America's Unofficial Ambassadors

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.

First impressions of the Muslim world

By John Curran

John Curran, 2015 Summer Service Intern in Tajikistan

John Curran, 2015 Summer Service Intern in Tajikistan

Traveling to Tajikistan has proven to be full of challenges. However, as part of the AUA program and as an intern working for an NGO and a volunteer at a local school, these challenges have been more than manageable. While in some ways similar to time I spent living in Dominica, in the Caribbean, Tajikistan has provided its own set of unique experiences, and each day in Dushanbe has proven to be a smaller part of a much bigger adventure.

In the United States it is very easy to forget how our day-to-day lives are made possible due to an extensive infrastructure, which has been slowly built and improved over the course of many decades. Everything from mass transit to school attendance records are a part of the American infrastructure and without it our lives would be very different. In fact, our lives might be much more similar to that of an everyday Tajik citizen who finds themselves living in an environment that is inefficient, convoluted, and in large part, simply not conducive towards meeting the needs of our society in 2015. In response to this problem Civil Internet Policy Initiative (CIPI), the NGO where I am interning, has emerged as an organization dedicated to improving, and in many cases building from nothing, a modern, efficient, and internet integrated Tajik infrastructure.

As the basic foundation for all the work and activities we do as citizens on a daily basis, the need for a functional infrastructure is a crucial factor in determining the success of a town, city, or country. In many cases this translates to CIPI tasking its self with the development of what may seem mundane and unimportant. However, without CIPI, Dushanbe would be without many of the basic utilities that cities all over the world depend on in order to operate efficiently.  For instance, in America calling a hotline for assistance or reporting a neighborhood disturbance is more often than not handled by an automated system. In America we make take these systems for granted, while in Tajikistan they simply don’t yet exist.

The work that CIPI does is very important, and it is exciting to assist in building the foundation that Dushanbe will depend upon more and more as time progresses. CIPI has grown tremendously in the past few years as it continues to expand its influence, working on new projects, and branching out in new ways in order to provide as much as possible to the citizens of Dushanbe. My contributions to CIPI come largely from my ability to write English language documentation and proposals. As CIPI grows it is seeking to extend its reach, and a great way to do this is through providing information and resources about the company in English. A great example of this is the CIPI website, which I have been working to translate entirely into English, and should be complete by the end of my stay in Tajikistan.

In addition to working with CIPI, I am also teaching English and Information Communication Technology’s (ICT) topics to students at a school called Masoud. These topics include, such things as discussions on open data or big data, as well as discussions regarding broader themes such as “robotics.” My time at Masoud has been the most surprising experience so far in Tajikistan. In particular, it has been my students’ ability to speak and understand English really well, that has surprised me. Coming into Tajikistan initially my expectations were neither high nor low, instead I simply didn’t know what to expect, and as a result I have been thoroughly impressed by my students. Furthermore, prior to arriving in Dushanbe, I was relatively apprehensive about teaching English, and was quite unsure whether or not I was up to the task. In hindsight this fact seems silly to me, as my students have been a pleasure to teach, and continue to teach me as much as I teach them.

In addition to working at CIPI and teaching at Masoud, the experience of seeing and living in Dushanbe has also been a fascinating experience. In many ways it has been challenging to navigate a city that doesn’t speak your language, which has in turn spurred me to practice my Russian even more. Having learned the alphabet now I have found it supremely satisfying to wander around reading all the signs for shops, businesses, and restaurants in an effort decipher whatever meaning I can. As time progresses, I am hoping to improve my Russian even more, while also continuing to enjoy working at CIPI and Masoud. As of now I have three weeks remaining in Tajikistan and the first three weeks have gone by much too quickly!

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