One year after the conflict, hundreds of students return to newly built schools, but thousands of others still wait
Kyrgyzstan, Osh Province, 31 August 2011 – Hundreds of children from Shark village have settled down in a new school after a year long journey. After the civil strife of June 2010 when their school was burnt down, they studied in tents. Then, when winter came, they moved to share the building of the hospitable Sharipov School. And finally they have come back to their home village to enter a newly built school.
For the children it has been an adventurous journey. “When we studied in tents, it was like an excursion. When it was too hot, we pulled up the walls and we could see fields around us” said Khojiakbar Yanguibaev, 17. Muazam Mamadjanova, 15, added, “We could spend so much time outside, I even learnt to play football. We had two girls’ teams. It was great fun. I want to continue playing football.” This was not only a novelty for Muazam, but also a gender breakthrough for the whole community.
When they went to Sharipov School, they were taken by school buses for their own safety. “It was a hilarious journey, taking 20-30 minutes every day. We looked around the town, talked to each other and became even bigger friends” said Dostanbek Emakov, 17. “We also made friends in Sharipov School and now keep up our friendship”.
The director, teachers and students of Sharipov School accorded a warm welcome to the Tolstoy School. UNICEF supported the renovation of classrooms, built new toilets built and provided basic school materials. “Nevertheless, we were always afraid that we would never have our own school back”, confessed Sakhiba Kurbanova, 16. Now all their fears seem to have passed and only pleasant things are remembered and discussed.
Adults have a longer memory of the general stress and fears along the journey. “I had to convene parents six times before they were convinced that it would be safe to let their children go to Sharipov School. UNICEF supported minibuses which went from house to house to collect children in the mornings and bring them back after school”, shared director Muradil Moidinov. He often took the same bus and always supported students and teachers.
The director is a unique person who can speak about problems in the language of opportunities. Maybe that is why all his promises and plans come true. These included the construction of the new school building. He refused to let his children be dispersed among Osh schools. “It would have been impossible: the nearest schools are so far away. We are very thankful to UNICEF for all the great support they provided – buses, furniture, school materials and recreational kits for pre-school classes. However, the biggest thing was the provision of temporary learning spaces. Thanks to those tents, we remained together unlike another school – Hamza – whose children were sent to several other schools. This helped me to convince the authorities to start building a new school” he said.
The opening of the new school is an event which has been long awaited. A year ago, at the opening ceremony for the temporary learning space, in the midst of entertaining ceremonial activities and flowers, all parents were crying. None of them could believe that their children would stay and study together close to them. The tense faces of teachers and UNICEF staff contained traces of the sleepless nights when they had to carry the tents themselves from one place to another because of stress and hostility between people of different ethnic backgrounds.
All those troubles seem to be over now. The brand new school building could hardly house all the members of the multiethnic community who have come to thank UNICEF and other partners for their support.
Despite the overall enthusiasm about the new school, children still remember their old school with heartfelt warmth. “It was like home” said Muazam. To make the new building like home, children brought in pots of flowers to adorn the windowsills.
Children are also planting flowers in the flower beds in front of the entrance to the school building. In autumn they are planning to plant trees to cast a welcome shadow.
There are also still issues to address. The director is wondering how to accommodate all the children in the growing community, “I am afraid that in two or three years we won’t have enough space for all the children. I plan to have another building built in the backyard”. Children dream about additional opportunities for extra-curricular activities and learning languages in particular. Muazam wants to learn Kyrgyz fluently and enter a local university to become a teacher of Kyrgyz in this school. Her dream is welcomed by the Director who plans to focus on languages to ensure that his students can continue their education more easily in post-graduate institutions in Kyrgyzstan and abroad.
The issue of attendance is still top of the agenda. “In my class, five out of 27 students are still staying with relatives in other parts of Kyrgyzstan. I’ve been calling them and their parents and inviting to come back. When they hear about the new school, they want to return. I hope they will all be back this autumn,” says Yuldyz Alimbaeva, teacher of Uzbek language.
UNICEF continues to work on issues of access to and quality of education. In addition to the extensive support provided to the newly built Tolstoy school, UNICEF has provided furniture, computers and basic school materials to another school which was also rebuilt.
Abbas Aitbai-uulu from the Alimbekov School looks forward to studying in a new school with new equipment, roofs that don’t leak and classrooms that are not freezing. “I also wish that we had teachers for all subjects there. For instance, we don’t have algebra, geometry or physics teachers. For me this is a big problem, because I will need to pass these exams to enter university”.
Therefore, while cutting the ceremonial ribbons to open Tolstoy and Alimbekov Schools, UNICEF Representative Jonathan Veitch stresses that there is still a long journey ahead for the Government and its partners to ensure that every child has equitable access to quality education in Kyrgyzstan.
“It is a happy moment for the students of the Tolstoy school, but thousands of children are still out of school. We must help the children from the former Hamza School to find a new school of their own” he added.