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Munira Pulodi

'Poverty is not eternal' in Tajikistan

Munira Pulodi knows all about the importance of hope. She was born and raised in Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic that has been plagued by civil war and economic hardship since becoming independent in 1991.

“Tajikistan is the poorest country in Central Asia,” Pulodi said. “I grew up witnessing all of the poverty and things I’ve never seen in the U.S. — a real level of helplessness. Many families are starving. Kids have no choice: They go to the market (to work) and carry heavy bags of flour and greens.”

Pulodi, 19, and her mother left Tajikistan three years ago to come to the United States. She spent her freshman year at community colleges before starting at Binghamton University in fall 2011.

“It felt very welcoming,” the junior biology and Russian major said of Binghamton. “I liked the relationships between the faculty members, staff and students. I thought I could get involved and achieve a lot here.”

Pulodi served as an ambassador for the Center for Civic Engagement and as a mentor to Johnson City students. She also helped to develop the International Connections organization.

When Pulodi heard about the Harpur Fellows program, she realized it was a great opportunity to aid children in her homeland.

“I wanted to do something efficient and realistic,” she said. “I wanted to show them that there is a chance of getting out. Poverty is not eternal.”

Pulodi partnered with a nongovernmental organization called Youth House that selects 35-40 Tajikistani children to take part in summer programs and classes. In the summer of 2012, Pulodi worked with and mentored teens for two hours a day, five days per week. She introduced the teens to different cultures and used American games, songs and books to help them gain a basic knowledge of English and improve communication skills.

Working with younger children is nothing new for Pulodi.

“Growing up in my country, I was always surrounded by children,” she said. “I would gather them from my neighborhood and teach them about the alphabet and how to write their names.” The project also gave the children a chance to see a role model who is now earning an education at a premier American university.

“I want them to look at me and say, ‘I can go, too,’” Pulodi said. “Before I came to the U.S., I had to go through challenges and overcome so much. I haven’t achieved that much yet, but I’m proud to be at Binghamton University and doing this project. Who knows? Maybe some of them will study here someday.”

When her project was completed, Pulodi spent the rest of the summer taking part in a prestigious biotechnology internship in Enden, Germany, with the International Association for Exchange Students with Technical Experience. But she intends to continue her collaboration with Youth House on an annual basis.

“This is just the beginning,” she said. “This is something that is close to my heart. It makes me happy that I can use my knowledge and skills to help others."

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Last Updated: 12/10/14