Then and Now: A Former Peace Corps Volunteer Returns to Work in Central Asia

By Cho-Yau Ling, MPH ’12 in Health Policy and Management

I am one month into my practicum with ICAP in Central Asia and I’m enjoying Kazakhstan immensely. The city of Almaty has changed significantly from when I was here as a Peace Corps volunteer two years ago. Due to the city’s burgeoning middle class, European-style cafes and luxury stores have popped up all over the city. The variety of restaurants, from Italian to Chinese, has also increased since I was here.

For me, it’s been a strange change of lifestyle from the time I used to eat 20-cent street food outside the bazaar. Now, I find myself sipping $4 iced coffees in an outdoor café with locals who are trying to relax after a long day of work at the office. While some of this is due to the changing circumstances of my personal life (I’m no longer here as a Peace Corps volunteer), a lot of it has to do with Almaty as an up-and-coming city in the global economy. The transformation is surprising, but pleasant as I see a larger sector of Almaty society enjoy luxuries that were unobtainable in the past.

As for my work with ICAP, the team continues to amaze me with their support. They, consistently provide me with assignments and allow me to complete tasks without micro-managing me.

An ICAP consultant, Gulzhahan, and I working on quality assurance for our medical chart review in Astana.

Overall, ICAP Central Asia has provided me with everything they promised and more. Prior to arriving, I asked that I be placed in a position where I can concentrate on a single project and learn the details of what goes into a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) program. In response, the team has given me the opportunity to work on the baseline assessment of care and treatment services in Central Asia. I will be able to follow the whole assessment process from the protocol and data collection phase to the final report-writing phase. I also asked that I be able to help with some management and strategic planning issues, and my supervisor has offered me the rare opportunity to support ICAP Central Asia through its beginning stages as an organization in Kazakhstan. When it comes to professional guidance and support, I can’t really ask for more.

One of the assignments that I have worked on in the past month is editing the research protocol for the main project that I am supporting – a baseline assessment for care and treatment services in Central Asia. The protocol project involves updating the research protocol based on comments from our partner, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My goal is to ensure that the advice from our partners is taken into account, and to suggest ways to change our protocol to fit their recommendations. The hands-on experience has been useful as I get to see the process of a study design critiqued and refined for later use.

I’ve also been assisting with the development of a newsletter for ICAP Central Asia that will present our work to our international and local partners. I am working on the design of the newsletter and we hope to be able to send it in the near future.

As for my future assignments, I will be working with the ICAP Regional Director, to devise a 2-3 day conference on the strategic plan and management of the new ICAP offices in Central Asia. I am really grateful that my supervisor has given me the opportunity to work with her on this, as it involves applying the knowledge I gained in the Health Policy and Management program. I will also begin to travel with ICAP’s care and treatment team as they gather data for our baseline assessment. This will be a great opportunity to conduct the field work that is integral to national assessments.

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