A Community that Cares for Each and Every Child
- Please, be quite. It does not matter whose child it is.
From a meeting of the Village Education Group,
Nazira was singing a song about a mother’s love to lullaby her six month niece to sleep. The baby fell asleep and Nazira opened her copybook to review a poem on literature. Tomorrow there will be just one lesson and then all the schoolchildren will celebrate Mother’s Day. Nazira, as usual, will sing a song. Everybody likes her signing. She dreams to be singer. With this dream in her head, she is eager to study. However, it has not been always easy. Some months ago she was not sure that she would go to school altogether.
Nazira is 17 years old. At this age, children leave the school, but Nazira goes to Form 9 with two more forms to go. She has lost two years. One year – when she started school – she was ill and had to start school one year later. The second year was lost when she decided to leave her father and his new wife as she could not endure bad treatment by her stepmother anymore, and went to Baetovo village to her aunt Aliman.
Baetovo is a remote village of Naryn region in Kyrgyzstan. It is one of the poorest villages in the region: few cattle and not much of arable land, which is eroding into the big Naryn River. Nazira’s aunt lives not far from the school, however, the school seemed unreachable. For her aunt, Nazira, a kind and hardworking girl, was very helpful with her four children. She did not have any extra funds to buy winter clothes and stationery for her niece to let her go to school.
Nazira was very thankful to be accepted into a new family and did not protest. Nazira considered Baetovo a temporary shelter, and dreamt of returning to her father or finding her mother.
Neither Nazira nor Aliman knew that as soon as the girl had arrived, a red flag was marked over Aliman’s household in a small self-made village map by the Village Education Group. The red flag on the household meant that the family had a school-age child who did not attend school.
The Village Education Group was created in Baetovo as a part of the Community Management Education Project initiated by UNICEF. Some of the villagers had heard about the project before from newspapers and from friends. The project began in 2002 in two regions of Naryn region. It introduced a new system – the local community began to manage the education process. It is based on the strong belief that the local community plays an important role in ensuring that every child fulfils his or her right to receive a quality education. It relates, first of all, to children who are overlooked by the education, social protection and healthcare systems or even by people who live next door. They are not helped, instead, everyone closes their eyes to the child’s problems. “We simply had no idea about their lives or their sufferings. They lived among people, but had to survive alone,” explained Almambet Abdiev, National Coordinator of the Project.
Village Education Groups are the main attribute of the Project. They consist of teachers, school administrators, local self governance administrators, non-governmental organizations, child protection specialists, medical workers, law enforcement officers, businessmen and social leaders. The Village Education Group identifies and solves problems in the area of education with the help of the villagers themselves. Each meeting of the Group is accompanied with hot discussions and arguments. There are no cliché solutions. Each case is different. And the most difficult part is to find the best way for the family in question. Some families don’t want to listen about a change at all, others are sure that they are doing the right thing for their children, still others do not pay attention to their children’s problems.
When teacher Salkyn Akylbekovna, a representative of the Baetovo Village Education Group, came to Nazira’s aunt, she found Nazira with a baby in her hands and three more children around. One of them, a two or three year old boy, was sleeping on the floor. In the house, there was an old cupboard, a small table and two chairs. On the floor there was kiyis (a felt rug) and jer toshok (a mattress).
Aliman told the teacher Nazira’s story: “Fourteen years ago, Nazira’s mother left her two daughters and went to live with her parents. My brother, her husband, then married another woman. There was no news from her mother during all that time. Nazira’s elder sister went to live with my sister. And Nazira lives with me…” Aliman did not get a school certificate herself. She studied only for nine years and then was kidnapped by her future husband. She married and began to work as seamstress. Her husband does not have a permanent job. The family lives on state benefits for the children.
Salkyn explained later: “Aliman did not want Nazira go to school because there were no clothes or stationery, as she said. But I think, there are also other reasons. Nazira helps about the house and sits with her children. It seems that also Nazira herself resigned herself to that role.”
After the school teacher’s visit, Nazira began to go to school. At the beginning she was reserved. Step by step, Nazira became more involved in school life, and soon not a single event could go without Nazira’s songs. Nazira does her best to study well. She has friends who come over to her house when she has to sit with her youngest niece and help her catch up with her studies.
The red flag on the Nazira’s family was changed to a green one. The Village Education Group now helps the family ensure that Nazira will regularly attend the school. Although Baetovo is a temporary shelter, here she found a point of rest – people who care – which so important at her age and for her future.