Abigail is from Wyckoff, New Jersey and participated in the 2018 NSLI-Y Summer Persian program in Tajikistan.
After spending seven, life-changing weeks last summer with NSLI-Y in Dushanbe, Tajikistan became my second home. However, no home is perfect. Educational resources are extremely limited in Tajikistan, and I was motivated to give back to the country that had taught me so much.
Last December, I launched an initiative to build a library in Tajikistan. Working with Sultan Akif, CEO and founder of the "Library in a Week" organization (they aim to build 100 libraries around the world) and American councils (in DC and Dushanbe), I established connections with Zarnigor "Zara" Faizimamadova, Alumni Coordinator for the FLEX program. On weekly 6am Skype calls throughout the spring (when there was internet connection), Zara and I discussed logistics. After considerable difficulty, we identified a youth center in Vahdat City. I continued to fundraise to support the project and purchased my tickets to Dushanbe, excited to return.
This July, we converted a dirty, unused room into a beautiful space for learning. With tremendous help from 30+ locals, we installed new flooring, a light fixture, and four large bookshelves holding 300+ books and painted the walls. These volunteers included teachers, students and administration from the youth center. A local teacher painted the mural and the cooking class baked traditional Tajik food for the opening of the library.
Students and alumni from various study abroad programs including, Access English Micro-scholarship, Education USA College Prep Club, Study with U.S. and the NSLI-Y 2019 cohort, helped paint, install bookshelves, and clean the room. This opportunity also promoted an exchange between these young people from all over the world. This was a beautiful moment of cross-country collaboration and exchange.
From daily trips to chaotic bazaars to searching for scarce Tajik books, I was a part of every aspect of the project. After working five long days in 105 degree temperatures, Zara and I opened the library to the public with a celebration. We both delivered speeches, along with American Councils and representatives from the U.S. Embassy. Local children, volunteers and international students attended the opening; my NSLI-Y friend, Ian, even traveled from Uzbekistan to support me!
At the end of the opening, before leaving, I peered into the room to see laughing children sorting through the books, playing with Rubik's cubes, and sitting around a monopoly board. This amazing image is how I will remember the project and my contribution back to Tajikistan. I learned firsthand the power of community and vast potential of ambitious ideas.