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Peace corps


On August 31, 2012, the US Embassy in Turkmenistan circulated that by the end of 2012, the Peace Corps will complete its mission in the country. In September, the remaining 18 volunteers are expected to leave Turkmenistan. The diplomatic mission does not explain the reason for the closure of the Peace Corps in the country, but calls the mission’s work for 19 years “extremely successful.” Ferghana’s correspondent Toila Ashirmuradov talked with two former volunteers of this organization, who told me under what conditions they had to work.

Kenyon Weaver, a Harvard graduate from Texas, came to Turkmenistan in 2003 to work as an English teacher at Kunyaurgench School. He said that despite some restrictions on the activities of volunteers, Kenyon had a wonderful relationship with the school’s leadership, colleagues and students.

“I was nevertheless allocated my class and allowed to work at school without any problems, I also worked with local teachers on their lessons,” Kenyon says and adds that the restrictions mainly related to various events, such as summer camps for schoolchildren.

“I was really allowed flexibility in work. In 2004-2005, we organized summer English camps for children and teachers in Dashoguz. The only things that we could be pointed out were when and how to conduct the camps, sometimes we had to take children who failed the competitive selection, ”he says.

Kenyon believes that the authorities were flexible about the work of volunteers, because they, in turn, were conscientious about their own responsibilities: to teach English.

“This is the saddest thing in the closure of the Peace Corps - the country had an uncultivated field of work for us, we could continue to do our job, despite all the restrictions. In general, in order to be successful in life, our generation must be multilingual: Americans can be more successful in owning Spanish or Chinese, and it would be nice for Europeans to speak Russian or Turkish. In Central Asia, this also applies to Turkmenistan, people must also speak foreign languages ​​besides their native language, and English is a terrific language for the future. So why lose the “free” teachers? ”Kenyon wonders.

When asked what mode, in his opinion, the volunteers had more flexibility in their work, Kenyon answered that under Saparmurat Niyazov.

“As I understand the situation of the last couple of years, there are now less opportunities for volunteers in Turkmenistan to hold events,” he says. - In the nineties, when volunteers just arrived in the country, they held summer camps for children from all regions in the town of Chuli near Ashgabat. When I was a volunteer at the beginning of the new century, we conducted such camps on a regional scale. I’m not sure that such events have been held in the country recently. ”

Another opinion about the work of Peace Corps volunteers in the country is Richard Fux, a professional actor with a law degree.

The period of his volunteer work in Turkmenistan fell precisely on the period of the change of power. In the late 1960s, he worked as a volunteer in Bolivia and certainly wanted to someday work again in this field. In 2004, when George W. Bush again came to power in the United States and American troops entered Iraq, Richard specifically requested that he be sent to a Muslim country.

“I did not like the point of view of my government that most Muslims are connected with terrorists, I wanted to know and understand this religion, having lived among people,” Richard says and adds that he has been observing the Ramadan fast for seven years.

In Turkmenistan, he was appointed to work as an English teacher in the American corner of Chardzhou (Richard says that he does not like to call this city “Turkmenabad”), where he and his children also conducted various club classes in literature, poetry, geography, cooking and American history. Difficulties in volunteer work began even before his arrival in December 2005, when the Ministry of Education of Turkmenistan suddenly decided to no longer attract US volunteers to work in schools.

“The reason for this decision was that Turkmenistan supposedly ceased to need English teachers from outside, the country supposedly had its own wonderful teachers - practically native speakers,” he says.

The Peace Corps had to urgently look for places to hire new volunteers. It was decided to identify everyone in the so-called “American corners”: the Turkmen authorities had practically no access to control over the activities of volunteers, because in essence they taught in diplomatically protected territory.

“Kerim [Masharipov] and the Ministry of National Security (Ministry of National Security) thought that by isolating us in a building away from schools, they would limit our contacts with the residents of Chardzhou, especially with schoolchildren, not allowing them access to our lessons, intimidating them not to visited the corner. “These idiots,” Richard is not embarrassed in the expression, “did not take into account the fact that people spat on their opinions, and if they wanted, they came to us,” he says.

Ferghana previously wrote about Kerim Masharipov, the former deputy head of the education department of the city of Turkmenabad, implicated in the scandal over the sale of school books to the country's markets. Then, recall, he was demoted to the post of an English teacher at one of the schools, but just a few months ago he returned to the city’s education department and began to oversee foreign language teachers.

