Scholarship Spotlight on Afsona
By Libby Daghlian
For more than 20 years, Central Asia Institute has supported students in Tajikistan with scholarships to continue their higher education studies. Falling under the pillar of accessibility, scholarships bridge a critical gap for Tajikistan’s young adults. While literacy rates in the country are high and many students graduate high school, the choice to continue to university is not an easy one. The cost can be prohibitive, and high unemployment rates leave prospective students fearful about the return on investment.
For professionals like Afsona Gulzorova, access to higher education was an invaluable part of her journey toward building a strong foundation for her career and family. With a scholarship from Central Asia Institute, Afsona was able to earn a bachelor’s degree in history from Khorog State University in 2020.
An eye toward the future
After graduating straight into a global pandemic as a young mother, Afsona had to practice Zen-like patience in landing her first job. But it all paid off in 2022, when she started the rewarding role of teaching history to sixth- and seventh-grade students at School #5 located in Khorog, the capital of Tajikistan’s Gorno Badakhshan region. Recently, Afsona accepted a new job with the local government and is thrilled to continue building her professional experience and achieving her financial goals.
“I always share my experience with my students and friends,” explained Afsona. “To me, an education is a light that guides you towards a better life.” For Afsona, the alternative was all too clear. Growing up, her parents earned very little but instilled in her a passion for learning and a belief that she could achieve her goals. As she neared high school graduation, she saw many friends leave Tajikistan for other countries, primarily Russia, in search of better employment prospects.
Without a scholarship, Afsona would have had no choice but to follow suit and look for work in Russia. Identifying and winning a scholarship was the catalyst Afsona needed to remain in her home community and be a part of building a brighter future there. The ripple effect of her scholarship extended to her parents, allowing them to focus on building their own financial security as well. “The fees that CAI paid during my studies took the burden off my parents. Otherwise, they would have had to borrow on credit and would have really struggled to pay it back.”
The ripple effect
As Afsona demonstrates, a scholarship for one student becomes a beacon of light for a whole community. Central Asia Institute’s investment in Afsona gave her the gift of higher education, which spread to her family, her school, and her community.
“As a mother, I am happy I pursued higher education. Everything that I learned during university continues to help me in my daily life,” said Afsona.
Multiplied across many students and consistently applied throughout decades, these scholarships can have a transformative effect. In a place like Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan region, isolated from economic opportunities, it is especially important to support students and families through challenging economic times.
Tajikistan is unique in that older generations are, on average, more educated and have completed higher levels of education—often at the graduate level—than younger generations. That is because unlike when Tajikistan was part of the Soviet Union, the current government is unable to provide adequate social safety nets and access to advanced education and professional degrees. In recent decades, the country has struggled economically and the lack of jobs and the departure of young people to other countries has threatened this track record of highly educated communities. At Central Asia Institute, we are hoping to counter that trend, knowing that when educated and ambitious young people are empowered to remain in their hometowns, the whole community benefits.
We could not be prouder of Afsona and all of our scholarship recipients in Tajikistan!