Cornell University

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Student Profile

Whitney Taylor, BS '07, Travels to Kyrgyzstan for Field Research

From L to R: The Chief Labor Inspector of Kyrgyzstan, co-worker from the ILO, Head of the national Krygz Agricultural Trade Union, Russian translator, the chief Labor Inspector of Tajikistan, Whitney, Drover, Head of the local government of this particular regionGrants that I received from the ILR School contributed to a one-month extension of my internship with the ILO and travel to Kyrgyzstan in order to pursue field research. The last month of my internship was, by far, the most value time that I spent in Geneva. The conclusion of my credit internship brought with it a deeper understanding of the ILO system and the challenges it faces in a globalized world, and I was I able to put that new knowledge to use during my internship extension. The fieldwork that I pursued in Kyrgyzstan was of dual value: to the ILO and to me, academically and personally.

First, the fieldwork was an opportunity for me to follow-up on the occupational safety and health program in agriculture that I spent four months working with at the ILO. In addition to the conference I attended in Kyrgyzstan, my hosts scheduled six days of farm visits all over the northern region of the country. I visited a wide-range of agricultural situations, from big and wealthier cooperatives to small family farms. I was able to gain valuable insight about the success of the program on individual farmers and on the organizations that promoted it in just two years of existence. I came home with a series of photographs and stories that captured this success and became a valuable contribution to the immediate and future work of my department.

Wind UnionSecond, the trip to Kyrgyzstan opened my eyes to the real impact that the ILO can have through a focus on programs that foster workers own-initiative and community cooperation and helps them to build their own paths towards safer work, increased productivity, and thus development of their country. In Kyrgyzstan, my department’s program is hailed as “the cause” for the creation of local trade unions, agricultural cooperatives (necessary to increase productivity), tripartite commissions on the local and higher levels, and a national employer’s organization. I could see myself pursuing research about the value of such low-cost, worker driven training programs.

On the other hand, I was humbled by rich values of the local people I encountered. I did not expect to meet such educated, hospitable, and open-minded people as I traveled the country from farm to farm. Although perestroika sent the Kyrgyz society back in time a few decades, I truly believe that the people have all the tools they need to develop their country. I question whether the work that is being done by the outside community to help the country truly is speeding up its development or whether the steps forward it is taking are merely natural. I also wonder whether a change in trade barriers to agriculture would actually have an effect on the wealth of the nation and whether a decrease in trade barriers would more positively affect a country like Kyrgyzstan than it would negatively affect the regions lowering the barriers.

Traditional FoodI like to say that the biggest challenge during the trip was smiling through the traditional farm-cooked meals of endless plates of lamb parts (killed upon our arrival at the farm), the never-ending shots of vodka my hosts expected me to finish, and the many five-minute spur of the moment toasts that I was asked to deliver (ten minutes, if you include all the translations). However, I think that this trip pushed me to have the confidence to step up to so many new situations and forced me to question my traditional ways of thought. I will be forever grateful to ILR that I had this opportunity.

- Whitney Taylor

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