K. Masharipov, according to people who personally know him, is a fierce opponent of all the exchange programs of the US State Department, especially the FLEX program, which allows senior students from the CIS to live and study in America for a year. At the annual tests every fall, he personally comes to the school, where the competition is held, and tries in every possible way to prevent students from participating in the program. Both threats and attempts to “outbid” the guys are used. They say that in 2009 he invited one of the program’s finalists to his office and said that if a student refuses a FLEX scholarship, he will make sure that the guy receives a government scholarship after school and goes to study in Malaysia. The young man refused the offer of Masharipov, and is now successfully studying in one of the countries of Western Europe.

“When the MNS tactics failed, they began to put pressure on the parents of the children and their teachers to prevent schoolchildren from appearing in American corners,” continues Richard. According to him, in addition to wiretapping telephones and mail tracking, special services monitored all his movements and activities, whether he walked in the park, went to the market or drank beer in a cafe. And his leader in the American corner was ordered to report “where he should”, where Richard went, what he did, why he went to Ashgabat and whether he traveled from the city to the district.

“I found out about this when a complaint from the police against my leader came to the US Embassy and Peace Corps: they didn’t say that I moved to a rented apartment and left the country for medical reasons,” says Richard.

The volunteer noted that all his colleagues across the country experienced difficulties in work: they were hindered in carrying out activities and limited access to various places. In 2006, he and his colleague Matthew tried to organize another summer camp for children at a local boarding school for the deaf. Everything was already prepared: food and sleeping places for children, a grant was received from the Peace Corps and the US Embassy, ​​FLEX alumni helped volunteers, and English students from the local pedagogical institute were hired as teachers. But in a day or two, the local administration suddenly revoked its permission to hold the camp, citing the fact that the "bosses" in Ashgabat decided not to allow any summer camps with the Peace Corps. The same camp in the city of Turkmenbashi was canceled on the first day.

“The children and their parents arrived, it suddenly turns out that the authorities banned,” says Richard. - I was depressed at how easy the children took this decision. For me, it was an insight into how much the people here had no rights: everything that the authorities said was taken for granted. This was a sad realization of the power of the dictatorship, proof of the pervasive influence of the special services and their desire to control everything, ”he says.

The only camp that was allowed to be held that year was held in Ashgabat for children in the capital under the full control of the special services. According to Richard, this should have demonstrated to the embassy and the Peace Corps that Turkmenistan was not against holding such camps.

“In fact, the camp was allowed because it was held near Ashgabat and was under the control of the authorities,” says Richard. “I participated in the work of that camp, met incredible, amazing young people, but I was sure that the special services watched almost every step we took.”

The author of these lines could not resist the temptation to talk with Richard that many in Central Asia, and throughout the CIS, are suspicious of the United States and similar programs, seeing in them the machinations of US special services that are preparing potential revolutionaries.

“People who believe in this nonsense are as stupid as their governments that tell them that,” Richard replied. - The reasons that regimes are overthrown in some countries lie in the fact that people are already full of tyranny, corruption, intimidation, torture, lack of hope. “I strongly doubt that the millions of Egyptians who went to Tahrir Square to overthrow the Mubarak regime were in the United States or were on the support of my government.”

“At one time, I helped a Turkmen student go to the States for a year, we met, I drove him to different places,” Richard continues. - Then I asked him what impressed him the most in the USA, thinking that he would name beautiful buildings, supermarkets, rich life. But he replied - "freedom" ... This is exactly what your government is most afraid of. "

Both interlocutors noted that the Peace Corps was not expelled from Turkmenistan, at least this was not said in the message of the embassy. Each year, Turkmenistan reduced the number of volunteers it could accept. Only six people were supposed to come this year, while in 2003-2005 there were almost 10 times more volunteers. Kenyon said that the volunteers no longer had the work that they would be allowed to do, and Richard believes that the Turkmen authorities greatly complicated the work of the Peace Corps, and as a result, the Corps had no choice but to leave.

The author thanks the project “Alternative News of Turkmenistan” for assistance in preparing the material.

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From leading health campaigns to boosting local entrepreneurship to teaching digital literacy, we offer a range of opportunities for making a difference. If you need help finding the best fit, contact a recruiter.

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