This is the second of a two-part post about my work as an NGO Development volunteer in Peace Corps Kazakhstan, and will detail my actual activities and responsibilities with my organization, community partners, and secondary projects in and around Shymkent.
I work for a wonderful organization called the Ассоциация Деловых Женщин Казахстана (while the official English name is “Association of Business Women of Kazakhstan,” the more accurate literal translation is “Association of Active Women of Kazakhstan”). The Association (henceforth: АДЖК) was founded 13 years ago and received support and funding from UN bodies (UNIFEM, UNICEF, and UNFPA). In over a decade of work, it has established a strong reputation and long history of projects in sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, domestic violence, and HIV/AIDS issues. We have a small but dedicated staff of four full-time employees and an incredibly involved, active cadre of about 15-20 volunteers that include disabled, orphaned, and underprivileged youth. Our current projects include:
- Trainings-of-Trainers in which members of our staff (trained health professionals) provide sexual and reproductive health trainings to medical colleges around the South Kazakhstan Oblast, sustainably allowing participants to then become trainers themselves in their fields.
- Conduction of seminars with local Shymkent-city law enforcement on domestic violence issues, including the creation and distribution of informational pamphlets.
- Work with the “social environment” (family, friends, relatives and caretakers) of Kazakhstan’s HIV-positive children (many from the infamous 2006 hospital outbreak, who are reaching kindergarten age now), concentrating on building a network of support and sharing of best practices regarding health issues, societal integration, and how to combat stigma and discrimination.
- Annual summer and autumn leadership camps for orphans, HIV-positive and underpriveleged youth.
- Support and development of the youth health initiative “Shymkent_plus,” which has existed under the АДЖК umbrella since 2006 and conducts similar healthy lifestyles, gender equality and leadership peer-to-peer trainings for and by youth, as part of the international Y-PEER network (www.youthpeer.org, www.y-peer.kz).
[Our lovely АДЖК ladies on a celebratory pizza day 😀 How happy are they?!]
[Some of our fantastic volunteers and the welcome poster they made for me (in Russian, Kazakh and English)! So sweet…!]
My director Kuralai frequently likes to say that my arrival at АДЖК at this precise moment in time was no accident. Indeed, I discovered this organization after several tumultuous placement incidents (Peace Corps’ last-minute change of my site from the east to the south due to political/security issues, which then resulted in my original assignment to a Shymkent organization that was not in fact ready for a volunteer yet and did not actually exist much more than in name only). It turns out to have been a true blessing that I was able to conduct my own needs assessments, feel out the NGO community at my site, and find such a uniquely productive organization that fit my own interests. АДЖК is facing issues of their own at this time, including the desire to re-register under a more fitting name, clarify and update their mission statement and long-term strategic plan, and search out new partners and funding sources since UN support has run dry (incidentally a common trend now for NGOs in Kazakhstan of late, as the country’s oil money, OSCE chairmanship, and other steps to increased economic and political prowess have caused many aid agencies, donors and international bodies to prioritize the other, poorer Central Asian nations for their resources). The skills, trainng and resources of a PCV are thus a timely and much-desired match to the current pressing needs of the organization. Because АДЖК has been around for such a long time however, certain best practices, projects and standards have already been established, and they continue to operate even without funds as needs continue to make themselves known from within our constituent groups. We also have a slew of partner organizations all around the South Kazakhstan Oblast, and much of our work takes place in the rural areas and villages around Shymkent that constitute the region of Kazakhstan with some of the highest birth, maternal and infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, and poverty rates in the country. Notably, our youth initiative has taken on wings and developed into a strong and active entity in its own right, which (as I mentioned previously) fits very well into Peace Corps’ new Youth Development focus and my own potential for contribution.
