|© UNICEF video|
|The Sharinau Boarding School outside Dushanbe provides a home for orphans and vulnerable children in Tajikistan.|
By Steve Nettleton
SHARINAU, Tajikistan, 23 September 2008 – In the countryside outside Dushanbe this summer, children in shorts and swim suits were leaping into a fountain, squealing with delight. They came from a boarding school for orphans but were spending several weeks in a summer camp where they could take a holiday from their studies and escape the heat.
This experience was a dramatic contrast from several months before, when the children were shivering in unheated rooms, suffering through one of Tajikistan’s worst winters on record.
Unseasonably cold temperatures caused water and electrical systems to fail. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country were threatened with shortages of food and supplies.
Nilufar Haitova, 11, was sent to the school with her sister and two brothers a year ago, after the death of her father. Her mother died when she was six. The siblings had been living with their grandmother, until the family decided it would be better to send them to a boarding school to get a better education.
Nilufar is Uzbek but has quickly mastered speaking Tajik and made new friends. For her, last year’s harsh winter pales in comparison to the loss of her parents.
“Winter was cold but we all had warm clothes,” she said. “Our director tried to keep us warm. You can overcome cold winter. However, you cannot return those who have gone away.”
Sending children to orphanages was standard during the Soviet era and remains a common practice today. About 80 per cent of children in these institutions still have at least one living parent.
Ganjina Pirova, 16, lives at the Sharinau Boarding School, outside Dushanbe. She is not an orphan. Her parents brought her here because they believe the school will offer a much better education than the standard secondary school.
“There are many good things here. For instance, we are visited very often, and the president even visited us! And many other charitable people come here to see and help us,” said Ganjina.
Efforts to reduce the number of children in institutions have succeeded in returning more than 1,500 children to families since 2005, as well as keeping hundreds more from being sent to orphanages. UNICEF aims to support more initiatives by the government and non-governmental organizations to develop alternatives to institutionalizing children.
For now, Sharinau Boarding School and other institutions will continue to provide a home for children like Nilufar and Ganjina, whether they come by choice or necessity.