By Melisa Esposti, Director of Government and NGO Relations
It was August of 2018, and I had just moved to Washington D.C. to start my new position as Director of Government and NGO Relations for Project C.U.R.E. after serving for four years in Colorado. Upon arrival, our CEO, Dr. Douglas Jackson, and I met with Ambassador Vakhabov and his team at the Embassy of Uzbekistan and they updated us on the tragedy of the Aral Sea region in Karakalpakstan.
This region of the world is facing one of the most dire climate crises on the planet as the Aral Sea has become desiccated into a desert in less than 60 years. Once a thriving fishing sea and the fourth largest lake on Earth, the region’s economic and health sectors have been devastated.
I began to study the region and the devastating impacts this desiccation was having on the residents that had relied on the Aral Sea economically for centuries. It was of specific interest to me because my master’s degree is in Sustainable Development and this region is one of the most rapidly irreversible manmade damaged areas on Earth. I learned that the chemicals now found in the sand of the old seafloor are toxic from years of pesticide exposure, these sands have been found as far away as Norway as the wind transports the particles across the globe. The effects on people’s well-being, their physical, emotional, financial, and mental health are all negatively impacted by this tragedy.
In December of 2020, Ambassador Vakhabov and Mr. Zikrillaev traveled to Karakalpakstan to learn more about the necessity of upgrading the healthcare system to meet the challenges the doctors and nurses were facing. During that site visit, it was determined that 24 hospitals and clinics were in need of additional medical supplies and equipment. A proposal was developed to share with potential funding partners here in the United States to conduct the needs assessments and send the shipments of medical supplies and equipment that is to be provided by Project C.U.R.E. in the upcoming years ahead.
The proposal made its way to one of Project C.U.R.E.’s long-standing partners, Boeing. The Government of Uzbekistan had just purchased a new Dreamliner and it was decided that they would fill the cargo with hospital beds and wheelchairs from Project C.U.R.E. The Embassy of Uzbekistan made arrangements for an Uzbek truck driver to pick up the beds and wheelchairs in Kansas City and drive them to Everitt, Washington to Boeing’s factory. I made plans with Doug Jackson to attend the celebration ceremony of the plane leaving the manufacturing facility. As I was preparing for my trip, I received a call stating that Boeing was going to be donating an additional $100,000 to assist with shipping the next containers. We were ecstatic to receive the additional funding and it was very special to see the hospital beds as they were about to be loaded onto the new Dreamliner.
Little did I know at that time in May that I would have the opportunity to see the hospital beds in place in Karakalpakstan in October 2021. Project C.U.R.E. completed the needs assessments for 24 hospitals and clinics that will receive medical supplies and equipment to strengthen their health systems. In my first international work trip since January 2020, I was thrilled to fly to Tashkent and then be able to see Karakalpakstan and the beds and wheelchairs in place at the hospitals as well as meet the doctors and nurses who will be impacted by these investments in their health infrastructure.
While in Karakalpakstan, I met with Dr. Murad Qurbanov, the Health Minister of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, and Mr. Murat Kamalov, the Chairman of the Jokargi Kenes of the Republic of Karakalpakstan. It was also wonderful to experience the generous and loving hospitality of the Uzbek people, taste their delicious plov, see their stunning ancient cities of Khiva and Samarkand, the inspiring Sivitsky Museum, and meet new friends all along the way. Last week, I was pleased to meet Dr. Murad and Mr. Zikrillaev in Washington DC to sign the planned manifests for the next 4 forty foot containers filled with critical medical supplies. Serendipitously, Project C.U.R.E. also received $25,000 to support container shipments from the Rotary of La Jolla on the day before the manifests were signed as Rotary is launching a new club in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Dr. Murad and his colleagues also brought me to see the Aral Sea with my own eyes at Muynac. As I stood on the precipice near the lighthouse, I could see only a desert for miles. Abandoned ships sat at the bottom of the original sea floor, rusted and bare, like ghosts of a beautiful past.
I grew up spending long summers along the west coast of Lake Michigan and enjoyed playing and swimming and especially loved those glorious sunsets as the sun slowly dipped beneath the surface of the water and was replaced by the night sky full of stars. I can still hear the waves lapping against the coastline while viewing the reflection of the moon on the lake. My family and I would take long evening strolls along the piers and enjoy the gorgeous lighthouses that guided the sailors back safely. Imagine standing in Chicago or along the western shore of Michigan and all of Lake Michigan disappearing in our lifetimes and becoming a desert.
It is for all of these reasons and more than I am very honored that Project C.U.R.E. was given a seat at the table to assist with the revitalization efforts being undertaken by the UN and partner Governments from across the world on behalf of Karakalpakstan.