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From the Executive Director: Turkmen wrap-up

August 12, 2009

IRIS’s executive director, Del Christensen, recaps the three weeks he spent traveling throughout Iowa with the delegation from Turkmenistan.

It has been a productive and enjoyable three weeks with our latest group of visitors form Turkmenistan. They were in Iowa to learn about promoting alternative energy technologies, under the Community Connections Program that is coordinated by World Learning and sponsored by USAID. This program always brings us a wide array of talented individuals and this group was no exception.

Four of our guests (Aleksandr, Meretdurdy, Mered, and Nurgeldy) are representatives of the Sun Institute in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. It is part of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan. Dovran is a Leading Specialist with the Department of Foreign Economic Activities, Ministry of Energy and Industry of Turkmenistan. Rejepmurad is with the Higher Certification Committee of the Federal Government of Turkmenistan. Atamurat is a Manager of Production Association called “Turkmen Energy Maintenance.” Meretkuly heads up a Substation Service, Serdar Y. is the director of Ashgabat State Power Plant and Serdar M. is an officer of a Community Organization called “Natural Energy.” Impressive credentials!

Turkmen with wind turbines

We covered more of the state of Iowa than I’ve seen in several years. As far south as Fairfield (visiting their Ecovillage), north to the Top of Iowa Wind Farms, west to Estherville and the Turbine Technology program at Iowa Lakes Community College and east to Muscatine to visit the Mississippi River and see the solar arrays at Muscatine Water and Power. They saw the inside of a wind turbine nacelle, stood next to a 133 feet long wind turbine blade, saw flexible solar panels being used by our military to power tents in the middle of deserts and learn about incentive programs being used by municipal utilities and investor-owned utilities in Iowa to promote the use of renewable energy. What a great state we live in!

Every guest appreciates their visit differently. Meretkuly and Atamurat loved visiting the University of Iowa power plant that uses waste hulls from the Quaker oats factory to generate electricity and had a marvelous time seeing the hands-on training center at the Iowa Association for Municipal Utilities. Dovran appreciated meeting the folks at MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy. Others enjoyed seeing thin film solar technology, biomass to energy projects at BECON and everywhere else we traveled.

The group wrapped up their three weeks with a trip to Chicago, and while they loved the sights of the big city, they all said their new second home is Iowa.

Turkmen on the farm

The friendship developed from these programs can be summed up with one event. All the guests and host families in Mason City were invited out to the Pope family farm for a good old-fashion cook-out and hay ride. Mered and I were deep in conversation and having a marvelous time, when our interpreter came over and said “Mered doesn’t understand any English and you don’t understand any Turkmen. What in the world are you talking about?” It didn’t matter that we didn’t understand each an every word, but between a few common phrases, lots of gestures and a mutual sense of understanding and respect, we were able to agree that the earth’s natural resources are so precious and will continue to provide us with food and energy as long as all of us o everything in our power to use those resources in a sustainable manner.

I will miss spending time with my new friends from Turkmenistan. I hope to someday visit Turkmenistan, but I don’t know that I will ever have that chance. One thing I am certain about is that, because of their visit and this program, the future of our natural resources on this planet is looking just a little brighter!

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