Out of the Cold: Helping the People of Tajikistan

Posted by Anne Benjaminson
April 9, 2008
Tajikistani Boy Receives Supplies as Part of the Food for Peace Program

About the Author: Anne Benjaminson serves as a Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

In the warm spring air, it was almost possible to forget the winter Tajikistan had just suffered through. The sun was shining and grass was poking through the dirt. The trees around us, however, were all stumps. They had all been cut down for firewood in desperation for warmth and cash during Tajikistan's coldest winter in more than 40 years.

An Embassy delegation of Ambassador Tracey Jacobson, USAID Deputy Program Officer Steve Kelley, Interpreter Khurshed Mayusupov and I were in Kirov, a small town about two hours south of Dushanbe. The town couldn't have been more than 2,000 people, but at least 50 families have children with disabilities. Many were caused by poor prenatal nutrition or exposure to toxic chemicals in nearby cotton fields, where most of the town's residents toil every fall.

We were in Kirov to visit an aid distribution funded by the U.S. Government and implemented by Save the Children, an international NGO active in Tajikistan. The United States provided nearly $1 million in emergency humanitarian aid, in addition to more than $1 million in humanitarian daily rations, to help Tajikistanis survive the extreme temperatures and widespread power cuts that left many people in the dark, with limited food supplies. Our humanitarian assistance this winter was in addition to an $8.5 million annual Food for Peace program, which is scheduled to end this year due to lack of funding. There are no official statistics, but the media reported that newborn babies were dying of exposure -- in maternity wards. Many schools were closed, and those that remained open were without power or heat.

One by one, families streamed past us into the local health center, where they received a cash payment of 200 somoni, about $60. For many of these families, the cash amount was the equivalent of about three months' wages. Families will use the money to buy food and seeds for this year's planting season. One woman was overcome by tears. Families also received blankets and candles for the tough times that undoubtably lie ahead. The poorest country in the former Soviet Union, Tajikistan has tremendous hydropower potential, but has been unable to provide power year-round, particularly in rural areas.

After leaving the health center, we visited the home of a family who had received aid. As we entered the yard, one of the younger children approached us and shook everyone's hand, starting with the Ambassador. His smile was enormous, and he happily followed us around, chatting the whole time. Like one of his older brothers, he has two club feet. The five children in the family share three pairs of shoes between them, so they can't all go to school at once. The father is trying to get agricultural work, but in February transportation costs took up all of his earnings. Parents, children and a grandfather share a single room. While they have a large plot of land, there is no well on or near the property, making small-scale agriculture impossible.

I am constantly amazed at the hospitality and friendless of Tajikistanis who have so little. It's impossible to have a conversation with anyone without being offered tea and invited to their home. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union and five-year civil war, Tajikistanis have fallen behind many developing countries in living standards, health care and education. Humanitarian aid is as essential to the population's survival as the one million Tajikistanis working in Russia. Seeing women my age alone with several children, living hand-to-mouth, reminded me that it could have easily been me carrying water from a well half a mile away every day, feeding my baby tea for lack of anything else. As far away as places like Tajikistan are, the human value of compassion -- and helping because you can -- is universal.

Comments

Comments

John
|
Greece
April 9, 2008

John in Greece writes:

"For many of these families, the cash amount (200 somoni, about $60) was the equivalent of about three months' wages?"

Dear Ms. Benjaminson, this phrase of yours -among other extremely touching phrases in your post- made me reconsider all my life philosophy.

You made me thought that, sometimes, in the western world that we have it all? we seek for more. But we have already more than enough to be happy.

Your post is an inspiration diamond for further thinking.

I also reconsidered -- you made me do so, through your fantastic description -- part of Joe's (from Tennessee) recent post (about Foreign Aid) and the very humanitarian question he asked: "...are we dignified enough to call ourselves a human being?" I think that within limits, Joe's point of view is also a very possitive, productive and progressive question for all of us trying to make the world better.

I understand that the everyday life in Tajikistan is not a paradise for you either. We can all understand the sacrifices you make on a daily basis in order to service there.

Thank you very much for the excellent humanitarian service you offer in a place that most people cannot even find it in a map.

NB
|
Pakistan
April 10, 2008

NB in Pakistan wrties:

God bless you John!

God bless you Anne Benjaminson!

God bless all those who if unable to help in kind can feel for the suffering people.

God bless the kind people of America and USAID.

John
|
Greece
April 11, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ NB in Pakistan -- The U.S., Anne Benjaminson and all these people in the U.S.A. diplomatic community do it. And they are really trying?

Personally, I have not done a thing at all.

Thank you very much NB.

I wish you the best and God bless you too.

I would like to add that it's beautiful to watch people offering all over the world regardless the historical background of the people who need help, their religion status, their race etc.
This is real humanitarian AID.

