About the Author: William B. Stevens serves as Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
Most of us have (hopefully) put away the holiday decorations from December, and are celebrating Valentine's Day today. Before the winter ends, though, my colleagues and I wanted to tell you about a group of U.S. exchange alumni who brought the holiday spirit to over 90 orphans, disabled children, and disadvantaged youth in Turkmenistan. Through an "Angel Tree" project, the exchange alumni collected over 250 gifts from anonymous donors at the U.S. Embassy, the Public Diplomacy Section's Information Resource Center, and American Councils in December 2010.
The alumni, primarily from the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX), worked with several local non-profits to identify needy children and created "Angel Ornaments" for each of the children. They then placed the Angel Ornaments" on holiday trees in several locations, where local staff and visitors could select an angel and donate presents for the child on the photo. The children received their gifts at a holiday concert on December 29. FLEX alumni and kids from the orphanages performed at the concert, and one of our brave American staff played the role of "Ded Moroz" (Santa).
This was the first time in many years that the embassy community was able to participate in a holiday donation drive for needy Turkmen. Our alumni played the critical role of connecting willing embassy staff with local Turkmen organizations, creating an uplifting project that demonstrated the U.S. spirit of volunteerism and civic activism that we encourage in all of our exchange programs.
You can watch a short video clip of the event here.
Editor's Note: Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake, Jr. will lead interagency delegations to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan February 14-19, 2011. Read more about his trip here. You can also learn more about the FLEX Program here.