“Lira,” Young Talents Society, Khachmaz

Yesterday we traveled about 2 hours north west to the city of Khachmaz. Here we met our friends Elvin and La La. They volunteer with an NGO that does music and sports with economically challenged youth which has been around since 1999. After her trip to the U.S., last October, La La has decided that she wants to make children with disabilities her only focus! Her and Elvin have started a computer skills program for children with disabilities. The peace core came to Khachmaz in 2011 and taught english to children in their non-profit. They also donated 4 computers. At the moment they have 7 children living with CP, epilepsy, downs syndrome and other disabilities in their computer program. Kids learn Microsoft Word, Excel, and internet skills. They would like to reach more children but they are having trouble fighting the stigma and convincing families that these children should be a part of the community. A woman from the local government who is in charge of NGO’s joined our tour as well. Each day we continue to improve our understanding about their educational and non-profit systems.

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This is an advertisement for the computer program, essentially stating that everyone, regardless of their ability deserves the same opportunities. I couldn’t agree more and it is was phenomenal to see this message being put out there!

After we visited Elvin and La La’s computer lab we took a tour of a rug museum. They took us through the ancient art and all the work that goes into the process. They used to die the wool on their own using fruits and vegetables such as red onions and pomegranates to produce a red thread. They now have technology that can do this for them but most of the rug weaving is still done in homes, not mass producing factories.

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The next stop was a Rehabilitation center for young children. It is one of the only centers in the region and works with 400 or more children a year. Here Elvin run’s a chess club for the kids who visit the center. It is a wonderful place that is really doing a lot with the little resources it has. They hope to renovate it very soon. There was a wonderful teacher who was animatedly teaching the kids the names of different vegetables. I had them teach me some and was so proud to finally be learning some of the Azerbaijani language only to find out later it was Russian! The director of the program has made this field her life long mission and does an exceptional job advocating for the children and their needs.

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After the rehabilitation center the whole group had a lovely lunch. There seemed to be an endless number of kabobs and salads! Next we moved onto the American Center which provides english lessons to children in the town. Elvin learned his english there and is really close with the director of the program. We got the inside scoop and learned he had to be reprimanded in class quite a bit! It was wonderful to visit Khachmaz and get some insight into the city and the work that Elvin and La La are doing there.

Today we left the Caspian Palace in Baku and traveled about 6 hours north west to the town of Sheki. Here we will meet Gualandam for dinner and learn about her programs. Tomorrow we will tour some museums in the town and then go visit the athletic complex. Here we will see some more bocce and possibly some soccer!

-Nate

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