I made a simple calculation:
U.S.A., that is simple Americans through taxing, offered $10.5M -- annually -- to a country with a population around 7M, if I'm accurate.

In fact, this is 525,000 month wages -- according to the $20 month wage that most of them regularly make in Tajikistan.

If you count that in a 7M population country of such a social platform, usually the amount of people who work is, let's say, 3M maximum, you easily understand that the USAID is really HUGE.

And this just only for Tajikistan among tens of other countries.

And, all this money and help for? a country that has 85% Sunni Muslims.

This is something that must make all fanatic Muslims around the world reconsider their false impression that America hates Muslims.

In fact -- this is what I understand -- America loves everyone.

Khudonazarov F.
|
Tajikistan
April 11, 2008

Khudonazarov in Tajikistan writes:

Dear State Department,

I'm writing you from Gorno Badakhshan of Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), Tajikistan. There are American Corners in the Tajikistan, as in Khujand as in Kulyab the provinces of Tajikistan, but there isn't any in Khorog the capital of GBAO. I wrote to U.S. embassy in Tajikistan, they said we're lack of funds, I suggest you to finance this programm. I myself can lead this programm for free.

If you need any additional information about me please contact me!

JOE
|
Tennessee, USA
April 13, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

While we have the most in every reguard by the worlds standards, our internal waste can be redirected to provide aid in a more productive manner, both here and abroad. What follows is imperative to our continuing to help those in need everywhere. I feel this is more than relevent and hope all read through this:

Bill Mathers Journal, a program on PBS, did a wonderful job of the inadequacies of our Farm Programs. A look at why some farm subsidies go to people who don't farm. Also: food-bank shortages; Bread for the World president David Beckmann. It covers how the wealthy farmers and even nonfarmers have received government subsidy checks to the tune of over 9 billion dollars for CROPS NOT GROWN. The Washington Post did a story on it.

How, in an era when not only multinational aid is needed and we have people latterly starving here in America, can it be accepted Congress approves payment of that size to be made for non productivity and not to the low income farmer who it was intended for? How does this happen and why does it continue. Where is the total leadership on both sides of the fence on this? Is this our INTELLIGENT leaders?

Our giving is costing shortages here in America to the poor AND ADDING TO THE OVERALL COST OF FOOD PRICES. Churches can't provide, charities cannot get Food bank support as it once did. EVERY SINGLE LEGESLATER AND VOTER NEEDS TO VIEW THIS PROGRAM!!!

Compassion comes at a cost, but one which can be adjusted to benefit all. Why not provide these subsidies to those who farm EXTRA CROPS for USAID and NON PROFIT? Why should any farm land sit idle in America when people here and abroad are starving? What about that fact alone shows either leadership or representation for what is best for American citizens? Why should any small farmer not share in the wealth which has been made? I was astounded. Adding riders on Bills that are known to pass and impact America to this extent needs to be stopped, no questions asked. I say this as there is a Vote to Adjust and review this week.

I honestly feel it is as important for America to continue being seen as the compassionate country it is. It is vital to our National Security and interest to feed multi nationally; but, we cannot ignore the cost.

So how many people could and should we have fed for 9 billion?

Cilt B.
|
Texas, USA
April 13, 2008

Cilt in Texas writes:

Thanks for informations.

NB
|
Pakistan
April 13, 2008

NB in Pakistan writes:

Like you say John, I too have no doubts in my mind that the humanitarian aid provided worldwide by the U.S., regardless of religion, color, & location, is in very simple terms "awesome". I don't see it in terms of percentage of GDP, I see the total amount in dollars and that easily beats all the countries of the world.

People with self-interests, power-seekers, as well as politicians seeking popularity find it very convenient to label America and Americans as anti so & so, and hating so & so. These are selfish people who don't care a penny about the suffering people.

The fanatics, the extremists, the militants, are a curse who will continue to make the common person suffer for their self-interest unless checked and the U.S. is playing its role in doing just that. Best Regards

polaris
|
China
April 13, 2008

Polaris in China writes:

Glad to come here,thanks for sharing!

John
|
Greece
April 13, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Khudonazarov in Tajikistan -- When you are referring to Corners, do you mean the libraries?

I do not know what the SD funds are for libraries there, or what it's going on there, (GBAO, Khujand, Kulyab, Khorog), but why don't you start -if you believe in- your own library, ...free of charge. It does not cost a thing.

I would start collecting 2-4 decades "prohibited" books (that the C party stopped their free distribution) and "official" party papers from the area and the ex-regime (ex-Soviet party) that emerge history.

If you need any librarian advice, I have a friend here in Athens- a real librarian.

Please post your queries on how to do it yourself. She will be helpful, concerning librarian advisories.

The most basic is to believe in...

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
April 15, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Joe in Tennessee --

Joe from Tenn. wrote:

"Why should any farm land sit idle in America when people here and abroad are starving?"

