About the Author: Bruce Hudspeth serves as Regional Environmental Officer at U.S. Embassy Astana, Kazakhstan.
The U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in collaboration with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the EcoEnergy Alliance, a Central Asian NGO, recently launched a pilot program to provide independent sources of renewable energy and education assistance to remote rural communities in the multi-ethnic border regions of Tajikistan. The pilot site, an orphanage and school in the Jami Region of Khatlon province, provides uninterrupted electric power through solar modules for a scanner, a printer, and five energy-efficient laptop computers. Martha Olcott, Carnegie’s Program Director, who conceived the project, said: “This project has been about empowering people through access to electricity — which they previously enjoyed but have lost through regional shortages, and about giving young and old Internet access, which for them was an undreamed-of luxury.”
The system, now fully-operational since February 2009, supports a small Internet-based community education center, that provides remedial education in math and science to students during the day, access to vocational-technical education after-hours (with an emphasis on developing small business in the region), and functions as an “Internet café” at night. The Internet portal will eventually offer the educational materials in six different languages (Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Uzbek, English and Russian), which will essentially allow minorities to seek education beyond their national borders.
Being fortunate enough to visit the center this year, I vividly remember sitting in the village classroom along with local, regional, and national government Tajik officials, observing the students at the computers. This was the first ever project of its kind in Tajikistan and its appreciation was apparent by the intense pride and interest blanketing the faces of the children and government officials.
Funding for the project has been provided by a variety of public and private sources in Russia, the United States, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe helped attract Tajik government and media attention to this project. Over the long term, the project will demonstrate how resources devoted to renewable energy can improve social conditions in remote communities and enhance regional cooperation in border regions. Since February, sixteen more solar panels have already been delivered to Tajikistan to be used at two other schools, where local communities will complete the project. As funding permits, the project will be expanded to include remote communities in other countries of the Central Asian region. The Carnegie Endowment is seeking $2.8 million dollars to maintain the pilot sites for at least fifteen months. Overall, our goal is to follow Dushanbe’s example and do this throughout Tajikistan.