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.
Unofficial Ambassador Noureen Shallwani has created a photo essay of her students at the Dushanbe Boarding School and the Tajik State University of Commerce. To start off her post Noureen has included a picture of the day trip the volunteers made to Varzob.
On a day trip to Varzob, a summer town forty five minutes outside of Dushanbe, we were teaching our colleague (not pictured here) how to swim. Upon seeing that we knew how to swim and could actually teach, a few of the kids on the shallow end of the pool asked us to teach them. For me, this was such a surreal experience. For the past three summers, I’ve been a swimming counselor in Dallas, and have worked with kids to get them comfortable in water, as well as teaching them different strokes. Swimming is a life skill, that can save someone’s life, as well as give one the skills to save someone else’s, so to get the chance to make that impact on young kids that I didn’t have any relation to was amazing.
As a Shia Ismaili Muslim, I do not observe the practice of head covering. However, while being in a Sunni country, you do what the Sunni’s do! Actually that’s not entirely accurate. But my students, Sunni themselves, did practice the head covering practice outside of class. The girls would take the scarf off during class and put it back on once outside of the school gates.
That being said, they wanted to put a headscarf on me. I don’t normally wear one and am not proponent of the practice, but they were so excited to see me try something that was native to them, I couldn’t refuse. So here I am pictured (from left to right) Gurez, Rozigul, myself, Sarvinoz, and Jenya covered in the traditional Sunni way with a pashmina.
This picture was taken when we were told that there was a pretty waterfall a ten-minute “sporty” walk away. Being the adventurous group we are, we took off trying to find this waterfall. This was definitely one of the time periods that were most memorable to me. I live in Texas, where everything is flat and there are barely any mountains. I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere I live. So to get to climb for ten minutes and see a view like this, mashallah. This is what I know I’ll miss most as I head home. There’s nothing but love and appreciation for this country.
I wish the photo quality were better, however, these are some of the girls I had the privilege of teaching at the university. These were some of the most dedicated girls, as they showed up to class as often as their schedule would allow, some of them traveling extremely far distances. They shared their stories with Gabi and I, as they let us into their minds and their society. We went to teach them English, and along the way, they taught us more than we knew we could absorb, whether it be about their country, political ideology, or social comments.
This was taken the very last day at the Dushanbe Boarding School #1. Working with these kids was literally the best experience in teaching I’ve had. I got to work with the sweetest, kindest, openhearted students that you could find anywhere. They came to class everyday, without fail, rain or shine. They always were laughing and smiling, and though there was a huge language barrier between them, and myself we made it work. The personalities here are the little treasures I got to find in Tajikistan and if there’s one thing I will miss, it’s this classroom and these students. Names from left to right: Rozigul, Alexsey, Farzona, Sarvinoz, Maisara, Gurez, and Muhammed.