United States Peace Corps, after much deliberation, decided to
indefinitely suspend all Peace Corps programs in the Republic of
Kazakhstan, leaving many locals worrying over lost jobs, students
mourning lost mentors and friends, and volunteers crying over lost
The decision was not reached easily. Over the past few months, Peace
Corps Kazakhstan has experienced many hardships. A special assessment
team was sent to evaluate the situation a couple of weeks ago. They
began interviewing volunteers and speaking with staff to assess the
effectiveness of our programs and the security of volunteers. The
program was ultimately suspended due to what the Peace Corps is
officially calling "operational considerations." Volunteers, people
in my community, and PC staff expressed sorrow at the news and
acknowledged the positive influence Peace Corps has had on Kazakhstan
and the life-changing impact Kazakhstan has had on volunteers.
I cried for about three days when the Country Director called to tell
me we were all leaving. They should have put me next to the Aral Sea
to help expand its shrinking coastline. I cried alongside my
counterpart teacher, Gulshat, many of my students, local friends, and
volunteers. With them I lamented the time we thought we had left to
carry out projects, improve English, celebrate holidays, and continue
to learn about each other.
I was crying for all of these things, but my heart was aching for the
loss of my students. I saw their eager faces and thought of how much
they crave knowledge, they crave the world. In my opinion, Peace
Corps volunteers in Kazakhstan were about so much more than teaching
English. My passion for these kids had very little to do with
teaching English. I love them. I love them for the way they greeted
me every day with chipper handshakes, for the way they called me Miss
Jennie, for the way they appreciate every ounce of love I showed them.
Could Peace Corps have changed the educational system in Kazakhstan?
No. In fact, that was never the goal. I wanted to show these kids
that they had to be the future. They had to be brave enough to
imagine the world they wanted to live in and go for it. The unit we
were covering right before we left was about ambition. The kids know
that Miss Jennie believes they should dream big and believe in
themselves. And they know Miss Jennie believes in them. Another
volunteer said that her biggest accomplishment was that her children
know they are fiercely loved. What more are we here for?
Yet the ferocity of this love makes leaving all the more painful. So
painful in fact, that I have found myself wandering around aimlessly
for the past week or so, not sure how to recover from the sadness of
leaving my community, my life, my passion. Being here is difficult,
reading the letters my students wrote to me and looking at our last
photos makes me cry, and not knowing what to do in the immediate
future is terrifying. But, I read through my previous blogs and found
wisdom in my own words:
Term tests be damned, tonight is about breathing in the nature that
continues to surprise me. Tonight is about recording experiences that
will be turned into memories, doing my best to describe what I am
feeling and thinking now so that I will look back with decidedly happy
nostalgia. I know that someday I will miss these moments, but this is
also a reminder that if you are loving life, there will always be
nostalgia. The pang of sadness is a small price to pay for living in
the moments that are worthy of nostalgia.
I have changed a lot and learned more than I taught. If you read any
news about Kazakhstan, keep an open mind and remember that nothing in
life is black and white. Just like every country, it has its share of
problems, but there are truly amazing people and traditions that I
will miss dearly and look forward to seeing again soon. I would love
to discuss all of this in more depth if any of you are interested.
Thank you for all of your support and wish me luck on the next adventure.