For displaced families in Kyrgyzstan, a difficult road back from the brink
By Galina Solodunova
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, 25 June 2010 – The civil unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan has not spared any household in Djalal-Abad province.
Hasan and Zulhumar Amanbaev and their four children lived all their lives in peace in the town of Djalal-Abad. On 12 June, the day after the killings started, they had to flee their house. At first they hid with relatives in Begabat village, several kilometres out of town. But again they were forced to leave, seeking safety in fields or gardens, fearing they would have to flee Kyrgyzstan altogether.
Four days later, when the violence burnt out, they came back to their home. What they saw left them in shock and tears. There was nothing – just a pile of rubble instead of their big house.
Surviving the destruction
Their eldest sons, Asatbek, 9, and Adbulbasit, 7, kept asking their parents what had happened to their favourite toys. The younger sons, Adulazis, 5, and Abdulmutalib, 3, remained mute. The family’s two doves, all they had left, kindly welcomed them from the burnt vineyard.
Worse was to follow. The shock was too much for the pregnant Zulhumar, and she lost her unborn child that day.
At least the neighbourhood was spared the killing. People of different ethnic backgrounds banded together to work out how they could survive the destruction. Soon the Amanbaevs received blankets and clothes for their children from neighbours. Then, they received emergency food aid.
“A couple of weeks ago we shared our food with those who had suffered from a landslide in the neighbouring district. Now we are in need of human mercy,” Zulhumar said.
Nowhere to play
Today, the Amanbaevs sleep in a small shed in their yard, barely sheltered from rain.
When it gets too windy at night, they snuggle close to each other, the family told me. The youngest boy, Abdulmutalib, always seeks his brothers’ or his mother’s cheek to put his hand on to feel safe.”
During the day the boys try to find new ways to enjoy themselves. It is not easy. They are not allowed to go out in the street. They are not allowed to go close to the ruins of their house, as there are many dangers there – pieces of glass and nails on the burned planks. They spent hours in the dirt making play houses and playing with stones.
Prayers for a normal life
At noon, the boys gather around their mother, who cooks a meal on an open fire. The family comes together at the ‘dastarhan’, a place on the ground where they squat to eat.
Every night, they pray before going to sleep. They pray that life will return to normal by fall, that they will have a home and that the children can go back to school.
Very soon, the Amanbaevs will receive toys especially designed to help relieve stress in children. The toys were among the shipments of life-saving supplies that have just arrived in Kyrgyzstan from UNICEF.
In another household affected by the unrest, three-year-old Mustafa – like many other children in Djalal-Abad – could not speak for some days. He still wakes up at night and cries, terrified that the silence will be interrupted again by sounds of shooting, and that unknown people will come with guns and axes to try to kill him and his family.
Mustafa’s grandparents and mother do their best to hide their stress from him and create a safe environment. But his grandparents are both teachers in a school that was also stricken by violence. They have lost everything – their house, their car and a library they had collected all their life. Even more, they lost trust and hope.
The grandfather put a bed on the debris of their house and now sleeps under the open sky. Mustafa stays with the neighbours, along with his mother and grandmother. The family struggles to cope with numerous problems, including where to sleep and what to eat. They also they need to take care of their nephew, who was wounded and now is in the hospital.
Investing in children – and peace
But the most difficult thing is to put a smile again on Mustafa’s face. Even when a ghost of a smile touches his lips, his eyes remain sad from a heavy burden that he carries.
UNICEF’s Representative in the Kyrgyz Republic, Jonathan Veitch, stressed that it is imperative for the government and aid organizations to do everything possible to meet the needs of children like Mustafa and the Amanbaev brothers.
“We must help children now to get back to normalcy,” he said. “This is a long process that has both short-term and long-term objectives. Children need help to overcome traumas and also need support to learn tolerance and respect diversity. This will be the most sustainable investment in peace in the region.”
At the moment, UNICEF is selecting and instructing a group of local psychologists who will start counselling children and family members next week, organizing special sessions with games and art therapy for children in Djalal-Abad and Osh Provinces.