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UNV volunteers on the Silk route
by Adele Del Sordi, Rahel Hurzeler, Bettina Schucan, Simona Ferrara, Vanessa Vesnaver

From left: Adele Del Sordi, Bettina Schucan, Rahel Hurzeler and Vanessa Vesnaver during the UNV Sub-Regional Retreat in Kyrgyzstan (UNV, 2008)From left: Adele Del Sordi, Bettina Schucan, Rahel Hurzeler and Vanessa Vesnaver during the UNV Sub-Regional Retreat in Kyrgyzstan (UNV, 2008)Simona Ferrera (right), an Italian fully-funded UNV intern for Child Protection at UNICEF in Uzbekistan. (UNV 2008)Simona Ferrera (right), an Italian fully-funded UNV intern for Child Protection at UNICEF in Uzbekistan. (UNV 2008)
14 February 2008

There were four of us, UNV Interns, at the Sub-Regional Retreat organized in the summer of 2007 by the UNV country offices in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

We had a retreat recently, and it was a wonderful experience. We had the possibility to get to know the realities in these three countries, to bond and feel like ONE Central Asia Team and to enjoy the glorious scenario of Issyk-Kul lake, in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan.

For us Interns, it was the perfect occasion to share our feelings and experiences and to compare how each succeeded in adapting to a completely new working and living reality. We discussed similarities and differences of the three Central Asian countries and compared our UNV experiences, which we found very different among each other, though equally challenging and important in the personal growth of all of us. Here are our stories.

Adele Del Sordi - Italian fully-funded UNV intern serving as Communication Assistant at UNV Country Office in Kazakhstan  

I am living in Almaty, the most cosmopolitan city in Central Asia. Living here is pleasant and easy, especially if compared to life in the rural areas. In Almaty, it is evident that country is going through changes.  

My experience as UNV Communication Assistant in UNV Country Office is challenging, but rewarding. My task is to advocate for volunteering in the country, but it isn’t always easy, as the idea of volunteerism is often considered an external phenomenon, or associated with some non-spontaneous volunteer practices, common during the Soviet times.

I am happy to cooperate with local media but I prefer our direct outreach initiatives in schools, universities and in the English club we initiated together with the international students’ organization AIESEC. In these cases, I have the possibility to meet local young people and see their perspectives on volunteerism and, more generally, on life.

I also have a chance to use and improve my skills in Russian, even if I would like to get some knowledge of Kazakh: it is important to feel closer to population, who uses more and more this language.

Rahel Hurzeler – Swiss fully-funded UNV intern at UNICEF Kazakhstan in the division of evaluation and monitoring

I agree that February is maybe not the best month to move to Astana; Kazakhstan’s capital is said to be the coldest in the world. But the cordial welcome made up for the low temperatures outside. Astana is an eclectic and fast changing city, where you can find golden skyscrapers next to old Soviet buildings and in the middle of the town the Ishim River.

Kazakhstan is fast-paced and the wealthiest of all the Central Asian countries. Nevertheless there is a lot to do in the areas of child protection, health and social services. In the UNICEF Country Office in Astana, I work with around 25 people, most of them women. My task is to support several evaluation and monitoring activities. Since UNICEF Kazakhstan plans to evaluate the strategic alignment of their country program this year, I am involved in this midterm review process. Among other things I worked on a training manual for non-governmental organizations performing child rights monitoring in their regions.

Working at UNICEF is very interesting, but also beside work my UNV assignment gives me the opportunity to experience new and absorbing things. Since there are so many new things to learn about people, politics, language and the Kazakh way of life, living and working in this country is an enriching and great experience!

Bettina Schucan – Swiss fully-funded UNV intern for Human Rights

I am spending my UNV year in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I worked as a “Human Rights Specialist” with UNDP, mainly dealing with capacity building for government officials in the area of human rights reporting. As a bit of an exception, I was later seconded to a local NGO which is well established in the field of peaceful conflict transformation. This provides a precious insight into the daily struggles and delights of a grassroots organisation. The spectacular mountain landscape amazes me – and reminds me of my home country. But here people are mainly Asian, they speak Russian and Kyrgyz, and the felt yurtas still await to be introduced to the Swiss Alps.

Simona Ferrara – Italian fully-funded UNV intern for Child Protection at UNICEF in Uzbekistan

I am living in Tashkent, the fabulous capital of Uzbekistan and I am serving as UNV Intern for Child Protection at UNICEF office. In a country where the needs of the population, and in particular of children, are so many this work is really challenging!

The direct contact with local people, the visit to several orphanages, the meetings with representatives of local organizations and the participation in seminars and trainings on subjects related to child care are part of my daily life and really it is stimulating!!!

I am focal point for a project with Special Olympics Uzbekistan Committee, an organization working with children with mental disabilities and their families in order to improve their inclusion in the society. Recently, I have participated on behalf of UNICEF in the World Special Olympics Games held in Shanghai, China. It was a big emotion to be there with the Uzbek delegation of more than 40 children who came back with 20 medals…

Children can teach us a lot; every day is a day of discovery, challenge, surprise…

Vanessa Vesnaver – Italian fully-funded UNV Intern, UNAIDS  

When I first came to Uzbekistan the feelings were mixed. On the one hand, I was very excited about coming and living in such a mysterious and quite unknown country. On the other hand, I was concerned about how I could start a life in a place where I had no friends and I did not know the language.

Since then, every day has been a discovery: the colleagues, the city, people in the bazaars. The large number of ethnicities, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians, Koreans, Tatars, just to quote a few, makes this country a real melting pot.

When it comes to the job, this variety of backgrounds and cultures makes every day challenging and stimulating. At the UNAIDS Office I mostly conduct advocacy and communication activities to increase HIV awareness and improve the coordination among the actors involved in the fight against the epidemic. However, the office is quite small and we all end up helping each other on all sorts of tasks. It is often difficult to address the sensitive issues attached to HIV and AIDS, but this contributes to make everyday a non stop learning experience, which so far has been very rewarding both at the professional and personal level.
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