Thinking and talking about the future
by Per Sonnerby and Andrew Mills
KYRGYZSTAN, January 2011 - Tansulu and Mobichehra are two 15-year-old school girls currently in the 9th Grade of the Babur school in Aravan, southern Kyrgyzstan. They are very close friends who have both suffered through the mental anguish of the June 2010 events which saw ethnic violence erupt in nearby cities and towns. Part of the violence was focused on the ethnic divide between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek peoples who jointly share citizenship in Kyrgyzstan.
The school is a mid-sized institution of about 620 pupils and is typical of the type of school at which UNICEF is providing its support. This support includes both educational assistance such as kits for early childhood development, physical education, academic materials and hygiene education as well as physical intervention in terms of constructing child friendly latrines and provision of water points.
Conditions in the schools worsen with time. The infrastructure has long been neglected and even the quality of education is declining. UNICEF, humanitarian organisations and the Government are working to redress these issues.
Low pay and low professional self esteem make it difficult to keep good teachers at the school. Since June the school has lost two teachers who left to work at better paid jobs in Russia.
The School principal, Abdyldajan Abdraimov has been a teacher for over 30 years, he started his career during Soviet times when the pay was better, it was a time when teachers had a greater social standing than they have today. He behaved kindly to the girls, displaying a fatherly rather than headmaster-like manner in his interactions.
Abdyldajan is now in the twilight of his career and is looking forward to getting his pension. We asked him “do you regret becoming a teacher? What would you do now if you had your time over again?” He considered this briefly, smiled and confidently replied, “I would do the same. I would again become a teacher.”
The girls both share the same classroom but not ethnic backgrounds, Tansulu is Kyrgyz and Mobichehra is Uzbek. We asked them questions about their families and the events from June. Their village was spared the type of violence which occurred elsewhere, they were lucky in that sense.
The official school curriculum allows for a one hour lesson every week focused on reconciliation and peaceful co-existence. It is a useful Government initiative, guided on an individual teacher basis. We asked Mobichehra what was it that they discussed in these lessons? “We are free to discuss whatever our teacher or anyone suggests, specific problems or other topics” she replied.
When asked “What do you think about the ethnic troubles which happened in June, were you scared?” A simple “yes” was Mobichehra’s reply, “but there were no problems in our village, we kept talking to one another.” She also added, “We are all friendly to one another we are all friends, it doesn’t matter where you are from”. Tansulu supported her friend with “We do not think about nationality at all”.
Tansulu said that the June conflict “was very painful for them”. At the time of the conflict the school was closed for the summer holidays and they were worried about the ethnic conflict and how some of their friends would react when school restarted but Tansulu said when they saw each other again they immediately forgot these problems.
The girls don’t live close to each other in the village but they visit each other in their respective homes and their parents know each other. We asked the girls - did their respective parents all go to school with each other as well? “Yes” they said, “they were in the same year at school”. The village is very close knit and there are many inter-ethnic marriages.
Being from different ethnic backgrounds with distinct languages we asked the girls how they effectively communicated ? Mobichehra observed that “The Uzbek and Kyrgyz languages are very similar to each other so we can understand each other quite easily.” Tansulu added “Yes and we can talk to each other in our own language and still understand, we can also speak in Russian if we want to.”
We asked Mobichehra – When you are sleeping and you dream, in which language do you dream? Given the seriousness of some of the other questions we asked she looked somewhat puzzled by this question and thought for a while, and then just laughed: “I don’t know, I really don’t know.”
UNICEF and our partners will continue to provide humanitarian support to the Kyrgyz Government and its people. Peace-building in general will be facilitated when all members of the community can physically see the benefits of humanitarian intervention with extensive construction of water and sanitation facilities not just in schools but elsewhere in the community and by enhancing the education processes and practices. The country’s assets need to be strengthened and its most precious assets, its children need to be nurtured and protected.
And our final question to the two friends - If you could talk to the people directly involved in the violence what would you say to them?”
Tansulu said simply: “ I would ask them to stop, for peace. Nobody wants this sort of war.”