Shaartuz is an arid region constituting the South Western corner of Tajikistan. It’s nestled up to both Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. The desert terrain traverses the borders, as do the many rivers that flow through the area. Agriculture is the primary source of income for the region. It took consultation with an agronomist to convince me that the region is good for growing things, and I’m still not certain, and I’m certainly not an expert. It was counter intuitive for me to come to this conclusion, because there is sand, not soil, making up a large part of the landscape. How does gravelly earth get transformed to viable soil: water, lots of water.
For the most part, the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan disappeared in the 1990’s, it died a rapid death under the guise of Soviet progress. Specifically, irrigation systems watering the arid regions across Central Asia, irrigation systems that are still in place today. A small portion of the Aral Sea has been rehabilitated, but it’s such a small portion I’ve been told that it’s not linked to Shaartuz’s local river outputs. So, Shaartuz’s rivers end by flowing into the dead Aral Sea. With this rationale, there is no reason to stop growing things in the desert, and that’s exactly what’s happening in Shaartuz. Cotton, yes, thirsty cotton is one of the primary cash crops.
I am working on making sense of this while I am engaged with another part of Shaartuz’s economy: youth employment and empowerment. I am working for Mercy Corps as an intern until the end of February. Mercy Corps is in the 2nd year of implementing a 3 year US AID funded project: TSEP (Tajikistan Stability Enhancement Program). TSEP works in 3 regions of Tajikistan: Shaartuz, Garm, and Khojand.
Each region has a youth coordinator; Hakeem is my main man in Shaartuz, he has creative ideas and is patient with my Tajik. Farhod is the Shaartuz training coordinator, he possesses a wealth of knowledge, and I expect to learn a lot from him, he also serves as a translator for Hakeem and me. I have high hopes for what we can accomplish together! In the upcoming weeks I will be investigating how to link youth being trained in TSEP workshops with regional and national markets. The second aspect of my internship will focus on how to mobilize and train youth to accomplish community service projects funded by TSEP. These projects will be linked to crisis prevention in the areas of health and environment.
Next week I will be meeting with youth from 3 villages to listen to their thoughts about what the primary health and environmental risks are in their communities. From their feedback I will work to construct proposals for community service projects. I am learning that it’s important to take my time, there are a lot of stake holders that must be considered before projects are approved. This is why I am hoping to create pre-approved projects that reflect local youth’s interests. Once these projects are approved, youth will be able to choose what project they want to implement in their communities.
Minimally, I want to create a methodology for training and project implementation. If this is successful, the hope is to mobilize youth into action, launching a pilot program for in Shaartuz. If successful, the model could be implemented in the other TSEP regions.
Wish me luck, and if you’ve got ideas, I’d love to hear from you!