I don't have a degree in agriculture Joe, but you can't plant the same crop year after year on the same land and expect it to continue to produce.

Thus the theory of crop rotation, (corn 1st year , wheat the next, perhaps alfalfa the third...etc. including a period where for one season the land is left fallow and unplanted.

This way, soil is replenished with nutrients naturally, and not depleted of any one mineral or essential nutrient totally, which will render the land unproductive.

Originally the subsidies were issued to encorage farmers to rotate crops and offset their loss for allowing land to lay idle for these above reasons.

This soil conservation theory holds true whether it is a commercial size farm or a back yard garden.

Whether people have taken advantage of the program is a whole different issue, and it's good you bring it up as the rising cost of food isn't just an economic issue, hundreds of thousands of lives lives are at risk globally because of shortages.

best regards,

Tracey J.
|
Tajikistan
April 15, 2008

Tracey in Tajikistan writes:

@ Khudonazarov in Tajikistan -- Happy to tell you that we're (U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe) planning to open an American Corner in Khorog this year. Look forward to seeing you there.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
April 15, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

To Anne Benjaminson,

Here's a real good example of executive leadership in action. I hope the President issues a friendly challenge to other developed nations to meet or exeed, dollar for dollar, the emergency aid in the following.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/04/20080414-4.html

Statement by the Press Secretary

Today the President directed the Secretary of Agriculture to draw down on the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust to meet emergency food aid needs abroad. With this action, an estimated $200 million in emergency food aid will be made available through the U.S. Agency for International Development. This additional food aid will address the impact of rising commodity prices on U.S. emergency food aid programs, and be used to meet unanticipated food aid needs in Africa and elsewhere.

The United States is the world's largest provider of food aid and provided more than $2.1 billion of food aid for 2.5 million metric tons of commodities to 78 developing countries in fiscal year (FY) 2007.

We are also the world's largest provider of emergency food assistance delivering 1.5 million metric tons of emergency food aid valued at $1.2 billion to 30 countries in FY 2007. U.S. emergency food assistance helped almost 23 million people.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has sought to invest in agricultural production in developing countries as a major strategy for increased food availability. Working through local institutions and partners USAID has introduced new policy and technology-adapting capabilities to address near and longer terms issues.

The President has repeatedly asked Congress to support an innovative proposal to provide food assistance by purchasing crops directly from farmers in the developing world. This flexibility would not only get food to people in emergency situations faster, it would also build up local agriculture and help break the cycle of famine.

JOE
|
Tennessee, USA
April 15, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

This is from Washington Profile, a Russian news link:

About 3.5 million U.S. residents (about 1% of the population), including 1.35 million children, have been homeless for a significant period of time. Over 37,000 homeless individuals (including 16,000 children) stay in shelters in New York every night. This information was gathered by the Urban Institute, but actual numbers might be higher.

Not only is the information accurate, it is being used for propaganda purposes.

@ John in Greece -- I presume, John, that yourself nor has any immediate member of your family suffered the consequences of giving. If so, you should be in shame.

The mentality of clapping your hands and saying whoopee, lets keep giving, without any understanding that the money has to come from somewhere is purely childish. Rather much on the order of Evangelist showing their personal vanity while giving away others money to the poor while living a lifestyle that their religions leader did not. I mean, how many people can be feed for the cost of their planes, helicopter, autos, multi homes...The point here is: It is easy to give away what is not yours. The money belongs to the American People and it comes at a cost to them all.

It is as if some of you live in some Waldens Pond on a lot of issues.

You cannot keep bleeding the cow that gives the milk. Sooner or latter the cow will die. Corporations may buy new cows, democratic governments cannot.

Do any of you have a formal education or see beyond the immediate? Are you newsprint babies?

John
|
Greece
April 16, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Joe in Tennessee -- You write: "The point here is: It is easy to give away what is not yours. The money belongs to the American People and it comes at a cost to them all".

I totally agree with you.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that other people, outside the U.S.A., have not got the right to applaud American diplomacy and USAID programs.

Of course, I agree with you that if you are not an American taxpayer -- like me -- you can not have a "vote" concerning the "economical size" of these programs. (Neither I did so, through my posts, nor I attempted to do so).

But this, does not make them less important for the rest of the world.

According to my knowledge USAID programs are FOREIGN aid programs. So, I think that -without a shame- I can have my own positive PRO opinion concerning the concept of the issue, no matter if I am not an American citizen.

You also write: "The mentality of clapping your hands and saying whoopee, lets keep giving, without any understanding that the money has to come from somewhere is purely childish".

I will also tell you something "childish", but I won't explain it: If you do not give, you will never receive.

