‘NUR’ – A RAY OF CHANGE
In 2008, a Centreo ‘Nur’ was created to support young children and their families in the Batken province in the south of the Kyrgyz Republic. It was supported by UNICEF . Over the past year, the Centre has helped to change the attitudes of children in the region and has become a turning point for the lives of thirty children and their families. Here is a story of Farhad, a 17 year old young man, Islam, a nine year old boy, and the whole society.
There were very few people in a small court room in the remote Batken province, in the south of Kyrgyzstan. In fact, there were not many who cared about the judge’s verdict of Farhad, a then 16 year old young man, who was sentenced to three years of imprisonment. Some would even consider it too mild for such a ‘confirmed’ thief.
Farhad’s parents had divorced and had new families. For some years, Farhad lived with his grandparents and an uncle who did not care much for him. School was a distant memory. His caregivers wanted him to earn money for the family. They took a blind eye that with no job opportunities Farhad began to steal in the market. Farhad did his best to please his grandfather and uncle by bringing pasta, sugar and other products. But instead, they beat him and wanted more.
Farhad looked indifferent when the sentence was announced. Not even a single muscle changed in his face when Apyz Otkurov, the Head of the Department of Child and Family Support, had stood up with an initiative to post bail for Farhad. Farhad was placed in the ‘Nur’ Centre which means ‘ray’ in the Kyrgyz language. It was opened with the help of the local office of UNICEF and its National Committee in Italy.
“When I came to the ‘Nur’ Centre, I was surprised that nothing was locked, such as a computer and a fridge,” he recollected. The caregivers worked with Farhad for three months. He became less aggressive and did his best to keep the trust he received there. The Centre helped him to learn about family values. He found out that children can and must live without punishment. He liked to help take care of children with special needs. One of the caregivers could not forget his love and tenderness with which he rocked to sleep a boy with down syndrome. He did change in defiance to all the stereotypes. “I wondered at the beginning why nobody steals things in the Centre, as nothing was locked up. Then I understood that if I steal I would steal it from myself and from these children who live here”.
Four months later, he was appointed a Deputy Director in the Centre. His duty included ensuring the Centre was clean and that there was a supply of drinking water. He also talked with so-called ‘difficult’ children like him. They listened to him. He convinced many children to resume schooling by describing his own life. “I did not go to school. Now, you see I have to learn on my own. It is so important to know how to read and write,” he would say.
In autumn, Farhad left the Centre and entered vocation school No. 57 to learn how to be joiner. He comes often to the Centre. The Centre pays him for repairing furniture pieces, fixing the electricity system or anything of this kind.
Farhad has many plans for the future. He often goes to Osh to visit his beloved girlfriend. He met her in the summer camp where he went, thanks to the assistance of Mamyt Aliev, the Head of the Social Protection Department. He is now dreaming to buy a good mobile. “I want to call my girlfriend, and also Mamyt, Apyz and Nurjan [Musaeva, Child Protection National Consultant of UNICEF]. These are people who believed in me. I cannot even image what would have been like if I had been imprisoned. I heard a lot what the prison does to young people. And I don’t want to go there.”
In Kyrgyzstan, there is a strong belief that children with special needs are something to be ashamed of. It is considered God’s punishment for mother’s sins. Two yeas ago, Islam, a nine year old boy, and his family would not have dreamt even to be in midst of other children playing and laughing. Complications of meningitis led Islam to deafness when he was seven. Soon he stopped talking as often happens to deaf children. His grandparents, with whom he lived, did not know how to support him. The Department members came to visit his family and convinced them to let Islam attend the ‘Nur’ Centre. At the beginning, he was afraid of everything and was always gloomy. The caregivers noticed his eyes smile when he watched pictures. That was the start of the successful story of his rehabilitation.
Through pictures and his own drawings he learned to communicate with other children. He gets very excited when people understand his sounds when he wants to say something. Now he easily plays with his cousins and children in the Centre. His grandmother, Kurmanbubu Musaeva, became a member of the Centre’s Parents’ Committee. She learns how to respond to the special needs of her grandson. Together with other parents she changed her attitude. The father of another boy with special needs confessed: “My child was psychologically distressed. I thought that he did not understand anything, but now I see that he is like other children, just has special development needs. I see that I have lost so much time not communicating with him. I saw him drawing a picture when the spring came and understood that how rich my child’s inner world of feeling and emotions was.
Nurjan Musaeva, the Child Protection National Consultant of UNICEF in Batken region, every child who has been supported by the Department of Child and Family Support. She has been helping the local authority since the Department was established back in 2006 just after the Code of the Kyrgyz Republic on Children was adopted and the Government began establishing such departments in all the districts of the country.
Over the past two years, Musaeva points out the progress: “Batken region was lucky that this Department was opened so early. UNICEF helped create new services like Centre of Child and Family Support ‘Nur’. People here are hard-working and open to new initiatives. They just need to cope with lack of knowledge and such technical problems like poor communication with remote areas for instance. We see that the society’s attitude towards children is changing. In particular, this change is noticeable in regard to children like Farhad, who were considered unchangeable, and children with special needs. One can see children with special needs out more, shopping and playing with neighbors.”
The District Akim (Head of Administration), Dastan Hodjaev, fully supports new services and changes. He committed himself from the very beginning saying: “We are very thankful that UNICEF came to support our district. We will do our best to ensure that all our children live in families and will provide all the necessary services to support them”. He keeps his promises. In December 2008, he joined the meeting to decide on the future of the ‘Nur’ Centre. It is already settled that the local authorities should take over responsibility of the centre. It is great sign for the changing society: the centre and other new services for vulnerable families and their children will continue for a long time and the local authorities will continue to pay attention to their lives.
Names of the boys have been changed.