AVESTO/IIC in Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Tajikistan, just north of Afghanistan and Pakistan and west of China, also shares borders with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. (see map) Now free of Soviet domination, the country struggles to create new political and social systems that will include the culture’s deep spiritual values, generous hospitality and strong desire for family and community unity.

A Partnership Is Born

In 2002, six Tajikistan community leaders attended a ten-day conference on trauma in Baku, Azerbaijan that was co-sponsored by IIC and the Azerbaijan Psychological Association.  Financial support of IIC donors made their attendance possible.  These ambassadors of Tajikistan were so enthusiastic about what they learned and experienced that they asked IIC to provide training in their own country. Initially they wanted to address their growing concern about domestic violence and female suicide in their communities.

IIC and the Satir Institute of the Southeast (SIS)  have established a partnership with AVESTO, a group of well-educated visionary leaders in Tajikistan who come from many walks of life and struggle to establish democratic principles, to create human services, and especially to address the needs of women in this strongly Muslim country.

Training Begins

This partnership resulted in our first training in Tajikistan in June of 2005 led by Jean McLendon of SIS.  Originally the workshop was planned for 40 Tajik participants.  The great desire of medical doctors, psychologists, and teachers to participate expanded the numbers to 80.  There were four American participants. Alexander (Sasha) Cheryomukhin, President of the Azerbaijan Psychological Association and IIC’s Vice President for International Projects, who is fluent in both Russian and English, served as translator.

Through our partnership and our experiences with the Tajik people, our understanding and feel for the needs of this war-torn Muslim country is growing.  The painful issue of families guarding their teenage girls moment by moment lest they be captured and sold into prostitution is seen in the lives of those we meet.  We discover that, since Russian companies exited after the fall of communism, Tajikistan no longer has work for its citizens.  Tajik men leave to work in Moscow and their multiple wives are left home battling with each other over finances and their absent husband.  This situation plus the lack of opportunity for women is at the root of female suicide attempts. It is aggravated by the fact that Tajikistan has three and a half times more women than men. 

We see the fruitful work of AVESTO members in their efforts to heal the antagonisms  that resulted from the civil war that followed the fall of communism.  They lead on-going reconciliation groups involving people who fought on opposite sides during the war.  We witness AVESTO’s work in large camps that house refugees from neighboring Afghanistan.

Visits to U.S.

In May, 2006, Firuza Yarbabaeva, President of AVESTO, and her daughter, Bonu, who is studying at a university in the USA, were invited by Peoplemaking of Colorado, a nonprofit Satir Training Organization, to attend their week long residential women’s retreat, The Web of Wisdom, in Colorado. At the retreat, the group of forty women worked on increasing personal awareness of their own family systems and genealogy to discover the impact these have on their ways of viewing the world and their patterns of behavior today.  Making personal history more conscious creates greater awareness and therefore opens up the possibility of choosing different behaviors. 

The Tajik women who came felt their lives deepened, their relationship with each other made richer, and they came to understand the significance of raising women’s consciousness in Tajikistan. They have requested assistance in developing women’s groups not only for forming businesses and working with family violence, but also for personal empowerment through greater consciousness and awareness. IIC and t

he Web of Wisdom are working on responding to these needs. We are also exploring joint work with the Institute for Cultural Affairs (ICA), an organization with more experience in assisting women in developing businesses.

Long-Term Commitment

IIC with its partners, SIS and AVESTO, has made a long-term commitment for ongoing work in Tajikistan. The Tajik’s priorities are: family therapy work, crisis response work, crisis hotline training, and training for women in creating businesses as well as support for development of a women’s safe house. Change is already underway. Since the June 2005 training, the phone hotline has expanded its response to support women in domestic violence situations and trainings are being held to raise family physicians’ awareness of spousal abuse and to develop some skills in premarital counseling.

