Laura’s Summer in Kyrgyzstan
Laura Brennen spent her summer volunteering for Jesuit Missions in Kyrgyzstan. Below she reflects on her experiences while overseas.
I recently returned from a month volunteering in Kyrgyzstan with Jesuit Missions. The placement itself was at a Children’s Centre run by the Jesuits on the Shores of Lake Issyk Kul, the tenth largest lake in the world. My role was to help assist with the running of Summer camps for local Kyrgyzstani children. The camps that I helped with were ran in conjunction with a Polish NGO and they focused on Astronomy and the understanding that we all live under a ‘Common Sky’. Kyrgyzstan is a majority Muslim country, and all of the children that attend the summer camps are of a Muslim background. The reason the chosen focus is astronomy is that no matter what faith you belong to, the sky is something that unites us all.
I knew very little about Kyrgyzstan before I signed up to volunteer; however, once I arrived in the country, I was struck by the sheer natural beauty of this country. Lake Issyk Kul is set in the mountains, but as the Lake is so vast, it resembles a sea and at the Camp there is a paradox when looking out onto this sea-like body of water in front of you and the vast mountain ranges set behind the camp. The natural beauty of the area cannot be described; you really do need to see it to believe it.
During my time at the camp I often felt like I was on another planet, so far away from the hustle and bustle of my daily life back in Glasgow. It truly put into perspective how irrelevant so much of the “stuff” that we carry about in our ordinary lives is. For the traditionally nomadic people of Kyrgyzstan are able to enjoy life without all the added extras that we in the West feel is important. Being away from all the baggage that comes with everyday life, I truly understood how different life can be for other people and that the main things in life that we should focus on should be our families, caring for our beautiful planet and our faith.
I decided to volunteer as I was at a pivotal time in my life, having just graduated from University, I felt the call to dedicate some of my time to others. My time spent on the shores of Lake Issyk Kul at camp were both fulfilling and reflective. The fun and laughter shared with the children and staff of the camp is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. The communication barrier was hard as I spoke no Russian, and the English of the staff at the camp was limited. But as the weeks went on I learned to be inventive and spoke with my hands more than I ever thought was possible. One thing that struck me whilst undertaking the activities with the children was that laughter and a smile are truly a universal language unto themselves. The children often had no clue what I was saying but if I delivered the instructions as animated as possible and with a smile, we all managed to get the tasks done successfully.
Since returning home and settling back into life in Glasgow, life in Kyrgyzstan feels like a distant memory but one thing that has remained with me is the new perspective I have on life.My life is now spent less on materialistic things and more on the important things such as spending time with family and those important to me in life. Click To Tweet
My month away was massive in terms of my own faith development, as at camp I was lucky enough to be able to attend mass every morning. This opportunity, to have time to reflect before I began my often very busy days at camp, helped to strengthen my faith and make me feel closer to God. My experience in Kyrgyzstan is something that I will treasure forever, as I truly felt that I was putting my faith in action and contributing both to my own personal development but also to the development of all the wonderful children that I met during my time away.