Central Asia’s Silk Road
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Central Asia’s Silk Road— far beyond historic notions of camel caravans lumbering across desert sands—is alive with possibility and opportunity as the crossroads of Asia, Europe and the Middle East. From the high mountain valleys of the Tajik Pamir and Kyrgyz Tien Shan mountains bordering Afghanistan and China to the Caspian Sea...from the vast Turkmen and Uzbek deserts to the endless Kazakh Steppes right up to the forests of Siberia and reaching nearly to Mongolia... the five republics of Central Asia that emerged from the former Soviet Union are eager to host a new Silk Road of commerce and peaceful development. With nearly 30 years of history in Central Asia, REI resident team members are once again engaged in the educational and public policy sectors across the region, building together with local partners who have benefited from the investment of REI resident and short-term volunteer staff over many years.
Dr. Ron and Jeanine Wiley first visited Central Asia on a cultural exchange in 1991, in the waning days of the USSR, and immediately felt drawn to contribute to the education and development of a region that had long been hidden from direct engagement with the wider world. They joined one of several teams of REI professionals who entered Central Asia in the early ‘90s and who invested cumulative decades living and serving in exotic Silk Road centers such as Tashkent, Samarkand, Bishkek and Almaty.
While teaching in Almaty and directing micro-enterprise development in villages in southern Kazakhstan, Ron and Jeanine were deeply saddened by periodic outbreaks of ethnic and religious violence between certain groups inhabiting the Central Asian states and their neighbors. Although family needs saw them depart for the U.S. in 2010, they left bearing a conviction to return some day with the skills, experience and credentials of peacemakers. “It is disturbing that such conflicts, sometimes fueled by extremism, continue to erupt, even as recently as this year. This is why I spent nearly nine years in obtaining my PhD in conflict analysis & resolution”, Ron explains. “We are engaged in collaboration with academics, and business, government and community leaders, exploring ways to build resilience and recommend reforms, to enhance the strengths inherent to their cultures, toward a more peaceful social life.”
According to Ron, “Jeanine joined me in introducing restorative practices into schools in Pueblo and Colorado Springs, as an extension of my doctoral studies. We’ve seen how school children can grow in their capacity for compassion toward others different from themselves, and to initiate resolving conflicts on their own. We even had the chance to demonstrate some of those practices at international schools in Indonesia and Djibouti, while traveling to serve our REI staff in our previous assignment. We’re in contact with several international schools in Central Asia, with the intention of doing the same, hoping that will prove a first step to reproducing those practices in national schools as well, over time.”