UCA Summer Camp Counsellors Aim to Make a Difference

If you visit the north shore of Lake Issyk-Kul this summer, you are likely to come across a group of energetic young people from around the world, wearing blue tee shirts, busy managing groups of students from the University of Central Asia (UCA) Summer Camp. 
 
These five young women and five young men make up the UCA Summer Camp counselling team. All in their twenties, they have come from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Austria, Canada, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States.
 
What brought this diverse group to the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul from across the region and the world?
 
For 24 year old Firuza Umarova from Tajikistan, it was a firm commitment to contribute to the development of Central Asia; “I was born and raised here. I am privileged to have a good education, so I feel a responsibility to share my skills and efforts with others.”
 
“Education matters,” she goes on to explain, “I want camp participants to know that their future is in their hands. They will shape their own lives. I especially want girls to know that they should not be limited.”
 
Umarova is a graduate in Economics from Tajik National University and has worked in the development sector. She herself has sought out regional and international educational exchanges, completing an exchange year in the United States and participating in international youth conferences. While her favourite academic subject was mathematics, she is passionate about art and is studying painting and sketching.
 
Counsellor Firuza Umarova of Tajikistan with her sketchbook, inspired by her passion for art and the beautiful setting of Lake Issyk-Kul.
 
Umarova met His Excellency Olim Rakhimov, the Ambassador of the Republic of Tajikistan to the Kyrgyz Republic, at the Summer Camp opening ceremony, where she introduced him to participants from Tajikistan. Recalling his own positive experiences at summer camp, Rakhimov reinforced Umarova’s broad perspective, saying, “This camp is not just about improving English and Math skills, but also about fostering international communications and strengthening regional relationships.”
 
HE Olim Rakhimov, Ambassador of the Republic of Tajikistan to the Kyrgyz Republic speaking to Tajik participant Sakina Makhmudova during the Summer Camp opening ceremony.
 
Aisuluu Kudaiberdieva, of both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, shares this regional view, as well as Umarova’s commitment to giving back to the region. She hopes to inspire the same commitment in her students; “I want to motivate the participants to be global citizens and do great things. Most importantly, I want to inspire them to change their country and community for the better.” 
 
Counsellor Aisuluu Kudaiberdieva of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan enjoys a moment on the beach at Lake Issyk-Kul.
 
Kudaiberdieva, 21, is a third year student in Business Administration at the International Ataturk-Alatoo University in Bishkek. She speaks five languages, is an experienced debater and has qualified as a Kyrgyz champion in fencing. She also runs her own business in children’s entertainment. “’Do what you love’ is not just a phrase for me; it is my way of life,” she asserts.
 
Alasdair Anderson, 24, began working with young people soon after he graduated from University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He came to the UCA Summer Camp from the UK, after learning about UCA; “I’m inspired by the vision behind UCA and am excited to be involved.”  
 
Counsellor Alasdair Anderson with his favourite mode of transportation. Following the UCA Summer Camp, Anderson will bike home to the United Kingdom!
 
This is not Anderson’s first time in Central Asia. In 2013 and 2014, he spent six months working with the European Union, teaching English in Kyrgyzstan. He jumped at the opportunity to return, saying, “Central Asia is beautiful, remote and different. I am inspired by the warmth, resilience and brilliance of the people I have met here.” 
 
Anderson hopes to similarly inspire the students in his care. A talented musician, Anderson also enjoys sports and outdoor activities, such as hiking, climbing and biking. In fact, following the UCA Summer Camp, Anderson will be heading home for the UK - on his bike!
 
Khalid Keshavjee, 20, from Canada, was keen to join the UCA Summer Camp counselling team, saying “I want to engage with students and improve their academic performance. I believe that camp is a good way for students to learn skills that schools do not teach. It is also a great way to improve the students’ holistic development.”
 
Inspired by travel, Counsellor Khalid Keshavjee of Canada enjoys the countryside around Lake Issyk-Kul.
 
A student of Political Science and Global Development at Queen's University in Ontario, Keshavjee is inspired by the French novelist Andre Gide, who said, "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore." Not content to learn about global development in a classroom, Keshavjee recently completed a year of studies in Rabat, Morocco.
 
To prepare for the Summer Camp, the counsellors underwent a comprehensive four-day training programme. In addition to an orientation to UCA and the Central Asian context, the training covered a range of skills and issues, such as the role of a counsellor, the Summer Camp culture, leadership and team building skills, facilitation strategies, and building trust among participants. The counsellors also explored potential scenarios and responses and learnt about risk management.
 
The UCA Summer Camp runs from 17 June to 7 July 2015 at the Sinegorie Pansionat on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul in the Kyrgyz Republic. The Camp brings together 76 exceptional Grade 10 students from Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic and Kazakhstan for a unique academic enrichment experience, where they improve their English and math skills and receive critical support to enter local or international universities.
 
Camp sessions follow a rigorous schedule combining academics with other learning opportunities. Each morning is spent studying English and math. Other sessions provide information and resources to enhance success with university applications. The counsellors work closely with Summer Camp teachers to ensure that participants are maximising learning opportunities and staying on track. They also facilitate other activities including sports, drama, debating and field trips, providing additional opportunities for participants to practice English-language skills, learn and share experiences.

“These 10 counsellors bring diverse skills, eclectic talents and abundant enthusiasm to the UCA Summer Camp. Underpinning their work is a shared belief that the work they are doing will make a difference in the lives of the camp participants in their care,” said Camp Director Myrza Karimov, “Based on their commitment and hard work so far, I have no doubt that they will." 

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