Interviews with children. January 30, 2008
UNICEF Tajikistan Communication Officer Parveena Muhammedkhajaeva visited schools and hospitals in areas of Rudaki, a district outside and surrounding the capital, Dushanbe, to find out how children were coping with the severe, cold weather conditions in the country. Here’s her account:
“We arrived in Rudaki district at 10:00 am, on Wednesday, January 30, and saw all the roadside shops open and working using small generators for power.
The first school we visited was Number 1, Rudaki district, which has 1,071 students (357 girls, 714 boys). Odinayev Badriddin is the school’s director. He told us school attendance has dropped to around 50-60 percent each day. The first thing that strikes you are the empty brackets on the wall where heaters should be. It indicates the school does not have any centralised heating.
We entered the staff room. Teachers stood up and greeted us, myself and Mr Kholov from the Rudaki District Education Department. They offered us a cup of tea. We politely refused the offer of tea and after our introductions they each complained of the cold and lack of any electricity. They expressed their concern that children have to sit in very cold class rooms and that no government order had been issued to close schools. Teachers have to insist children come to school. For two weeks, school attendance has been low, as many parents are not allowing their children to attend.
Today was sunny, and classes catching the sun through their windows benefited from the welcome source of warmth. Teachers are trying their best to cope in the conditions, with lessons based on activities, rather than the usual focus on blackboard-based teaching and writing exercises. They asked each pupil not to take off their coats, hats, head-dresses and gloves. The school decided to cut the duration of lessons from 45 minutes to 35 minutes.
There is a residential boarding-school next to this school, but we were informed children from the boarding school were sent to visit relatives. The boarding school is home to 289 children: 11 of which are orphans, 178 have one living biological parent (164 of them have no father and 14 have no mother), four of the children are disabled, and 96 are from poor families. The boarding school was closed owing to there being no electricity and a shortage of coal and wood for heater fuel. A director mentioned that he is looking for help to get coal or wood and is waiting for electricity supplies to restart.
Shahnoza Abdulloeva (16): “We have no electricity at home or in school. But our home is quite warm, as my parents stored coal and wood during the summer, because we anticipated a cold winter. However, this year is very cold. Last year my sister and I enjoyed playing in the snow. This years we avoid going outside except when coming to school and collecting water. This is another problem we face this winter, since we have to collect water over long distances.Last week my mother allowed me to attend school, but my younger sister stayed at home because of the cold. I tell Shukrona how it is cold, as she always asks me to tell her about school, and I describe how we cannot write and vapour trails fill the air every time we speak”.
We also visited maternity and children hospitals, which are supplied with electricity and all the wards were warm. Newborn children are kept warm by any possible means. We came across two UNICEF-provided incubators; one was already broken so two premature babies were placed in the remaining incubator. Other babies needing support will be warmed by bottles filled with hot water.
A children’s hospital we visited was supplied with energy, 24 hours-a-day. Mothers say that hospitals have better conditions than homes and children admitted to the hospital are usually diagnosed with diseases resulting from the cold.