Peace Walk Takes on Heavy Meaning for Some International Students

by Emily Mosier

When freshman Dastan Askaraliev, an accounting major from Batken, Kyrgyzstan, began classes at Troy University less than two months ago, he had no idea that bombs would be dropped on his hometown while he was over 7,000 miles away.

On Sept. 14, bombs went off 500 meters from Askaraliev’s childhood home, and while his immediate family – parents, grandparents, and sister – are safe, others in Askaraliev’s community have not been so lucky.

“It has been very painful; I just found out that my neighbor is dead,” Askaraliev said. “Some of my friends are still in danger.”

As the result of long-term border conflict, Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous country west of China, was invaded by Tajikistan.

Kyrgyzstan officials announced 62 people died, almost 200 have been injured and over 137,000 have been forced to flee their homes.

“I love my country, I love my country, I love my country,” Askaraliev said, multiple times, when asked how it felt to hold the Kyrgyzstan flag during a peace walk held by the International Student Cultural Organization.

Askaraliev first learned of the bombing from social media, and he did not know if his family was safe until several anxious hours later when his grandparents called him. He has been watching news videos every day since the attacks.

“I watch these videos and my morale is terrible,” Askaraliev said. “Houses are destroyed, people have no money.

“The people are kind there, and they deserve to live better than they are living right now.”

Askaraliev was supposed to see his family again in about a month, but now, he is just hoping he will be able to return home by the summer.

“My parents want me to study good so I can help my hometown one day, so I am not mad to be here,” Askaraliev said. “I wish good luck to my country.”

He also made sure to clarify he is also hurting for the Tajikistan people who, according to Askaraliev, are very friendly people who have no control over their government. 

When asked if he thought he would find his hometown changed when he did return, Askaraliev said no, the spirit of his country is strong. However, he states there is still a long road ahead for his country.

“Batkens really need help and support,” Askaraliev said. “All of us hope everything will be fine and that it will get better, and I hope the government can fix things.”

Adi Gainey, a sophomore fine arts major from Birmingham, Alabama, has made it her personal mission to raise aid money to help those effected by the invasion in Kyrgyzstan.

Last semester, Gainey friended an international student from Kyrgyzstan who has now transferred back home. After hearing what her friend was going through, Gainey knew she had to help.

“I mean there are so many things going on in this world right now, with Ukraine and Russia, but not many people seem to care about the Kyrgyzstan people, and that hurts my heart,” Gainey said.

Working through a language barrier and time zone difference, Gainey personally reached out to artists in Kyrgyzstan with a proposal: in return for exposure, they will donate most, if not all, the proceeds made from art sold to Troy students to a humanitarian nonprofit called Red Crescent.

Over a dozen posters with a QR code leading both to the artists’ Instagram account and the Red Crescent website have been placed around campus. Gainey designed and hung the posters herself.

“Being aware of what’s going on outside of our country is important,” Gainey said. “I want to inspire real empathy.”

Students who cannot afford to donate can help by being aware of how foreign events can affect their classmates. 

Joseph McCall, the faculty advisor for the International Student Cultural Organization, said that crisis can be especially difficult for international students to handle, referring to current Kyrgyzstan students at Troy. 

“It is at this point that we need to rise to our best selves as members of an international community of learners and teachers to express empathy and caring,” McCall said. “At these moments, I’ve found that listening carefully is often more important than what we might say or suggest to help them through their crisis.”

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