A few months ago, Itgelmaa Chavgaa met with Jode Brexa and Zeboniso Murodova to learn about their education-based work in Tajikistan during the Covid-19 pandemic. This time, we reconnected with Jode and Zeboniso along with three incredible young women, Munisa Nazarova, Mahina Fayzuloeva, and Sabohat Abdulloeva. Along with two other students, these young women recently graduated from the ACCESS Program and shared their valuable experiences as the “First Five” ACCESS participants. Through their coursework in ACCESS, these students learned English and created digital stories about themselves (to which we have provided web links below).
Due to the global pandemic, many organizations in Tajikistan closed their doors and shut down their businesses. However, with the advancement and accessibility of technology and the internet, Jode Brexa and Zeboniso Murodova are making it possible for students to take English language lessons through their cellphones and the internet.
The First Five Hybrid Digital Storytelling Project began with a handful of young women brainstorming about their personal narratives. Initially, the program planned to support gender empowerment by bringing digital storytelling to fifteen young women. Due to Covid-19 and the need for social distancing, five young women were selected initially for the hybrid pilot. Once they had decided on their narrative, the girls started working on initial drafts that they recorded and sent to Zebo via the WhatsApp social media platform for editing.
At first, Jode and Zebo attempted to teach the class in a hybrid format. For the health and safety of their students, Zebo recruited a 20 seats passenger van to transport them to the site where they conducted their English course. One of the first five participants, Munisa Nazarova, said that they had their first lesson in a park next to a river in the southern Tajikistan village, Boktar, with masks and glasses as the local American Space was closed due to Covid-19. Although it might have looked unusual to others, the girls sincerely enjoyed the atmosphere of taking their classes outside. The sites for English lessons were not limited to parks - the girls also had lessons at various coffee shops and burger restaurants. The girls bonded through the experience and felt the joy of being together in these difficult times. However, as the pandemic spiked in Tajikistan, the girls had no choice but to undertake the lessons through their cell phones. Luckily, at the outset of the English instruction, ACCESS provided these five girls with free internet in order to complete the course and their individual storytelling projects.
When asked about their wishes and dreams, Mahina said that she would like to improve her presentation and leadership skills and to become a trainer. Among her many desires and dreams in the future, she wishes to open a classroom in her school, teach what she has learned in the workshop, and motivate others. In terms of her future educational aspirations, Mahina is planning to apply for the Future Leadership Exchange Program (FLEX) to spend an academic year of high school in the United States. Ultimately, Mahina would like to become an English translator.
Munisa’s dream is to organize a course dedicated to teaching what she learned from the ACCESS Program in which younger students can learn software skills, exchange their ideas and perspectives through digital storytelling, and practice resilience. After graduating high school, Munisa would like to study to become an foreign ambassador for the Government of Tajikistan to explore the global cultures as a reference to making her country more beautiful. Sabohat would like to major in Journalism at an American university. Sabohat is an outstanding student who often competes in English olympiads, in addition to participating in various media and literacy projects.
The girls absolutely love learning English. While talking about their experiences in the ACCESS Program, their enthusiasm for learning English was clearly palpable and demonstrated their ambition and dedication to teach their friends and younger fellow students English and other skills they have learned through ACCESS. The students appreciate that the ACCESS courses last for 2 hours and cover not only English language, but also American culture - the most enjoyable dimension of their 45 minutes class periods.
In this pandemic, this Digital Storytelling Project has helped the girls to overcome the isolation through learning English, improving their self-confidence, and gaining computer and presentation skills. The stories they created are based on their lives, and therefore, are very personal. In spite of the challenge of expressing their personal stories to others, the young women emphasized how ACCESS has assisted them to become courageous and resilient. Munisa said, “We learned how to make photos with our stories, how to download, how to record our voice, and how to take responsibility...” In addition, Zeboniso Murodova highlighted that these five girls were chosen not only because they excelled in school, but also because they have a responsible and positive attitude towards the tasks they are given.
Thanks to the dedication of their Facilitators Zeboniso Muradova and Jode Brexa in the time of COVID-19, these five girls developed not only narrative writing and technical skills but responsibility and new identities as digital mentors, successfully graduating from the ACCESS program in October, 2020.
If you would like to learn more about this project, please visit Jode Brexa’s website at https://jodebrexa.com/youth-voice/.