We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
While teaching English at the Tajik State University of Commerce in Dushanbe, Gabriela Guerrero is learning that motivation comes from the friends and family she has made in Tajikistan. Through cross-cultural solutions and communication, Gabriela aims to strengthen her ties to the Tajik community she has found within Dushanbe.
A sudden wrath of determination and support has lead me into a classroom twenty-four hours after landing in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. I know no one but the coordinator, whom I met briefly through Skype in San Francisco, and who now seems to have wondered into the other room for some business. About fifteen blank faces stare back at me. They have no idea that I’ve never taught English, never met a Tajik and have never been outside of the U.S. “Well, this is actually happening” I thought. I’m two weeks into the program and though the Russian street signs are becoming familiar, every ounce of me knows I’m very far from home. Everything was happening at a fast pace. Thankfully, I have encountered the most hospitable population possible. A minute of awkward small talk and the next thing you know I’m being invited to a summerhouse in the mountains, a wedding and a birthday dinner. After being introduced to so many people, I felt like learning my own student’s names was going to be impossible. I wasn’t expecting this kind of attention. I continue to get stared at and am always reminded by a native friend that it will be something to get used to.
For the first time in my life, I was called white. I find that certain ideas came with my American accent. No one in America was surprised when I said I was Mexican, but here, everyone is oblivious to my description of a taco. Either way, I was welcomed and happy to put my anxieties aside in an effort to make the most positive impact I could. It took a few days to get on the same page with the people I was scheduled to work with. Teaching teachers, rephrasing everything I said to get a few people in the room to understand me and sweating under layers of lengthy clothing were just a few unexpected circumstances this trip has challenged me with. Along with this have come new motivations. I get up in the morning for them. I try risky food for them. I recall the puzzled faces of my students and stay up that extra hour grading papers for them. The people of Tajikistan are becoming my motivation. I am blessed to have this opportunity. Though I’ve gotten ill, frustrated and happy beyond words, I’m taking in the good with the bad, which has made this experience both long and fleeting. I don’t want to leave or have to end the progress made, but I have so much knowledge that I need to return home with.
I think it’s a matter of taking it one day at a time. My supportive AUA sisters are here to share this experience with me and I learn from them on a day to day basis. We are pulling through our never-ending schedules together. Each day, we reunite with insane stories about our placement, but also make room to consider the real reasons why each of us is here. This journey is really happening and as our kindhearted driver, Rahmadjon, drops us off at our destinations, we take one step at a time toward mutual respect between two worlds.