A little bit about me...

Hi my name is Raechelle, and I lived in the secular Muslim country of Azerbaijan as a Youth Development Volunteer for the Peace Corps for three years and three months. I am now the Administrator of the official Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Friends of Azerbaijan group. As such, I am working to promote Peace Corps third goal of helping promote a better understanding of Azerbaijani people to Americans.

I created this blog as a way for future Peace Corps Volunteers, my friends and family, and Americans in general to understand what life as a Peace Corps Volunteer is like. As part of the pilot program for Youth Development in Azerbaijan, my work in Azerbaijan was diverse to say the least. I took on a role as youth educator, mentor and promoter. I helped with academic advising, established informal youth service clubs, encouraged youth to be proactive in their communities, promoted volunteer-ism and making a positive contribution to their communities.

I served as an extended volunteer, meaning that I served a third year instead of the traditional two year and three month service. During that time, I got married to my community counterpart and embraced many parts of the Azerbaijani culture. It is my hope to provide you a sense of understanding of life as a Peace Corps volunteer, life in Azerbaijan, and a bit about Azerbaijani culture through my experiences. Please feel free to comment or email me if you have any questions or suggestions for topics you'd like to hear more about.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What is a host organization?

I've decided to explain a little more about my job, and my work here in Ganja. So that everyone can get a better understanding of what I do here. After our initial training, we are all sent out to our cities, villages, and towns. As you all know, I've been assigned to Ganja, the second largest city in Azerbaijan. There are approximately 300,000 people in my city. Each volunteer is then assigned to an organization in their community that matches their program goals. Since I work in youth development, I have been placed in a youth development organization. That can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people though. My host organization is formally called "Ganja Education Information Center." GEIC, or also Soros, as it is funded by the Soros Foundation. Most people in Ganja call it Soros. My office is two story, with a covered courtyard. Downstairs, we host a computer center, kitchen, bathroom, a small office for NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) to host meetings, and also my office. Upstairs is where the magic happens. We have an entire library of materials for students. With big tables and chairs, and an office manager in one large room, the library is lined with bookshelves. Almost all of our books are in english. We have recently undergone a long process to organize and catalogue our library, so now we have sections for fiction, non-fiction, english grammar, english listening, english speaking, TOEFL test prep, GRE test prep, SAT prep, encyclopedias, dictionaries, translation dictionaries, and tons of books about colleges in america. We have a few smaller sections on art, animals, foreign materials in german, chinese, russian, french, swedish, and a few more. Our library is where most students come to find reading materials in english. Students often come to study, or just to read in the library.
Aside from all the books, our library also has audio materials. A few VHS, DVD, CD and cassettes in english. We have a smaller room upstairs called the alumni resource room, which is intended for study abroad alumni to have access to a quieter space that has a TV and a couch to read or watch movies on. The director’s office is upstairs, and he is always open to talking to any student who wants to speak with him. In the library, we host all sorts of events. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, we host english language conversation clubs in the afternoons. These clubs are a way for students to come and have conversation, debate, games, art projects, and any other activity you can imagine conducted in english. They give students the opportunity to practice english in a practical setting outside of the classroom. In the middle of the day, Monday through Friday, we host classes sponsored by the Democracy Commission on all sorts of topics. Leadership and Diversity, History of Democracy, American Government, Critical Thinking, Public Speaking Preparation and Presentation, and Debate. The students have two hours of classes each day. All of these activities are free to youth in Ganja wishing to improve their education.
Soros does more though. We often host other local NGO's, seminars, trainings, and meetings for local businesses. Occasionally, computer training is conducted. TOEFL test preparation is conducted. Education Fairs are conducted annually. "America Days" are done to teach about foreign culture; and the local branch of Azerbaijan English Teachers Association is able to gather resources for classroom work. In the community, it is a well-known center, and we see a lot of students (both school and university age) in our office daily. My job is to keep students busy. Keep them active and learning. Keep them dedicated toward creating and following through with their goals. In some ways, I feel like I could be working at the local YMCA. In many ways, I know that this organization is the driving force for so many youth being active in their community. The students are interested in so much... it's just having someone to help them organize, plan and conduct their own activities that they are often lacking. Hence, the Peace Corps Volunteer. The best part of my job, is that every day is both familiar and different. I see many of the same faces, but all of the things we do every day are different. I have the freedom to come in and decide to plan an art exhibition, essay contest, movie night, resume workshop, computer typing class, or an American Game Day. Whatever I do, students come. It makes me feel excited to go to work. I find myself often going into the office on both Saturday and Sundays, and finding there is always something to do. And although every day presents it's own challenges, it also has it's own rewards. It is true what they say; Peace Corps really is the toughest job you'll ever love.

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