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.
By Alison Muscato
Unofficial ambassadors Britta Nippert and Okxana Cordova-Hoyos, two undergraduate students from the College of New Jersey, spent the summer of 2014 interning at IRODA, a center founded by parents in response to the lack of state services offered to children with autism and their families.
Since its creation, IRODA has passionately advocated for the rights and interests of people living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and remains the only center for autism in Tajikistan. IRODA offers programs for children with autism and their families including mainstream school inclusion support, early intervention programs, and life skills programs. The center continues to be a parent-driven organization and seeks to partner with professionals in the ASD field to ensure they can address all the needs of people with ASD. In addition to offering direct services for children and their families, IRODA also advocates for legislation and community support for people with ASD to be fully included in their local communities.
Britta and Okxana created a website for IRODA, allowing the center to finally have an online presence, which the leaders of IRODA identified as a key step in moving forward. The website allows visitors to learn the history, mission, and programs of IRODA as well as provides a place to donate and read autism-related news. Not only did Britta and Okxana develop this website, they also assisted the staff of IRODA by researching grant opportunities and playing with the children. Regarding her experience, Okxana said, “During my time in Tajikistan, I learned not only about the world around me, but about myself as well. I gained a better understanding for autism and the everyday struggles that those affected by it face.” Read more about Okxana’s experience on her blog.
Ben Orbach, founder and director of America’s Unofficial Ambassadors, congratulates Britta and Okxana for their work at IRODA last summer in an article for the Huffington Post. He quotes Lola Nassriddinov, IRODA’s Director, as she remarked,
“It is amazing that people from so far could come and integrate themselves with the children. They have such a good connection with the kids, acting like they had known them for years since their first day. All of the staff asks, ‘Where can we find volunteers like this in Tajikistan?'” Read more of Ben’s article here.
Through AUA’s Summer Service Internship program, Britta and Okxana traveled to Tajikistan and made a significant impact on IRODA and the local community in Dushanbe. You can read more about their experiences on our blog and learn how you can be an unofficial ambassador on our website.