Roman Madaus, an international relations student at Tufts University, spent two months during the summer of 2012 volunteering for Project HOPE in Tajikistan. He researched and documented the impact that Project HOPE’s work has had on the health of diabetics in this country.
Before I went to Tajikistan with Project HOPE, I thought I knew a good bit about travel, foreign cities and foreign cultures.I had worked and done military service in Germany in addition to traveling throughout Europe and in some Latin American countries.None of these experiences came even close to the utter differentness of Tajikistan.
At first it was difficult. This was my first time in an Asian - let alone Central Asian - country, my first time in a post-Soviet country, and my first time in a Muslim country. My body had to quickly adjust to the climate, the food and the time zone, and my brain had to adjust to the foreign alphabet, sounds, smells, and sights. For me, though, the differentness was actually one of the highlights of my stay in Tajikistan. The overwhelming flood of new sensory input was exhilarating!
As I was conducting research for my impact-assessment report, the experience of navigating Tajikistan’s health care network—especially the hospitals—laid bare the realities of living in a poor country for me. I saw people who had literally been crippled by their inability to find medical treatment. This is normal for most of the world.
In a country where the average family cannot afford to save, health care costs are crippling. The impact of HOPE’s work in Tajikistan was easy to see first-hand. I saw the patients Project HOPE was helping, and I graphed the data showing that fewer of those same people suffered or lost their livelihoods when we were able to donate medicine. Fewer diabetics lost their limbs, and fewer children went into comas.
My time in Tajikistan certainly made me thankful for the small things, but, as with many things, that will fade with time. What will stay with me is the stark realization—not just the conceptualization—of how the majority of the world’s population lives and survives. It’s this realization that will remain with me, long after I’ve forgotten the foreign words, the smells, and the sights of Tajikistan.
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