July 2007, New Village School in Southern Kyrgyzstan Gets Community Involved and Keeps Children Close to Home
For the first time in the 15-year history of the village of Minoruk and the neighbouring village in the southern province of Batken, 10 year old children could remain in their home village to enter the 5th grade at the new local school.
“Now we can stay with our mummies.”
“We are lucky. We don’t have to leave for another village and live with our relatives to study at school.”
A swarm of bright-eyed 10-year-old schoolchildren enthusiastically shouted over each other to share this important news with Jyldyz Duishenova, coordinator of the Community Management of Education project initiated by UNICEF Kyrgyzstan with support from the Italian National Committee. She was almost knocked over by the normally polite, quiet, tradition-bound Kyrgyz youth at the entrance of the school in the small village of Minoruk, deep in the mountains of southern Kyrgyzstan near the border with Tajikistan.
Ethnic Kyrgyz, who emigrated from Tajikistan, founded Minoruk about 15 years ago. Most of its settlers were young families looking for a better future for themselves and their children in their ancestral homeland. At that time, the two-room cottage of a shepherd was the only available space for a primary school with 1st through 4th grades for the children of the new village. Soon it became the only school in the area, opening its doors to the children from the neighbouring village, who had to make a 3 kilometer journey every morning to learn to read, write and count. Schoolchildren from both villages had to also endure the physical discomfort of sitting at old metal workshop tables used as desks with rickety old chairs cast off by other schools in Batken.
However, the biggest inconvenience for parents and children was the lack of reasonable options for their children to continue their education after completing the 4th grade. The closest school for 10-16 year old children was 16 km away from Minoruk. Thanks to the Kyrgyz tradition of maintaining tight extended families, Minoruk parents were able to send their 10-16 year old kids to their relatives who lived near the closest secondary school. However, they could only visit their children on weekends, if at all. Children who could not be placed with their relatives in other villages with a secondary school did not continue their education at all.
“When my kids come home for the weekend from my sister’s house in Samarkandek village, they feel like guests. They feel too happy and emotional to help me about the house or spend more time with their young sisters and brothers. I feel that it’s really breaking the bonds of our family,” said Enehan, the mother of four children, ranging in age from 3 to 14 years.
In May 2006, the untenable schooling situation in Minoruk began to change when parents and community leaders asked UNICEF for help. UNICEF provided new desks and other furniture for the school and supported the creation of a village education group to involve the local community into the education process. The villagers enthusiastically accepted the proposed community-based education project.
UNICEF, with the active participation of the village education group, initiated a proposal to the Community Development and Investment Agencyof the Kyrgyz Republic to construct an additional six rooms to the school, which will allow children to complete their basic education up to the 9th grade. With the completion of construction in September 2007, UNICEF will then provide all necessary school equipment and furniture, as well as learning and teaching materials, using funds collected by the Italian National Committee of UNICEF.
Local community leaders have already identified a wide range of education issues to tackle: from the low quality of education and non-attendance of children from the neighbouring village, to the lack of shoes and clothes for some children, which prevents them from realizing their right to education. The parents of Minoruk strive to include every community member in the management of the education process in order to change an emerging attitude of ambivalence toward education, and increase access to quality education in their village and surrounding communities.
The village is growing and its inhabitants believe they will shepherd in an era of many new changes in the educational lives of their children. They envision the opening a modern school with clubs, gyms and libraries. They have ambitious plans to develop quality education and other social services for their community, and hope that UNICEF will assist them in realizing their vision.