A long way to school
By Galina Solodunova
In his drawings and dreams, the house would have a big lamp hanging in the middle of the ceiling, a switch on the wall and a heater.
The beacons of hope have been recently lit for eight-year-old Nurlan Junushaliev. A few months ago, when he arrived at the UNICEF supported Rehabilitation Centre for Homeless and Disadvantaged Children, in Bishkek, capital city of Kyrgyzstan, he looked scared and gloomy. Due to malnutrition, his facial muscles were too weak to support his jaw and consequently his mouth was constantly open.
“At the beginning he could hardly speak. When he watched TV, there were no emotions on his face. I was afraid he did not understand anything. Now, at home though, not with people he knows little, he is talking without a stop, he likes to imagine” says his aunt Saira.
After receiving vitamins at the rehabilitation centre, Nurlan regained strength and has already grown four centimeters. His face has changed and his future is revealing to be quite promising. Apart from tackling his poor nutritional status, the centre also helped him to attend school, something supposedly unreachable to him not that while ago.
Indeed, it has been literally a long way to school for little Nurlan. Originally from the high mountains of Issyk-Kul Province, at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters, he grew up helping his family to graze yaks and protect them from wolves. During summer, they would go even higher to reach the snow covered peaks close to the border with Kazakhstan, since yaks suffer a lot from the heat.
“Nurlan learned to ride on a horse back before walking,” jokes his father Ulan about his eldest son. Although Nurlan always did his best to meet the expectations of his parents, they were always very strict with him. Usually, a piece of bread with tea was his only meal during the day while watching he watched the family’s animals.
In the evening, when everybody was at home gathered around the fire, the only source of light used for cooking and heating, Nurlan would often fall asleep, lacking energy even to eat. When he completed seven years of age, despite his importance as a labor force, his parents decided to send him to Kojoyar village to live with his grandfather and start school.
When the time came for Nurlan to join his classmates, Kyrgyzstan was hit by an energy crisis. More than one third of schools nationwide, mainly in rural areas, were closed for three months due to a shortage of electricity. Schooling time was moved from winter to summer and Nurlan’s dream started to shape into a nightmare.
Once he heard classes had been postponed, Nurlan started to cry. He knew that he would have the same fate as his 18-year-old cousin Kairat, who was too involved with domestic work and ended up never going to school. He realized he would have to return to his parent’s house in the mountains and give up on his life-long dream. He was desperate and lost any hope and meaning in life.
Routine became quite sad for Nurlan until aunt Saira, who by chance went on a visit, was touched by the boy’s misery and his strong desire to study. She then agreed to take him to Bishkek and welcomed him at her house, where she lives with her husband and their two children.
Despite all the efforts from his new family, Nurlan still felt lost and uncertain in Bishkek. His aunt Saira decided to look for the UNICEF supported rehabilitation centre for help and her nephew’s life changed completely ever since.
The centre became part of Nurlan’s family. After school, he visits his friends to take part in several activities, such as illustration classes and drama performances. In the evenings, he goes home where the whole family gathers. His 12-year-old cousin, Anara, is now his best friend. She helps him to do his homework and arranges his school clothes. She also walks him to school on a daily basis and is always willing to keep him company.
“Sometimes, I lost my temper when I had to explain several times while helping Nurlan doing his homework. But it is impossible to be angry with him for long. I love him so much,” says Anara.
Nurlan trusts his cousin and constantly discusses his hobbies with her. He likes illustrations a lot and first learned how to draw in the mountains, where he practiced with a stick in the gravel of river banks.
He often draws his imaginary house, standing in splendor with a big lamp hanging in the middle of the ceiling, a switch on the wall and a heater.
Nurlan does his best to study in order to achieve his dream of someday giving a warm (and lit) house to his family. The fact that his aunt is helping and took him to the rehabilitation centre is a good start, since he now feels loved again and ready to face new challenges.
The main purpose of the rehabilitation centre is to aid vulnerable children in Kyrgyzstan. As in Nurlan’s case, the centre helps children by providing access to education, medical services and even psychological support. All these services come in addition to shelter to all those who are left to live in the streets.
Despite the undisputable value the centre has added to Nurlan’s life, he is now an ‘out-member,’ meaning he is registered and stops by, but ultimately goes back to his aunt’s place at night.
Perhaps one day Nurlan will be able to look back and be proud of being part of such a special project. Until then, UNICEF and partners will continue working to ensure children’s rights in his country and wherever else help is needed.
* The names of children have been changed to ensure anonymity