UNICEF helps displaced families start afresh after violence in Osh
By Rob McBride
OSH, Kyrgyzstan, 6 July 2010 – Viewed from the hill that dominates the centre of Osh, it’s hard to imagine the violence that swept through this city in mid-June. The plumes of smoke that hung over the skyline have long since gone, but when you look more closely, you notice the blackened patches of entire neighbourhoods that were burned out.
In one of those charred and ruined streets, members of the Khatamjon family are trying to rebuild their lives. Mr. Khatamjon used to run a small business. Now he puts his stock-taking skills to work as the coordinator of relief aid to his neighbours. He works with his calculator at a tiny table and stool – just about the only furniture in a ruined shell of a building.
“We come here during the daytime, but at night we go and stay with relatives,” he said. “We can’t sleep here. There’s no gas [or] electricity.”
For his three young sons, this is not much of a playground. With many of the other children from the neighbourhood away with relatives and schools closed for summer vacation, there is nothing to do.
“I wish I could go somewhere,” says Muzaffar, 14. “Anywhere would be better than this.”
Safer for families
To make Osh more livable for its young people, UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education to open activity centres in 20 local schools. The centres will give children some structured recreation and help them get back into the rhythm of school ahead of the new school term, which starts on 1 September.
In addition, UNICEF and its local partners are planning to establish child-friendly learning spaces in neighbourhoods around the city, in hopes of drawing children from different ethnic communities to facilitate the reconciliation process.
Ultimately, the hope is that more families will feel safe enough to bring children back from the homes of relatives and friends where they were sent when violence broke out.
Ismanova Missiryo is one of many mothers who endures a forced separation from her child, a three-year-old daughter. Her neighbour, Zakira Kochkarova, has four children who now live away from her. For the moment, they and other neighbours share the one room that is still standing in Ms. Missiryo’s ruined house.
“Everything we had is now gone,” said Ms. Missiryo. “I was left with the clothes I was standing in, my husband and my daughter.” Gradually, they are obtaining the barest essentials once more, with donated clothes and bedding arriving from different sources. And on this day, they have just taken possession of a home water-purification kit provided in a citywide initiative supported by UNICEF.
UNICEF is also working with local partners to restore medical services at the community level.
“There is a problem now to provide the basic health-care services like vaccinations,” said UNICEF Health and Nutrition Officer Damira Abakirova. “Although this emergency is happening, we still have to keep our eyes on the continuing basic health care.”
Added to these problems are the seasonal illnesses associated with a southern Kyrgyz summer, as daily temperatures soar well above 30 degrees Celsius. “When you take into account the displacement, then the diarrhoea cases may be doubled or even tripled this summer,” explained Ms. Abakirova.
Bridging the ethnic divide
Despite the challenges ahead, UNICEF and its partners take encouragement from more and more emerging stories of collaboration across ethnic divides here. Aytiev Saeed has one such story to tell. During the clashes in June, he helped organize convoys that took ethnic Uzbek migrant workers across the border to escape the violence.
“I’m Kyrgyz myself, but we work closely alongside the Uzbeks,” he said. “We get on well together, so why shouldn’t we help them?”
Many of the Uzbeks who left have now returned, feeling that Osh is safe enough. For her part, Ms. Missiryo hopes she can eventually bring her daughter back to live with her again soon.
When recalling last month’s violence, many people in Osh are overwhelmed by their emotions, but Ms. Missiryo’s expression remained resolute. She has already seen and suffered so much, she said, that she has no tears left. But when she talked about her daughter, her composure broke. In this city of tears, she found a few more to shed.