The first thing that you should know about me is that I feel extremely self-conscious writing this blog post about myself. That being said let me introduce myself :-).
My name is Bermet, I am from Kyrgyzstan. This year I will be volunteering through European Volunteer Service program at Centralasiengrupperna (CAG) and Tamam. I am excited and looking forward to it!
My first encounter with concept of volunteering was meeting Peace Corps volunteers from the United States in my hometown village in Kyrgyzstan. I was 13-15 back then and I do remember how people in my village questioned why anyone in their sane state of mind willingly gives up comforts of ‘Western life’ and comes to live and teach English in a remote village in Kyrgyzstan. Back then, I understood volunteering in a way many people do – sacrificing comforts, rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty to contribute to common good in an ‘underdeveloped’ community.
When I graduated from college, being a cliché Y-generation kid, I started my search for meaning (whatever that was/is!). This search, to my mother’s conspicuous disappointment, ended up pushing my graduate school plans for two years now. Longing for meaning naturally led me to look into various volunteering opportunities. I even had an ill-conceived idea of applying for U.S. citizenship to be eligible for Peace Corps, but that short-lived idea was scratched down when I realized that acquiring U.S. citizenship will take few years at the best.
As I searched for volunteering opportunities, I came across an ongoing and interesting debate about volunteering and a handful of criticism of the ethics of this ‘sinister business’ and ‘voluntourism’. This made me question my own motives.
When I gave up and, to my mother’s ecstatic joy, decided to apply to graduate schools this fall, I came across an advertisement that CAG and Tamam were looking for EVS (European Voluntary Service) volunteers and applied on a whim. And here I am. By the way, my mother is as content (and it makes me happy) as ever that I will be in Sweden not somewhere, say, in Afghanistan (I do want to visit the country one day).
What will exactly I be doing at Tamam and CAG?
I will be with Tamam 30% of my time. At the moment it is undecided how to best utilize my time with them, but tentatively I will be helping with afterschool homework study groups and various fun and social activities for children, youth, and newly arrived migrants and refugees.
I will be with CAG 70% of my time. With CAG I will be assisting with various collaboration projects between Sweden and Central Asia, such as trainings and exchange programs, doing administrative duties, such as helping to write project applications and fundraising, promoting public knowledge and awareness about Central Asia through various events, such as study circles and seminars, building up new pilot human rights platform among many other things.
So, yes, this is not the type of volunteering Peace Corps volunteers in my hometown village have done or the type of volunteering I was trying to find two years ago. I will not be going to an ‘underdeveloped’ country and undergo ‘real-life hardships’ and ‘experience poverty’. Quite the contrary. I am aware that I will benefit from this experience just as much, if not more, as I will contribute. Two years ago this thought would have awakened bad conscience on my part. Today, I will embrace the year working with CAG and Tamam and take it for what it is yet with every intention of contributing to making the world a better place.
Who knows maybe my efforts will mean something to somebody just as the efforts of a Peace Corps volunteer in my village meant a world to me.
Yours, painfully aware of own clicheness,