From a big, fast paced city (Toronto) of Canada to a small, remote town (Naryn) surrounded by Mountains in Kyrgyzstan, the last seven months of my life have been full of new experiences. When I was selected by Seneca for this internship, seven months seemed quite long to me, but I was wrong. As the saying goes, “time flies, when you are having fun”. Though it wasn’t all fun and games: I had my share of challenges while working as an Intern Project Manager: Community Outreach and Engagement with University of Central Asia (UCA), Naryn, Kyrgyzstan.
As a person who is passionate about community work, I gained the valuable experience of starting community projects from scratch. This position enhanced my leadership skills. I started projects in the field of Academia, Environment, Life Skills, Sports, Culture and Women Empowerment. All these projects were aimed at improving the life skills of local people and with the help of student volunteers, we were able to make a long-lasting impact. For instance, to empower local women, we organized a fundraising event and use the funds to help the women in starting their sewing business. As recycling was a new concept in Naryn, we initiated a program to collect and sell used paper, plastic and cardboard separately at the UCA campus and convert it into a profit-making waste management business. The recycling project was also introduced in government buildings in Naryn. I also conducted several sessions on leadership to motivate the youth to be effective community leaders. Overall, more than 20 projects were started to contribute to the growth of UCA and the Naryn community.
This internship also provided me with an invaluable opportunity to make life long connections. I worked along with UCA students and staff, local people, and officials from the government and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). Working with people from diverse background and sectors helped me to learn from their experiences. It also elevated my cultural competence. The culture of Kyrgyzstan is amazing, and people are hospitable. I was always treated with love and respect. Kyrgyzstan is as beautiful as its people. The mountains, rivers, livestock and nomadic life style; if you want to be in the arms of mother nature, it’s the place to go.
There were challenges associated with this internship as well. There was a language barrier as the local community doesn’t speak English. Thanks to my volunteer translators, I was able to communicate with the locals. I did start to learn the Kyrgyz language as well. Another challenge was to get volunteers for all the projects. It was not an easy task to create a team of dedicated individuals. I used my social and leadership skills to create connections and urge people to join a common cause. Naryn’s remoteness also posed a challenge. The town is still developing and there are very few restaurants and places to socialize. The main city is four hours away from Naryn. It was bit of challenge but the work in Naryn kept me busy most of the time.
To summarize my experience, I am glad that I was selected for the internship and went to Kyrgyzstan. I have always wanted to get hands-on experience in starting and managing the community projects; this internship provided me with that experience and it was one of the best experiences of my life.