Successful program implementation requires volunteer trainers and financial donations to cover travel costs.  Specifically, we need leaders who are skilled at community building, coping with domestic violence, building and organizing safe houses and training lay people for crisis hotline calls, rebuilding families and societies following civil war, trauma, disaster management and business development.

A Journey of Compassion

Kindness and Peace

by Regina Ragan, LCSW, American participant in Baku and Tajikistan trainings

On the flight from North Carolina to the former Soviet Union, many thoughts surfaced.  The most prominent one, “What are my hopes for this journey to Baku, Azerbaijan and Dushanbe, Tajikistan?” I was hoping to further anchor myself in the Satir Model by spending three weeks tracking the process of Jean McLendon and Laura Dodson.  I was curious about how the teachings of Satir would be integrated into these cultures.

As we deplaned in Baku, I became aware of entering into an unfamiliar land, far away from my home in North Carolina.  Any rumblings of fear inside of me because of American politics in the Middle East, were replaced by feelings of safety as we were lovingly greeted by workshop participants.  We soon met Laura who radiated a gentle peacefulness and enthusiasm about the training because of the special relationship cultivated between the Institute for International Connections and the Azerbaijan Psychological Association.  The journey had begun, and I was filled with excitement about meeting the psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians and university students who would attend the training.

During family sculpts, family mapping, ingredients of an interaction, the iceberg and self-esteem work, I noticed the importance of understanding the relationship between the history of land, country and family.  Following the thread of oppression and war throughout past generations, reminded me of Virginia’s belief that we move towards growth no matter how thorny.  Many of the participants in their late-twenties and early-thirties, my own generation, had lived through war and oppression during their childhood.  However, the collapse of the Soviet Union during their adolescence introduced an edge of freedom.  Clearly the inner resources within each person supported the ability to cope with the struggle while moving towards the “freedom to hear what is, to say what one feels and thinks, to feel what one feels, to ask for what one wants and to take risks on one’s behalf.” The universality of the Five Freedoms seemed to be a driving force towards a new status quo for this generation of young adults.

As the workshop ended, I prepared myself for another transition to an unfamiliar country, Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan.  In Dushanbe, as in Baku, we were lovingly greeted by the organizers of the Dushanbe International Conference on Domestic Violence.  The hope was to support family doctors, psychologists and teachers in developing strategies to prevent and manage domestic violence which had escalated over the past years due to a fractured socioeconomic system. The outcome of war and oppression in Tajikistan is incredible unemployment, high infant mortality rates and high occurrences of female suicides. Teams of doctors and psychologists frequently travel into the villages to educate families about health care and the availability of confidential counseling services

Sculpting communication stances within families of this culture resonated with participants, as violence is the extreme expression of blaming.  Adding to the sculpts, extended families, schools, medical teams and friends created a sense of hope for change.  A model of community support created a container for the possibility of reducing shame and building self and system esteem.  Virginia’s belief that we are born with the internal resources for growth, change and learning seemed plausible when the family was placed within the supports of community system.

My greatest sense of hope came from visiting a school in Dushanbe for Afghani children whose parents fled their country for safety.  Through art therapy, poetry and literature the psychologists and teachers at the school, support the children in dealing with the trauma of war.  As an expression of self-esteem, the students have developed Rights for all Children.  Among these rights are health care, rest, school, play and expression of opinion.  As we left the school, we asked the children about their wishes for the world, which if we will cultivate can lead to peace.  Their wishes are simple “To be more compassionate to those in need.  To be kind to each other….especially those who need it most so we’ll be happy.”  I returned to the United States with deep gratitude for my Satir family.  I not only felt more anchored in the model, but more anchored in the model’s ability to cultivate peace.

Satir Institute of the Southeast and the Institute for International Connections are developing a training program to further address the needs in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.  Successful program implementation requires volunteer trainers and financial donations to cover travel costs.  Specifically, we need leaders who are skilled at community building, coping with domestic violence and trauma, building safe houses, managing crisis telephone calls, disaster management, business development, and rebuilding families and societies following civil war.

