This weekend, Jennifer Lopez flew to Turkmenistan to put on a concert for an oil company where the country’s president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, was in attendance. JLo’s singing happy birthday to Berdymukhammedov has made a lot of news for a country that most Americans cannot find on a map. Reading the news of the concert, I wanted to throw my computer out the window. But in all honesty, we should start by saying sag bol (thank you in Turkmen) for the attention she has brought to this rarely discussed corner of the world. JLo has taken a lot of criticism for her concert there, but truth be told she has a solid record of using her voice for the voiceless as she demonstrated just this year by her performance in the Chime for Change Concert. Now she has a chance to do the same for young Turkmen.
JLo’s birthday song may have made the headlines, but what isn’t being talked about are the challenges young Turkmen face trying to lift themselves and their families out of poverty with a college education. The Arzuw Foundation, has spent years mentoring and supporting Turkmen students who want nothing more than to get an education. Arzuw means dream in Turkmen because that’s just what an education is and remains for most young Turkmen unless we can help them. I met a student named Batyr who so desperately wanted to learn English, he would travel four hours by bus three times a week to take an English class with a Peace Corps Volunteer. I spoke to a Turkmen student just this week, Sheker, who is working 80-90 hours a week this summer to earn enough college tuition money for next semester.
Four years ago as the son of a single mother earning less than $300 a month, a student that we’ve supported with a scholarship couldn’t even dream of going to college. Today Myrat (name changed) has nearly a 4.0 GPA and is planning to become a teacher back home in Turkmenistan. Myrat is a just a kid from the block in Dashoguz, Turkmenistan. He has big dreams and so do so many other Turkmen students. But they can’t do it alone.
JLo knows what it’s like to dream, to ache for a different, better life. And she knows what its like to break free of the constraints that can hold a young person down. Turkmen students don’t often get a voice, but JLo you can give them one. You can sing for them, their futures, their dreams. Turkmenistan can be a place for these young people to thrive as entrepreneurs and innovators. But the country needs talented, educated and thoughtful Turkmen to pour their energies into their country’s development. Education is the key to Turkmenistan’s future.
JLo can use her star power to send young Turkmen like Bayram, Maral and Risalat to college to become business leaders, teachers, and engineers in Turkmenistan. JLo knows their story, because she’s lived it, and now she can make their dreams of a college education a reality. It’s time to sing for the dreams of every young Turkmen, so hit it JLo!