play… But the work is pretty good too!

cucumbers

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.

 

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What else am I doing here?

We’ve added a new page to the blog.  You can click on our Kyrgyz Adventure Map to more easily see where we’ve been in Kyrgyzstan and find the blog posts about that spot.

In a previous post I shared a little bit about what I’ll be doing here.  I’m still trying to figure things out but I wanted to write a bit about what I think the other half of my work here will be.  My primary organization is called NGO Danko and they’ve done all types of projects in the past.  The organization has been around for 16 years and worked on many different projects ranging from humanitarian aid to refugees and migrant workers.  However, they currently have zero projects – in Kyrgyz parlance a ‘project’ usually means a funded and finite project, aka, a grant – but they do have a beautiful resource center built with the help of a previous volunteer and funded by US AID.  The resource center has new furniture, 7 new computers and a projector all very nice by the standards here.  Because Danko now has this resource center and myself (I basically doubled the staff size) my counterpart has been brainstorming things we can do here.

 

The front of Danko, doesn't look like much from the outside but it's great inside.
The front of Danko, doesn’t look like much from the outside but it’s great inside.

We’ve started off with two main ideas we’re getting started on.  The first is a photography class which I’m really looking forward to.  We’ll teach the class to up to ten local youth at a time (14-18 year olds I think.)  We have a lot of logistics to figure out such as how to get cameras (or only open it up to kids who do have them,) how often to meet and just how exactly will I teach them.  I have a lot of ideas for the class and I’m hoping I can tie it in with some of my other projects I’m getting started on.  We hope to start a semi-annual photo exhibition and perhaps it will lead to some business opportunities for the kids and Danko (finding income streams is a constant need for NGOs here.)  More importantly than teaching kids photography, I’m hoping it will give them something to look forward to and something to take pride in.  The kids here have so few opportunities to be creative and do things for themselves.  There’s also very few opportunities for people outside of Bishkek or Osh to see anything with the arts (except for random concerts); my counterpart thinks people around the city will be really excited to attend an exhibition.

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First Week in Balykchy

It’s been just a week since we’ve arrived but it feels like at least a month.  So much has happened we probably could have written a blogpost every day but for now a brief summary will suffice.  Since the first moment here, Taylor and I have felt incredibly welcomed.  The family is terrific, the house is nice by American standards and amazing by Kyrgyz standards, we’re figuring things out at work and Balykchy is much nicer than we expected.

Our family speaks quite a bit of English, especially our grandmother and little brothers.  Jason, the previous volunteer that lived here, told us Grandma had been studying here dictionary to brush up on her English for us.  They’ve told us many stories and our conversations are mixed between English and Kyrgyz.  It’s certainly not the ‘total immersion’ method of learning but I hope for us it will prove to be a great way to improve our language.

Taylor helping the family make strawberry jam
Taylor helping the family make strawberry jam

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