We have seen and taken in a lot in the past 4 days. We have been exposed to history, culture, and many more schools, rehabilitation hospitals, and sporting venues. The first thing I must mention is the hospitality of the Azerbaijani people. Everywhere we have gone they have been more then gracious hosts, always offering an abundance of food and tea as well as many local presents. It is amazing to see people doing work from their hearts and doing wonderful things with the little resources they have. As our time winds down we all have the strong feeling that we will continue to stay connected and work together even when we are continents apart. A group of people all sharing the same mission quickly becomes a community. There are lots of things that need to be changed in both of our countries and there are lots of strong people working towards that change.
Last Saturday we started our travel across the country. Our first stop was Sheki, a beautiful town which lies on the silk road. Unfortunately we were not able to do any site visits here, but our friend Aqil gave us a lovely tour of the city and its rich history. Khansarai is a palace built in the 18th century for the Sheki Khans. It has amazing amounts of stained glass, an artwork still preformed in the town today. It is also immaculately decorated on the inside with paintings that depict the thoughts and beliefs of the time period. It took 10 years for the master painter to finish all the details. We were not able to take pictures of the inside because the flash can have a negative affect on the artwork. Next we moved onto the Caravansarai which was a hotel and trading post for people traveling along the silk road. It has some really impressive architecture.
The group in front of Khansarai!
Khansarai’s front entrance.
Stained glass in progress. There are no nails or glue used here but once it is all pieced together it is really strong. The artist even knocked heavily on some of his finished pieces to show the strength!
The front entrance of the Cravansarai.
Hallways of the Caravansarai. I really got a sense of the deep history in both of these places and being on the silk road was a unique experience.
After our historical tour we traveled a couple hours west to the town of Mingachevir. Here we stayed at a hotel lying on the banks of the Kur river. This is where the rowing portion of the 2015 European games will take place. The hotel was part of a sports complex with a large pool and gym for athletes to train. That evening we had dinner at the home of Gulnaz Haliyeva. She is an English teacher who is an ITD alumnus from a teaching exchange program they held. It was great to have a delicious home made meal after eating only in restaurants for the past week. Gulnaz’s husband, 3 children, mother-in-law, and one of her students were also there. It was so much fun getting to know them all that we had dinner together the next 2 nights!
On Monday we visited a number of different venues with Vafa Abdullayeva who is a fine motor skills teacher in Mingachevir. She is a teacher at the Children and Family Support Center, an integrated school that works with children from kindergarten through middle and high school. The kids really put on a show for us, with traditional signing and dancing.
Myself and 2 of the dancers after they put on their show. They thought it was hilarious that I wore their hat! I thought I pulled it off!!
This young lady has CP. She doesn’t let that stop her from leading the group in their traditional dances though!
They have a very impressive inclusion model in this school. Kids work on educational skills in the lower levels and then vocational skills as they progress towards middle and high school. All the children are exposed to music, dance and physical education.
Next we moved onto the Children’s creativity center. This is an after school program that gives kids artistic opportunities. They have a puppet theater, dance classes, as well as pottery and painting. The center is a good place for children to go after school which finishes at 1 pm each day. Throughout our visit there has been a theme of competition, recreation doesn’t seem to be part of the culture. Even the disabled sports world is focused on going to the paralympics and winning medals. This theme was also evident in the after school program, where they emphasized sending the artwork into competitions and winning awards. Even given this cultural difference, it is an impressive opportunity for a population that doesn’t get many.
Here’s an example of 1 of their watercolor paintings!
On Tuesday morning we traveled another hour west, to the city of Ganja. Here we visited Rovshan Novruzov, the regional director of the children’s fund. They offer 1 hour classes for children of all abilities. They serve over 100 children who come from as far as 35 miles away. They gave us a display of some of the athletic games they play.
Tug of war can be tough in such a tight space!
Yesterday we traveled back to Baku and had our final site visits. We went to the Paralympic Sport Complex in Sumqayit about 10 miles outside of Baku. They have an impressive facility and we saw people training in archery, power lifting, shooting, and swimming.
This was just her warm up set which she made look easy!
From there we moved onto the Sumqayit City Child Development Center. Dilare Gahramanova is a speech therapist there. They also have an OT and a Psychologist. We got to interact with a few of the children and one young lady recited a poem in English for us. We also got to talk to some of the parents and learned that a non medical approach is new to them. Most of the services offered in the past only included prescriptions or drugs, there was no behavioral, speech, or physical therapy. All of the parents stay around during their children’s sessions to learn what is being done. It is great to see these new techniques and ideas being put into place. Unfortunately the center has no grant money at the moment so they have had to switch spaces and are charging a fee for their services. In their perfect world it would be free and open to all! This center and their new approach is really inspirational.
Our time here in Azerbaijan has really flown by. We will catch our plane back to the states bright and early tomorrow morning. It has truly been an eyeopening experience that I will never forget. I have learned a lot from both my American and Azerbaijani friends. Hopefully, as planned, we can all stay connected and continue to share our thoughts and ideas. Lastly, I would be remiss not to give a big thanks to ITD and S4D for putting this whole trip together and giving me the opportunity. Julie, Mehman, Anar, and Eltaj did a wonderful job coordinating everything and making or time here productive and fun, thank you!!