My schedule has felt very full as of late with activities with my organization, various community partners, my own secondary projects and Peace Corps itself (on top of Russian and Kazakh tutoring several times a week, LSAT studying, and the various fitness activities I try to fit in regularly!). This is only a good thing though, since as you all know, I am hopelessly addicted to keeping myself busy. Here is an abridged list of some of my work tasks and activities over the last few months:
- Conducted needs assessment with organization and identified key strategic priorities through SWOT analysis and Peace Corps’ all-encompassing organizational Self-Assessment Matrix (SAM). Go through general overview of history, projects, staff schedules and responsibilities. Continuously try to accumulate information, whether it’s over the SAM or over chai.
- Attended UNFPA conference co-hosted by АДЖК. Listened to presentations on monitoring and evaluation for last year’s projects on behalf of АДЖК and other local UNFPA partner organizations.
- Attended holiday youth volunteer conference for “Shymkent_plus” volunteers, local partners, parents and community members to share and celebrate accomplishments of the year. Attendees included rural village volunteers from all around South Kazakhstan Oblast.
[A lively musical performance by some of our volunteers]
[Shymkent_plus volunteers + our director]
- Compiled spreadsheet of potential donors and upcoming grant deadlines.
- Co-wrote and edited grant application for orphanage life-skills seminars, targeting youth graduating from orphanages and beginning their own independent lives.
- Reviewed end-of-year reports on our domestic violence and orphanage programs. Editing and summarizing reports for past and potential donors.
- Attended opening of new partner youth HIV/AIDS center. Shared best practices knowledge on youth training-of-trainers skills. Established and facilitated contact for potential Peace Corps YD site development with my Regional Manager.
[STI & HIV risk training activity]
- Participated in Personal Finance trainings for our youth volunteers, which my coworkers were recently certified to carry out through the Kazakhstan National Microfinance Organization.
- Led weekly Saturday workshop presentation series (in Russian) with our youth volunteers on:
- Developing International Experience
- Time Management & Goal Setting
- Writing a Personal Statement
- CVs & Resumes
[Impassionately presenting on how to best convey your positive qualities on paper :P]
[Time management session]
[Our volunteers, so happy and attentive!]
- Conducted presentation series (in English and Russian) at numerous partner organizations as well at their request:
- Bilim Educational Center (funded by the Soros Foundation and U.S. Embassy)
- Interpress English Center
- Miras College
- TeSh (Teachers of English in Shymkent) NGO & Educational Center
- Led TeSh seminar for English teachers on Moral Reasoning and Social Justice, emphasizing interactive classroom methodology
- Continued running of Women’s Club, covering topics including:
- Peer Pressure
- Goal Setting
- Dating & Relationships
- The Female Body (with special readings of The Vagina Monologues…highly recommended for other PCVs running Women’s Clubs or WID/GAD activities!)
[Our Women’s Club session on adoption with visiting guests Erin & Elizabeth!]
- Started weekly English Club for Beginners with “Shymkent_plus” youth volunteers (conducted in English and some Russian), hoping to address void in current Peace Corps English activities for low to intermediate-level speakers.
- Arranged meeting with Crossroads charity foundation director and coordinator, bringing my director in to discuss opportunities for in-kind donations and future partnership with them.
- Edited Y-PEER network newsletter article on Training of Trainers at the International Kazakh-Turkish University
- Designed and wrote Volunteer Assistance Project Proposal inviting fellow OCAP PCVs from around the country to conduct a workshop, training and consultation series with АДЖК on key self-identified organizational needs at the end of March.
- Facilitating youth focus groups and writing up best practices to assist Peace Corps Regional Managers with new Youth Development program development
- Preparations for project needs assessments and further grant writing to identified sources (including Peace Corps grants in May)
- Preparations to lead sessions on Community Development & Volunteer Initiatives at Peace Corps Kaz-21 In-Service Training in late March/early April
- Preparations for Project Design & Management conference in April
I could not be more lucky to be among such a dedicated group of staff and volunteers who are proactively changing their communities with their passion and work. In addition, I definitely feel like the last four months have resulted in a lot of additional contact building and community development, and am so grateful for all the community leaders, social workers, teachers, students, volunteers and participants that have let me into their lives and allowed me to both share my knowledge and learn from them.