Week One+

Today marks the end of my first week in Bishkek working at USAID CGP/EWMI. When I arrived last week, I had already experienced nine hours flying from D.C. to Moscow, a long twelve hour wait at Sheremetyevo Airport, and another final four-hour flight from Moscow to Bishkek. Perhaps needless to say, with the ten-hour time difference and lack of decent sleep (I was able to catch a few half-hour naps at Sheremetyevo), I was feeling exhausted upon arrival at 5 am local time.

Our program driver Vladimir picked me up at Manas Airport, which is roughly 40km from the center of the city. From there we drove down a long, tree lined road of the same name to the center of Bishkek, and then to my apartment. During this ride, Vladimir and I conversed in Russian, which was a good opportunity to shake off some of the cobwebs in my Russian speech, which I have had few opportunities to practice in the past year. Vladimir took me to my apartment and showed me how to operate the security door and RFID tags for the entrance and elevator. I was shocked at the quality of my apartment, which is substantially larger and nicer than what I have in Williamsburg; plus, it is nearly half the price!

After some additional rest, I visited the EWMI office for the first time in the early afternoon. Despite my obviously depleted condition, everyone was extremely welcoming and understanding. The office itself is the former home of the Kyrgyz PM and consists of three floors. I will provide more details about program structure later, but for current purposes, the Collaborative Governance Program (CGP) is divided into components; the Rule of Law (RoL) component where I work is located on the third floor. The office space itself is arranged in an open structure and each of us has our own desk space.

During the first few days of work, I mostly spent my time reading the Five Year Work Plan and quarterly reports in order to get a broader understanding of what CGP/EWMI has done and where it will be going into the future. In furthering the goals of USAID’s CGP, EWMI is working in a number of capacities. Generally, activities here are quite broad in scope, so I will try to give as brief and general an overview as possible.

CGP is divided into Components A-D. Component A seeks to promote government support for social procurement, that is, to engage Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to deliver social services and technical assistance. Component B is split into two tracks. The first collaborates with public and private Kyrgyz universities, as well as the Ministry of Education, to establish and support Non-profit Management Courses. B’s second track provides various forms of assistance and mentoring aimed to strengthen CSOs. It provides health reports, which show where CSOs can improve. Component C supports CSOs to improve their capacity to participate in public policy research and analysis, as well as watchdog activities. In this way, they will be better positioned to compete for sub-award grants.

Component D, where I work, focuses on Rule of Law (RoL). The component seeks to provide access to justice for vulnerable populations, with a focus on victims of domestic violence. The broad goal is to promote citizens’ understanding and monitoring of the court system, as well as their ultimate access to it. RoL also aims to encourage citizens to advocate for reforms and acquire an appreciation for the rule of law­–that is, why it is important to democratic societies. The Kyrgyz Ministry of Justice has authorized the opening/operation of free legal aid centers (FLACs), which RoL aims to support through provision of material support and training aimed at standardizing services offered at each FLAC throughout the country. Further, RoL aims to improve public outreach for these services as well as promote online resources that allow users to access court decisions and find legal aid in their respective areas. This week, I have attended a general staff and public outreach meetings. I have most recently been assisting with the composition of a report and presentation to be delivered to USAID in Russian.  

Bishkek itself has proven to be an enjoyable city to explore. Sidewalks here are wide, tree-lined, and have small drainage canals running parallel to them. The center of the city is pedestrian friendly, with only the unpredictable traffic posing any real hazard. To any potential future visitors: One-way streets do not necessarily mean one-way! If you take this for granted, you might just get blindsided by a trolleybus, which will not follow the typical traffic pattern. From many points in the city, the Tien Shan Mountains will dominate the skyline. I arrived when it was cloudy, so it was rather shocking to peer out my apartment window one sunny morning to see mountain peaks in the distance. I have much more to share, including food experiences, museum visits, etc., but I will save these details for next week.