Delegates from the other side of the world got a taste of democracy, U.S. education and the Southwest, thanks to a local organization.
Bridge to Tajikistan invited six delegates from Tajikistan, participating in the Open World Program, to visit Albuquerque this week to examine “Accountable Governance — Engaging Youth In Civil Society.”
The six delegates chosen for the trip were selected by the U.S Embassy in Tajikistan in respect of the theme of the visit, “Engaging Youth in Civil Society.”
The co-founder of Bridge to Tajikistan, Karen Schafer, said the organization is based in Albuquerque, and has a mission of creating connections between New Mexico and specific groups and individuals in Tajikistan, a small country in Asia.
The focus of this October visit is for the delegates to get an idea of the way UNM engages youth.
Throughout the visit, the group will be attending programs and workshops on different teaching programs, she said, as well as experiencing the local culture in Albuquerque through activities such as visiting the Sandia Tramway and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
Schafer said another goal for Bridges to Tajikistan is to teach those visiting how our government works, with the group visiting the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, the New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller and Field Representative of Foreign Affairs Bill Woldman.
“The big picture goal is for them to leave here with a better understanding of how a democracy works and what an American family and what American life is really like,” Schafer said. “They come with preconceived notions that we are all carrying a gun and that everyone is on drugs and they find out when they get here that is not true.”
Schafer said she hopes the group will go home with innovative ideas about how to implement the things they learned while in Albuquerque into their own organization back home.
Schafer said the idea for Bridges to Tajikistan began when a group traveled from Tajikistan to Albuquerque through an Open World program, a group dedicated to bringing emerging leaders in Europe and Asia to U.S. communities to learn from each other.
Both Schaefer and her co-founder Rikki Quintana were impressed by the determination of the people of Tajikistan to educate their youth and, despite the obstacles in front of them, they wanted to help them along the way.
Schafer said they began by creating Bridges to Tajikistan, and started supplying people in Tajikistan with English language textbooks.
Funding the trip comes from from the Open World International Center in Washington, D.C., and was originally given by the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan.
Bridges to Tajikistan has been funded for three years running, Schaefer said.
Not only will those traveling from Tajikistan be gaining knowledge, but so will those in Albuquerque, she said. Within the program, the delegates will not only be attending programs and speeches, but hosting them as well.
“International exchange is a two-way street,” Schafer said. “They have a different perspective — a different culture — and they will be sharing that on numerous occasions.”
Schafer said those from UNM that will be impacted the most throughout this visit will be the interns helping put the entire trip together, who will be learning with the visitors along the way.
Bridge to Tajikistan Intern — and an international studies and political science double major — Virginia McDaniels said she joined the group because of how much the subject matter crosses over into her interests of international politics.
“This group is doing a great job building those bridges as the name suggests,” McDaniels said.
“I wanted to make ties internationally, and I think it's amazing that people will come here to learn about American society and that's a great way to start building bridges.”
McDaniels said this program is not only for UNM to expand the culture on campus, but to also open students’ eyes to the resources available to them and how they can get involved.
“It’s important that UNM students get involved in organizations like this. Before, I never realized how much is actually on campus. I encourage students to talk to their professors to see how to get more involved on campus,” McDaniels said. “We hope they will go home with some innovative ideas of how to implement some of the ideas in the organization where they work.”
Denicia Aragon is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter @deniciaaragon98.