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Picking Up Where They Left Off

Ron and Jeanine were masked and gloved for their COVID evacuation from Kazakhstan in March, and expect to repeat the process for their return early in 2021.

REI’s Central Asia Directors, Dr. Ron and Jeanine Wiley, have been granted special permission to return to Kazakhstan in January after a nearly 10-month COVID-19-precipitated evacuation and sojourn in Colorado. The Kazakh-American Free University (KAFU), which appointed Ron as volunteer adjunct faculty a year ago, has hired him as a part-time Associate Professor in the Department of Law & International Relations. Because of tight COVID-19-induced travel restrictions on foreigners entering the country, KAFU petitioned the Kazakhstan government for permission to invite the Wileys to work at the university, and that permission was granted.

Ron will teach international relations courses to undergraduate and graduate students at KAFU, which is located in the northeastern city of Oskemen, near Russia’s Siberian border. In addition, the Wileys look forward to lecturing and presenting workshops on restorative justice and conflict resolution across cultures. Most of their teaching will be virtual until the pandemic subsides.

Being back in Colorado for most of 2020 because of COVID-19 hasn’t been all bad. The Wileys continued Russian language study via Skype with the help of a Kazakh friend. They gathered with REI staff from around the world at the REI Global Forum in July. They worked on key assignments with other REI leaders to grow the organization. The Wileys also had some precious time with their family despite COVID-19 restrictions. Zoom made it possible for Ron to lecture at an academic conference and a university, and for them to stay connected with Kazakh friends.

Ron meeting with KAFU President Dr. Erezhep Mambetkaziyev

and Vice President Dan Ballast

How did the Wileys keep encouraged while mask-wearing, Zoom-calling, hand-sanitizing, social distancing for days...then weeks...then months on end? Ron explains, “Over the years, for Jeanine and me, sanity has come through walking and hiking—the footpaths of England...the foothills of Almaty...the Camino de Santiago in Spain & France. In 2020, our walking and hiking has been in the lanes of eastern Pueblo County and on the trails of the Black Hills and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We bask in God’s creativity around us...we feel more exposed...less defended...more vulnerable...when we’re outdoors and on foot. As I heard someone say recently, ‘being outside right-sizes me’.”

Due to the part-time nature of Ron’s position at KAFU, the Wileys have the flexibility to continue where they left off in March, exploring possible REI partnerships at other universities and institutions in Kazakhstan and the other Central Asian republics. For instance, key friends of REI in Uzbekistan have invited REI’s partnership in helping them establish an American-model university. Doors continue to open for REI to “Build People to Build Nations” in Central Asia!

For Ron and Jeanine, their impending relaunch to Central Asia is as exciting as both their initial launch in 1994 and their return in 2019! Their home away from home is waiting for them!

The Wileys continued Russian language study in Colorado

three times/week with a Kazakh friend over Skype.

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