For information on how you can support the Dushanbe, Tajikistan Project, contact Co-Chairs, Regina Ragan at reginaragan25@aol.com or Michelle Ryan at shellinco@comcast.net.

Workshop For Family Medical Doctors in Dushanbe, Tajikistan

By Michelle Ryan, MA

November 2 – 7, 2007 Our IIC team, Janet Christie-Seely, MD, Michelle Ryan , MA, and Alexander Cheryomukhin (Sasha) MS, enjoyed the opportunity to introduce the concepts of Virgina Satir to an enthusiastic group of  family doctors, medical students, teachers and psychologists in Dushanbe. This was IIC’s second conference in Tajikistan responding to the invitation of the President of the Family Medicine Association in Dushanbe, Furiza Yarbabaeva.

We were welcomed by being included in a warm family gathering for Furiza’s four year old grandson’s birthday.  The generosity felt on our first trip to Dushanbe was immediately experienced by all on this first evening. Deep bonds have been forming between our families now for several years and on this trip we enjoyed meeting Furiza’s son, Kent, as well as, her husband, her eldest daughter, grandsons, family in-laws and neighbors.

The program began with an explanation of how and why Dr. Christie-Seely has come to believe that it is vitally important to consider the family system and familial patterns in the diagnosis and treatment of patients. Once she had the agreement of the doctors to consider this focus for themselves and their patients, we proceeded throughout the week to present the Satir communication stances, meditative guidance between current stresses to past moments of stress in childhood, family genealogy, the internal process through the structure of the Iceberg, self esteem work, and family and system tools for congruence; such as, meditation, temperature reading and transparent communication skills.  Sasha was able to bring his expertise in the facilitation of perceptional change through the model of Theater of the Oppressed; as well as, a deep understanding of the Satir Model through translating between Russian and English for the whole workshop.

At the close of our week, the participan

ts asked for more opportunities to learn and understand the therapeutic process, assessment and treatment for families through the Virginia Satir Model. One family doctor and mother of four requested that families be included in future workshops.

Our delegation included Dr. Janet Christie-Seely and her husband, Tom Wright, both Canadians; Dr. Christie-Seely is Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa, a family therapist, and founder of the  Satir Learning Centre of Ottawa. Others on the team were: Sasha Cheryomukhin, MS, who is an IIC board member, President of the Azerbaijan Psychological Association, and founder of the Civil Society Project in Baku, Azerbaijan; and from Boulder, Colorado: Michelle Ryan, MA, a special education teacher, Satir practitioner, and IIC & Peoplemaking of Colorado board member, her husband, Dean Chapla, in-house counsel for an organic trade company and Neil Nordby, a businessman; all three are students of Virginia Satir’s Human Validation Process Model through the Center for Human Validation. Dean and Neil’s skills were used to investigate possibilities in agricultural and micro businesses in Tajikistan.

Our hosts were able to set up field trips for Tom, Dean, and Neil to visit local farmers and other places of interest. Neil shared an interest in micro business opportunities with Furiza’s daughter,   Malika, who has a business degree from an American university. They discussed the possibilities and concerns of business in Tajikistan.

While we accomplished a great deal, we also had opportunities to enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of this ancient country. After a lively visit to the local Bazaar, all of us were able to travel to the ancient fort and mosque outside the city and appreciate the historical significance of this ancient land and people. These trips filled our senses and peaked our couriosity.

At the conclusion of our stay, we met with representatives from the Open Society Institute of Tajikistan in hopes of aiding the grant process in country for our colleagues for further conferences and learning opportunities. Our hostesses closed our trip with a luscious back yard feast in traditional Tajik style.

As our friends drove us back to the airport in the dark of the early morning hours, we felt how close and how far apart our lives are to each other. Just a week before they had picked us up in the early hours with the night birds singing, So much had happened in one week. Good byes and hugs all around until we meet again.


The Institute for International Connections