A MAZE man has spoken of his volunteering trip to the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan.
Andrew Graham flew out last year for three months to work for Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) working for the government’s International Citizen Service.
He spent his time with a team of other young volunteers from the UK, each with a local Tajik counterpart, to help promote secure livelihoods, especially for women and young people.
The Queen’s University graduate who has an MA in International Politics was interested in working to help poor countries and to understand why poverty still persists.
Andrew said: “I went to a country I never even thought about. Telling people I was going there, I was usually met with “Tujookistan? Where? What’s that?”. Only about one in ten had even heard of it. When I told them it was on the northern border of Afghanistan, all of them were worried, but I’d been assured by Catherine, my country director, that it was completely safe.”
He said; “The first thing we noticed was how strangely familiar the capital city of Dushanbe looked. It is an absolutely beautiful country – the city is surrounded by mountains, the countryside wild and unspoilt.
“The people are probably the friendliest, most open-minded and curious folks I have ever encountered, but they are poor. It’s mountainous, landlocked and has very little agricultural land, but they also face big problems with corruption. You pay a bribe to see a doctor, who may have bribed his or her way through university. To try and help this, myself, six other young British volunteers and eleven Tajik volunteers worked for Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) on the British government’s ICS (international Citizen Service) programme to aid economic and social development in Tajikistan.”
Andrew described the project he was involved with: “ICS is aimed at young people aged 18-25 for economic development, and their own personal development. As ‘Programming and Realisation’ Manager for a tourist development project, I learned more than I could have expected.
“Every job application you look at will ask for ‘teamwork’ skills and nothing could have pushed us harder than this. Imagine two-thirds of your team having only limited English, coming from a very different social and working culture and you’ve got a perfect storm. If you keep focused, keep motivated, then the lessons you can learn from this are amazing.”
Andrew concluded: “ICS works in poor countries all over the world. Friends of mine have been to Nigeria, Tanzania and Nepal. The only qualifications you need are to show the right attitude to learning and hard work. You don’t need to pay for it – just raise sponsorship money for the charity running the programme. My target was £800, and I raised £1,200 my cycling from Galway to Belfast in one day.”
If you want to learn about a different culture, help others, or learn a bit about yourself check out: http://www.ics-uk.org.uk/about/
If you want to learn more about Andrew’s experiences, check out my blog http://tajikistan-gra.blogspot.com