Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thanksgiving and Outreach Activities

It is strange to be sitting down with a glass of wine right now, when back at KU the Geography Dept. is gearing up for tonight’s huge “Globe-O-Mania” competition to end up Geography Awareness Week. Normally on this day, I’m running around with lists and trying to maintain some semblance of sanity (frequently a lost cause). The event is always tremendous fun and a great opportunity for students to see a different side of the department (and no one has been too traumatized yet!).

The situation here will change tomorrow, though. When all of the volunteers—and Shannon, especially—are able to sit back and relax somewhat, the pace here in Almaty will speed up dramatically. I’ll be assisting with some of the preparations for a Thanksgiving dinner to be held on Sunday (good thing I finally learned how to make pie crust this summer, Mom!), so there will be some shopping as well as cooking involved over the next three days. And lots of list making—my inner control freak is completely and blissfully happy at the moment!!

Thanksgiving dinner is not the only event on the horizon, though. Early Monday morning I will be picked up by a diplomatic vehicle (how cool is that???) for my first overnight trip outside of Almaty. Next week is International Week, and each year the embassy/consulate works with an orphanage somewhere in the country to try to provide the children (or in this case, the teenagers) a broader perspective on the world. The goal is to encourage them to think beyond their immediate future—many of these orphans have no idea of life beyond limited confines of the orphanage. They have little thought of a university education—and face extremely limited prospects for the future.

The goal of the embassy program is to let the young adults in the orphanage know that there are opportunities if they are willing to put in some effort. The US government sponsors many programs to bring students to the States to study, and are additional outside scholarships available as well. The four Fulbrighters in the area have been invited by the consulate to travel to Taldykorgan (the capital Almaty oblast, about 3 hours from the city of Almaty) to speak at an orphanage and to give some idea of what university life is like in the States. Our role is to provide encouragement, and to let the young men and women know that there are possibilities to effect change in their lives and improve their future prospects. Often, they are never given any encouragement, so it will be an extraordinary opportunity for us to try to provide some hope for a different life.
We will be in Taldykorgan for two days—the first day at the orphanage, and the second day at local schools giving the same presentations.

I’ll write more after returning from the trip, and try to provide more of a description of the area. In the interim, here is link to some information on Taldykorgan. The site also gives a good idea of the intense love of statistics over here. It should be readily apparent that the author is not a native speaker of English. Considering that I will be going to an orphanage where there are a large number of children who resulted from teenage pregnancies, maybe stating that there are “27 treatment - prophylactic establishments” is not the best possible wording!