Reaching out to the most disadvantaged and excluded
By Venera Urbaeva
“Nothing brings so much joy as knowing that your work makes a difference in someone’s live” is the life motto of a woman with a heart for her people. Maksuda Tursunova is a dedicated social worker of the Shark municipality of Karasuu district, located in the south of Kyrgyzstan, known as Maksuda eje.
Maksuda is a partner of UNICEF who helps to implement social policies at the local level preventing separation of children from their families. In Kyrgyzstan, around 11,000 children live in over 117 residential care institutions. Ninety four per cent of these girls and boys have at least one or both parents and could have been prevented from entering institutions if an adequate family support service was available.
Maksuda often begins her day with visiting families and their children, which she does among many other responsibilities that she has as a municipal employee. The families she works with have been identified as living “in difficult life situation” as defined in Kyrgyzstan's Child Code, which was recently revised in 2012.
One of the families that Maksuda works with is the Tajikov family, who has four children. The youngest members of the family are Uson and Batma, twelve year old twins. The Tajikov family struggles to make ends meet. Their poverty has affected their everyday life; before, Uson and Batma missed school during the cold winters as they had no winter boots and winter clothing. Additionally, the civil conflict in 2010 affected the Tajikovs: their official documents were destroyed and their father’s poor health still reflects the violent beatings he suffered at the time.
Thanks to the dedicated work of Maksuda, both Uson and Batma now have their birth certificates restored and the family receives social benefits for vulnerable families, which was recently increased from 305 KGS to 464 KGS per child per month (seven to ten USD) thanks to the advocacy efforts of UNICEF and its partners. Moreover, the local municipality provided clothing for the children and financial support. For Sharbu, the mother, it is important to feel that she is not alone with her challenges. She says, “A visit by our social worker is uplifting to me, as I know that there are people with a genuine interest and care for you to help in your situation”.
The focus on prevention is new for social workers. Maksuda stated, “Before I didn’t think of the value of working with vulnerable children and families through proactive work and outreach”. She participated in workshops that were part of the UNICEF supported programme on improving case management and gatekeeping for prevention of child institutionalization, organized by a local NGO partner, “Family to Every Child”. The new knowledge helped Maksuda involve various local authorities and organizations in delivering effective support to vulnerable families like the Tajikovs and prevent school dropouts, family separation and the institutionalization of children. There are 32 cases of families with children in difficult life situation that she is currently working on.
Maksuda has stayed devoted to her job while many of her colleagues have left their jobs in search of better paid opportunities. Maksuda’s dream is that children have happy childhoods in a world where they live embraced in the loving care of their families.
Maksuda’s work is part of the wider efforts of the Kyrgyz Government on piloting a new regulation on the identification and case management of vulnerable children, which aims to help implement the Child Code better. This is supported by the UNICEF project called “Realising children’s right to family through strengthened gatekeeping and development of social services for vulnerable children” co-funded by the European Union and the UK Department for International Development.
Maksuda’s efforts are about small achievements, one step at a time, which in accumulation do bring tangible change in the life of children and their families. And it happens through people like Maksuda, a social worker in rural Kyrgyzstan, acting as an agent of change in her community.
 The new version of the Code enhances gatekeeping and case management to prevent institutionalization of children and brought the Code in line with the internationals human rights standards.