P.S. I think that you are a little "confused" about the Blog. Either you, or me. I thought like it was a global forum -- that's why the SD supervises and not the U.S. Department of Treasury -- and not an internal policy discussion forum. If it's not a global forum, I am out of subject. But, if this is not an internal affairs forum only, I think you are out of subject.

Discussing the concept of the USAID programs needs a global, diplomatic perspective.

Discussing the financials of these programs, though, is absolutely an internal affairs issue.

Besides, it's not polite, it has nothing to do with the American ideas and it lacks argumentation to say ãwhen the going gets tough: You can not speak, you are not an American.

Tajikistan
|
Tajikistan
April 17, 2008

T in Tajikistan writes:

What you are doing in Tajikistan deserves so much respect and support. The town that you visited is located in southern part of Tajikistan where many ordinary people suffered from the Civil War. Todays kids who go to school might have not their fathers with them, they lost him during the Civil War or he had to leave them to work in Russia.

From my side I thank you for bring smile to needy families who might possibly suffer even in the mid or the end of this year due to cold winter when seeds and products were lost and lack of products in spring to grow...

Many thanks and God Bless America!

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
April 18, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ John in Greece -- Here's a real telling statistic that makes one ponder.

The U.S.A. provides half, 50% of all food aid distributed globally.

There are what? 191 nations in the UN?

As an American, I believe we have good reason to invest in people's well being globally, but what upsets me is the lack of aid provided by nations that can afford to give more than they do.

What Joe may not understand is that a senior commander in the U.S. military went on record to say that the greatest single victory in the global war on terrorism was achieved not in combat, but because of the massive amount of aid the United States provided to the Tsunami victims.

That one single event changed millions of mindsets regarding America's relationship with Muslim people around the world.

And thus, humanitarian aid is indeed an investment in our own national security as well as in global peace and security among all nations.

Time for the developed nations of the world to now step up to the plate, and put some food on it.

The reasons why should be self evident.

--------
T in Tajikistan, we have a saying in America, "What goes around, comes around."

Someday your nation will be in a position to provide aid to others in crisis, and that will be as it should be.

Thanks for posting.

John
|
Greece
April 20, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico -- You are absolutely right Eric! I totally agree with you.

And of course, other nations do almost nothing at all although they have the power to provide more help to the rest of the world.

Besides, nobody talks about the American efforts.

I did not know the statisticsã Extremely important proof of your thesis...

Have a nice weekend.

John
|
Greece
April 21, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@Eric in New Mexico -- (second "weekendcomment" and thought)

"We have a saying in America, "What goes around, comes around."

Dear Eric, I am sure, absolutely sure, that you are a very good guy. A VERY GOOD American man! A real pure, honest human being, who loves everyone in the earth.

Your "phrase" (American saying) is among the best I've ever heard, Sir.

I am excited and looking forward to read your future posts.

I love participating in such a GREAT forum. And you, personally, help it a lot.

I think it's going to be a very special Blog.

Best Regards to T in Tajikistan from me too.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
April 21, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

"In recent years, the United States has consistently provided more than half of all food aid worldwide."

(On-the-Record Briefing by Secretary Rice
April 17, 2008)

@ John in Greece -- I stand corrected. It's "more than half."

Part of that no doubt stems from the fact that America funds something like 22% of the United Nations total annual budget last time I checked, which in itself is something to ponder regarding the commitment among the family of nations towards an institution considered by all to be vital to the interests of mankind.

All except those member states that void the premis of their membership in the UN by dishonoring the precepts of its charter and common values, having been sponsors of terror for decades.

And I ask myself why it is that the governments of the world cannot seem to make the connection between the intent of regimes that sow conflict and terrorism, and the cost of post-conflict humanitarian efforts. When it becomes apparent from bin laden's own words the intent behind 9/11 was in part to "bleed America" economicly, and the World Trade Center tageted as a direct message to global economic structures.

It is one thing for bin Laden to have anticipated a military responce and hope that it might be implemented in a way that would serve his hopes to discredit America.

But I gurantee he didn't anticipate America would bomb many thousands of Afghan refugees in the region with food, clothing, and other basic necessities in the process of responding to his call for holy war among the Muslims of the world.

Joe's essential point being that America runs the risk of bankrupting itself is valid, for the premis formed part of the strategy of those that attacked us. Forms the premis today from which Iran has helped "bleed" us and keep us in Iraq by arming proxi militias, and according to a former AQI terrorist, arming al quaida itself.

Far easier to create conflict than to resolve it. One bullet started WW1. And as T rightly pointed to the rending of the social fabric and families in conflict situations, it is not possible to repair the effect of lives lost in the short term, and thus folks have a strong argument in that resolution of conflict is a "generational challenge".

I'm getting a little off the particular subject, but context is important. What I said on another Dipnote thread regarding "victim mindsets" to you should be factored into discerning the intent of nations.

One may empower people, or one can disenfranchize them.

I think it's clear who is doing what.

.

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