Yesterday I helped four students from the Micro Access Scholarship program fill out applications for the FLEX program. FLEX stands for Future Leaders Exchange and it gives underprivileged high school kids a chance to compete to study in a high school in the U.S. for one year. There were 30 students who tried out at a local school here in Garm. I went there and there was an American who was testing the students and he filled me in on the process. The students take a short English test, like 16 questions, and then if they do well then they make it to the second round. I'm proud to say that out of the 20 students in the Micro Access Scholarship program that I'm working with who are eligible to take the test (they must be 16 years old or younger) they all showed up...even three girls. That was huge! Any students who are between 14-16 years old can compete, but their English skills must be up to snuff. So out of the students who took the test, 9 made it to the second round of the competition which was an essay. Ray, the representative from FLEX passed four students to round 3. Two were students who graduated from the Micro Access program this year and the other two are current students. The two current students in the English Access program are STRONG and I'm so excited that they might have a chance to go to the U.S. They third round is filling out an application and then submitting it to American Councils. Then it goes to to Washington, D.C. to be reviewed. They won't know until April if they've been chosen or not. That's harsh! Forty-five students from all over Tajikistan are chosen and they try to make it gender equivalent and take students from all over the country. It's an great exchange program and the students will come back with more open minds and different views of the world and also ideas on how to make Tajikistan better. That's the idea anyway.
Let me explain the English Access Micro Scholarship Program here. It's a program to help under privileged children in remote areas of Tajikistan to learn English. They must compete to be in the program. They must register, write an essay in Tajik, and if their essay in Tajik is strong enough, then they are interviewed. The students come from their villages into the town of Garm three days a week after regular public school. They are in public school in the morning and come to the center to learn English in the afternoons. It's completely voluntary. This program is the reason why four students in the Rasht district (Garm and the surrounding villages) are competing to go study in the U.S. It's brilliant!
I learned a lot about the students, too, while helping them fill out the application. It's a 12 page application and they don't understand all the information. I spent 6 hours with them yesterday and will spend more time with them after Eid filling it out. I learned that one (my favorite...I know I'm not supposed to have favorites, but he is), whose English name is Fox Mulder, doesn't have a father in his house. His father left Tajikistan and went to Belarus for work twelve years ago and never returned. I wanted to ask if his father sends his family money, but it wasn't the time yesterday. I will certainly find out though. Apparently that's a common thing. Another student said his 19 year old brother went to Russia to work because he can make more money there. Men going to work in Russia is a help and a hindrance here. It's a help because the men Western Union the money here for the families. It's a hindrance because, more often then not, the men go to Russia and stop sending money after awhile and stop calling. They find a new wife there and have a family and leave their families here to fend for themselves. It's a really harsh life here. It leaves a lot of single mothers to care for families or the father's brother who is still in Tajikistan is responsible for taking care of the family. There are so many men leaving and it means that there's more women in the country than men. That means that if men have the funds available to support more than one wife in Tajikistan he can take more...many more. It usually turns out that he will take a mistress (usually several) and the men here like to brag about their mistresses. Women aren't allowed to get divorced here so if her husband has mistresses or if he's beating her, there's no way out for her. I asked my students why they thought that the English Access program is really pushing to have more girls in the program. One male student said "Because when they divorce their husband and live in America then they can make it on their own." That's not the answer I was looking for but I couldn't have imagined a better answer from a young Tajik man.