Manx Youth Opportunities was delighted to be able to help local teenager Natasha McKenzie join a VSO Voluntary Services Organisation trip to Tajikistan.
This journey is turning into an incredible life experience for Natasha as she works with other volunteers to help a local womens’ co-operative venture and an education initiative to get off the ground. She is also gaining a wealth of knowledge about the culture, customs and religion in Tajikistan. Oh yes: she is also learning to speak Russian!
Natasha finds time in her busy schedule to send us updates … and we’re very happy to share her latest news with you. Over to Natasha:
“Hello. Natasha here again. I’m sorry I get very little chance to go on the Internet here in Tajikistan, but here is a quick update.
I kept very busy here, always exploring the vibrant city, working on our projects, carrying out research, group training and, oh yes, we have taken up Russian lessons three times a week so its all GO GO GO.
What about Tajikistan? I am in LOVE. This country radiates character with its rich and respected cultural traditions, relaxed and sometimes inefficient methods of working, and strong religiously influenced attitudes to life which I have developed so much respect for.
I am working on two business projects.
First helping to develop a school in a rural part of Tajikistan where we have created a name, logo, leaflets, put advertisements in the Tajik newspapers and been around lots of schools carrying out surveys. Today we spent the day painting the two classrooms, and tomorrow we will sort out the interior design. The big challenge was that we had no budget at all and had to try and do all of this for free or find money from thin air. However we managed.
The second project is setting up a business for disabled women. We have found that many hospitals in this area need bedding. In fact they often get patients to bring in their own when they are ill. But we have helped a group of women who are now creating bedding and have already gained over 500 orders from four hospitals so we think that project is going well.
Other projects the group has worked on included organising a jobs fair and an education fair which will be promoted so local people will get the chance to see the opportunities that are out there for them.
In my spare time I have also modeled for Tajik dresses to go into a catalogue, and been to orphanages for blind and disabled children where we took food and drinks and all sat and prayed together. That was an extremely emotional and touching experience.
We have been to bushkatie, which is a Tajik culture sports game where men on horses have to fight for the body of a dead goat and then, holding the goat, gallop over a line to gain a point. It seemed extremely dangerous and we got on Tajik TV giving interviews and all of the men were offering us shots of vodka over and over. It was 8 in the morning which seemed a little early to be drinking vodka!
I’m living with an amazing host family who are so happy and fun, however I and most of my group have suffered many illnesses as we get accustomed to the local food. I couldn’t eat for a week due to food poisoning, and other volunteers have been in hospital on a drip because of severe illness and dehydration. But we are all alive and well.
The weather here is extremely hot, however we must be covered up at all times so the day times are very uncomfortable. We spend lots of our time teaching English and working with discussion groups. It’s fascinating learning about other young people’s opinions on culture, religion and the world.
I have also learned so much about the Afghan culture, and problems facing Afghanistan as we have three Afghan volunteers who are so motivated and determined to help their country. They are very inspiring.
Struggles in Tajikistan? To be honest I have no struggles at the moment. The toilets are just a big hole in the ground and are extremely unhygienic, however I find them very amusing, I am loving Tajikistan and would love to come back here in the future. I have never in my life been with such an amazing bunch of people who are so open minded and fascinating. I have made lifelong friends here that I know I will stay in contact with, and am so grateful to each of them.
Surprises? I was extremely surprised at how much we were thrown in at the deep end on our projects. I thought I knew very little about business, but just living in the western world we don’t realise how much we learn from just our environment and surroundings. This means we have been able to significantly help these business women in Tajikistan.
All the best from Tajikistan. Natasha”