By Ryan S. Bartlett
As a wave of COVID-19 spread through Kyrgyzstan in late March, the way that people consumed information changed. Kyrgyz people, many stuck inside Soviet-style apartments in Bishkek and beyond, were hungry for credible information regarding the novel coronavirus. Embassy Bishkek’s Public Affairs team looked to fill that information vacuum by turning their brick and mortar American Spaces into a vibrant virtual network. With equipment borrowed from each American Space, the Public Affairs staff and their partners threw themselves into the fight to reach an audience desperate for pandemic information.
Embassy Bishkek’s USG alumni network was at the forefront of this effort, launching a virtual talk series to bring people together online. Over three months, 40 subject matter expert alumni addressed topics related to COVID-19, including self-care and practical tips on preventing the spread of the virus, as well as more traditional topics including English language learning, entrepreneurship, and developing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills. More than 150 programs had been offered on social media platforms in just two months, resulting in a 539-percent increase in their audience.
The Bishkek Makerspace special face shield project was the highlight of this campaign, using 3D printers and alumni expertise to design and manufacture plastic face shields for medical workers. Four hundred fifty of these face shields were printed and sent to the government’s coronavirus headquarters, where they were distributed to medical workers throughout the country. The small but symbolic gesture, which was widely covered by press and social media, meant a lot to the Kyrgyz people who applauded the donation.
The ongoing pandemic has fundamentally changed the way the post conducts outreach. By finding new ways to reach out, both to counter the spread of coronavirus and to demonstrate that the United States stands together with the people of Kyrgyzstan in this fight, the Public Affairs team in Bishkek will continue their work to make virtual American Spaces a reality.
Ryan S. Bartlett is the outreach program manager at Embassy Bishkek.