In a region facing immense environmental challenges that have negatively impacted on peoples livelihoods, and with tuberculosis reaching epidemic proportions, community volunteers are helping disseminate information on tuberculosis and undertake small-scale initiatives to improve living standards.
The Field Unit of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme in Uzbekistan was recently on mission in Karakalpakstan, a semi-autonomous region of Uzbekistan living in the shadows of the Aral Sea disaster*. As a result, the region faces immense environmental challenges such as land degradation, desertification and increased vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters. These challenges have impacted negatively on the livelihoods of people and their communities in one of the poorest regions in Uzbekistan, with tuberculosis reaching epidemic proportions.
The Empowering Communities through Local Volunteerism project supports hard-hit communities to report cases of early symptoms of tuberculosis (TB), disseminate information on TB, conduct advocacy activities (e.g. against discrimination towards TB patients), and undertake small-scale project initiatives to improve living standards. The project is working with existing indigenous organizations such as the Mahalla Committees, through which the Government touches peoples lives at the community level. Thus the communities can work together to identify why TB is a problem and come up with their own solutions.
Through community outreach activities, the project is contributing to building trust in the communities and ensuring a better understanding among the people about the importance of preventive measures as well as treatment of TB. As part of the recent mission to Karakalpakstan, UNV was able to incorporate a small advocacy campaign about the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers (IYV+10) into the TB project in Nukus. As someone who recently joined the IYV+10 campaign, what I found really surprising is how the project is able to inspire all types of people to volunteer in so many different activities. It was the first time in my whole life that I saw so many elderly volunteers; very enthusiastic and open-minded people, engaged in fighting Tuberculosis. In Karakalpakstan, I witnessed a strong desire by people to improve their living conditions, especially in those areas affected by severe salinity.
Experiencing the power of volunteerism during the three days I spent in the Aral Sea area, I learned about the vibrant volunteerism culture of the people living there. It was quite amazing to talk to people and discuss IYV+10, and to hear their personal stories on how they are contributing to a global movement of volunteerism.
* The Aral Sea has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s after the rivers that fed it were diverted by irrigation projects. The region's once prosperous fishing industry has been virtually destroyed, bringing unemployment and economic hardship. The Aral Sea region is also heavily polluted, with consequent serious public health problems. The retreat of the sea has reportedly also caused local climate change, with summers becoming hotter and drier, and winters colder and longer.