Hope on the verge of existence
By Galina Solodunova
Thanks to generators, gas stoves, water heaters and other basic equipments supplied by UNICEF, the Child Protection Centre in Bishkek, capital city of Kyrgyzstan, has been able to cope with the recent winter energy crisis and continue to provide warm shelter and food to many homeless and vulnerable children.
“We are so thankful that our children can get hot meal at least once a day at the centre. At home, we have only bread and tea,” says Zamira Kadyrbekova, who moved to Bishkek with her family in 2002 coming from Leilek district, in the southern part of the country.
Before UNICEF intervened, the Child Protection Centre was quite debilitated by the energy crisis and suffered with at least six hours of electricity shortage everyday. As a consequence, children were exposed to low temperatures worsened by the lack of electric heating.
However, despite the infrastructural problems, the number of arrivals has been increasing in the centre, which demands more dynamic efforts from UNICEF to address the needs. “We provide a hot meal to 180 children now. It was 170 last week,” says Mira Itikeeva, director of the Child Protection Centre.
According to Altyn, Zamira’s husband, the UNICEF supported centre has also helped children by providing educational possibilities. “The centre helped us to get three of our children to study at school and convinced our eldest daughter, Aliya, to attend a vocational school, where she is learning to sew.” By inducing Aliya to choose a new path, the centre helped her to avoid a destiny common to many young girls from disadvantaged families: early marriage.
Such commitments are often unsuccessful and most girls become victims of domestic violence or divorce, having to return to their humble families.
Altyn, Zamira and their seven children live in Ak-Jar district, which is a collection of shabby dwellings neighboring Dordoi market, the largest one in Bishkek. It is one of the 23 migrant areas that spontaneously emerged near the capital several yeas ago, when those who were left without a job elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan headed to what seemed a better destination for their families.
In Ak-Jar, as in other parts of the country, there is currently no water or electricity. Since most of the houses were built for rent and there are hardly any tenants, they remain like empty shells.
Altyn and Zamira have managed to rent out a small house for a monthly fee of 1,000 som ($25). Additionally, they must disburse 800 som ($ 20) for having ‘conveniences’ such as a floor to walk on. It is quite a big sum for a family of nine that makes a maximum of 6,000 som ($150) per month.
Their children spend all their spare helping their parents, they return home when it is already dark and are not able to do their homework, given that there is no electricity.
Malnourished, in old cloths and unprepared, Altyn and Zamira’s children haven’t had much chance at school. A year ago, 16-year-old Jamilya, their second eldest daughter, missed one month of classes and wanted to drop out.
“I did not want to go to school any more because my classmates laughed at my cloths and some teachers treated me badly. I could not bear their sneers,” she remembers. “Talai Jakypov, a social worker of the Child Protection Centre, talked to my teacher and helped me to take over,” she adds.
Recently, Jamilya has jointed a peer-to-peer education group entitled “My Friend’s Advice,” which is organized by the centre. After school and during her work at the market, where she washes dishes in a café, she meets other working children and discusses issues such as hygiene and friendship. “By helping others I learn to cope with my own problems better,” she says with a grin.
Jamilya’s smile is the highest reward for the hard working staff at the UNICEF supported centre. They understand that, for most of the children who come to them, the centre is the only straw that keeps them on the verge of existence, giving them the necessary strength to overcome hardships and find joy in their lives.
* The names of children have been changed to ensure anonymity