on assignment in Tuz

Recently, a group of photojournalism students from the University of Nebraska come to Kyrgyzstan for three weeks for what must be the coolest class assignment ever. Through my connections at AUCA, I was put in touch with them and was invited to accompany them as they traveled around and took photos for some of the stories they were pursuing. Since I don’t actually have any photojournalism experience (Really? Yeah. But you taught photojournalism? Yes, I know.), I happily tagged along. Here are some photos from the first trip.

We drove to a village called Tuz, located about 30ish km east of Bishkek, to visit a working farm for recovering alcoholics and former homeless men and women.

The students had been working on a story about homelessness in Kyrgyzstan and had already visited the farm, but were invited back for lunch that day. The men prepared a giant pot of plov for us.

The center is run by an organization called Teen Challenge, and even though its Statement of Purpose is “to evangelize and disciple those with life-controlling problems,” religion didn’t appear to be a defining characteristic of the rehabilitation program. One of the center’s employees said some of the participants do convert to Christianity, but it’s not the primary focus of this particular center.

Below, one of the center’s students reads a passage from the Bible.

The men I met and had lunch with seemed nice. One older man, Batbek (below, left), seemed to really enjoy talking with the female student (although she doesn’t speak any Russian), telling her about his days in the army. He relied on me to translate for her and, strangely enough, decided Kirstin was too difficult (as he explained to me) and changed my name for the day to Katya.

The participants take care of cattle, horses, chickens and rabbits on the farm. There are plans to expand the farm later this year.

Despite the frigid cold, everybody was in good spirits and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to meet some of the people running this center and some of its students.

4 replies on “on assignment in Tuz”

  1. Glad this trip turned out well. They contacted me for help, and because I’m old, stupid, and forgetful, it didn’t even occur to me to put them in touch with you.

    1. I think I was the only person from AUCA’s journalism department (or the entire school) that stayed in Bishkek for the holidays, so it was inevitable for us to meet up. But yeah, it looks like the trip turned out really well for them, you should check out some of their stories, http://unlphotojournalismkyrgyzstan.tumblr.com. I hear they’re working on some multimedia projects now and I’m especially excited to see more about the Ethiopians who live in Tokmok.

  2. So interesting. I lived in Honduras last year and worked at an NGO located right next to Teen Challenge. I knew of Teen Challenge but never visited its premises and until this post, thought it was only a Central American organization (I saw a man in El Salvador wearing a Teen Challenge shirt as well). It’s nice to see an inside look at the organization. It’s definitely a commendable mission although living so close to its premises made the area a bit unsafe, but that’s just Honduras for you.

    I’m curious to read more about your time in Kyrgyztan, as I am with all ex-pats who delve into countries usually looked over by most.

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