‘I am deeply impressed with the expertise and commitment of the local staff’

Mission East's Managing Director Betina Gollander-Jensen has just returned from a week-long trip to Tajikistan close to the border of Afghanistan. Here she saw first-hand the work among children with disabilities and projects that ensure clean water and proper sanitation for the local population.

Children with disabilities has achieved greater wellbeing have improved, educators and teachers have been better equipped for the task, parents have gained access to public services and in rural areas the population has received clean water and education in hygiene and protection against Covid-19.

We caught up with Betina on her first day in the office after returning home:

Civil society is being built up

What is the most important impression you are left with?

- It is impressive to experience how much we have actually achieved in the 10 years we have worked with a focus on children with disabilities in Tajikistan. We have clearly improved the lives of the children. In addition, we have trained pedagogues, school teachers and parents to take care of children with disabilities with rehabilitation and inclusion in ordinary schools.

- I was impressed that around 300 parents have joined together in parent groups, and that they have become so skilled that some of them had also formed their own NGO to promote their children's conditions in society. In just 10 years, we have truly seen what we and our supporters dream of: Building and developing local civil society.

Children get access to school and health care

Even a little help can go a long way in societal development in Tajikistan:

- It touches me to see how little it takes to make a big difference. Just the fact that we are hiring a lawyer who teaches parents about their rights means that they now have access to both schooling and health care for their children. Where they used to be told that they could not get help and support for their child's development, a lawyer who knows the legislation now tells them that they are indeed entitled to help from the authorities. Now their children can go to school. It makes a huge difference. It makes an impression!

Clean drinking water from springs in the mountains

Betina Gollander-Jensen continues:

- I am most impressed by our water and sanitation projects. I have seen a lot of water projects in my time, but Mission East's water projects are top notch. They are some of the best I've seen. The mere fact that we have five engineers and two doctors employed and dedicated to the task is absolutely fantastic! They are well skilled and do a great job.

- We help about 31 small communities - with 13,000 people - to get clean drinking water and maintain hygiene standards to help prevent them from getting sick. I was out in one of these communities where we help about 400 people with clean water. The engineers had made a 7,5 kilometer water pipe in difficult terrain. 3-400 meters up in a mountain they had found a spring, and then they had made 100 meters of pipework to deliver water down to a canal, which they had involved the locals in digging 80 cm into the ground. The water pressure was in order, there were water filters in the right places and piping and drainage for the benefit of the villagers - a really good engineering job.

- We have implemented these water projects both in Tajikistan and also over the border in Afghanistan. There is real expertise and there are some activities that will last for many years to come.

Teaching hygiene and protection against Covid-19

In addition to the five engineers, there are also two doctors, says Betina Gollander-Jensen:

- The doctors are behind our health programs and ensure that what we do is correct in terms of health. And then they go out and train the population in good hygiene and prevention of covid-19.

In addition to clean water, proper toilet conditions are also important for the health of the population:

- We have provided water for 13,000 people and set up a number of latrines. In fact, Mission East is the name behind public latrines along hundreds of kilometers of country road along the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. They are colorful and placed every few kilometers. So we have really left a mark on the whole area, where many see the orange and blue Mission East latrines, says Betina Gollander-Jensen.

Lives in 4-person rooms out in the field

How did the employees feel?

- The employees were happy and satisfied. The special thing is that many of them have to say goodbye to their families and live together in the field offices, where there is also accommodation. They work six days a week and have an extended weekend every other week.

- They live in 4-person rooms. If you have tried it, then you know how hard it is to work in the same place as you live and then not even be able to close your door! I am very impressed with our employees’ commitment to the work, concludes Betina Gollander-Jensen. 

Betina Gollander-Jensen before a water post and sink close by a latrine - all provided by Mission East staff.