UNICEF Volunteers continue to bring children rights to their communities in Kyrgyzstan.

Investing time, talent, and spirit to the children in Kyrgyzstan

Miguel Mateos Munoz
Benazir Zhumagulova, 21, UNICEF Volunteer, during the Safe Crossing Campaign.
27 March 2020

Almost two years ago, the UNICEF Volunteer Initiative was launched in Kyrgyzstan, with an initial group of 30 motivated young people investing their time, talent and spirit in the children of Kyrgyzstan. The initiative, within the initial framework of the Safe Schools Programme in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Science, helped organizing emergency drills in schools to keep every child safe. That small group has grown into a fully developed team with 300 Volunteers that has reached over 100,000 children and adults in 2019 – around 1.6% of the population of the country!

Kyrgyzstan is a recent lower-middle income country, in which 38% of the population are children. Social change in the country requires from an intensified work at community level, as certain harmful social norms remain as key challenges for children lives. While UNICEF work in the country focuses mainly in upstream initiatives supporting the Government of Kyrgyzstan, the organization is strengthening the Volunteers programme as a strategy to increase community engagement and address the harmful social norms at local level. The programme works on raising awareness throughout the country, as a first step for more comprehensive communication for development initiatives.

UNICEF Volunteers contribute to the Safe Schools Programme in Bishkek
UNICEF Volunteers contribute to the Safe Schools Programme in Bishkek

Having reached 100,000 children, UNICEF Volunteers have helped provide a better life for children in Kyrgyzstan in a number of areas, working on campaigns for disaster risk reduction, safe crossing, end violence against children and clean air, but most importantly, bringing UNICEF closer, working hand in hand with the communities.

As previously mentioned, many of the challenges faced by children in Kyrgyzstan are linked to social norms - for instance, 74% of children suffer from violence, and one out of 11 girls aged 15-19 is married. Volunteers have the capacity to bring the UNICEF messages on these issues to the level closest to the child as a part of their community, translating and contextualizing the messages and making the change possible.

For many volunteers, the motivation they get at the start of their volunteering journey is reinforced by what they see while working in their campaigns, creating a “virtuous circle”. The more UNICEF Volunteers get involved in the campaigns, the more they see how they can bring change to their communities. For Gulnura Tukeshova, 23, a Volunteer from Naryn (a mountainous region of Kyrgyzstan):

“We [UNICEF Volunteers] are making tremendous changes in our community. For instance, we are running a campaign in schools to end violence against children.

A UNICEF research from some years ago showed that 83% of children face bullying and harassment at schools. Bullying may have life-long consequences on the child's growth. Victims of bullying might get traumatized and they might face mental health issues in the future. They feel insecurity and anxiety at non-safe schools. Our main goal is to reduce school bullying and support children. They can rely on UNICEF volunteers and thanks to our information sessions students are informed about bullying and types of school violence, how to prevent and respond in such situations. I think that informing them about violence and the effects violence have in others is an effective approach to solve the problem”.

Thanks to Volunteers like Gulnura, in 2019, 2,651 children in 30 schools of Kyrgyzstan learnt on the importance to end violence against children, the impact violence has in children and how to avoid it. The campaign was organized jointly with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Education and Science, and the Bishkek Child Support Center under the Bishkek Mayor Office.

Zhalalbek Akmatov, UNICEF Volunteer, plays with children during the Caravan of Children Games in June 2019
Zhalalbek Akmatov, UNICEF Volunteer, helps children during the Caravan of Children Games.

The DRR campaign that kickstarted the programme, which only in 2019 reached 60,565 children, is another good example of these tangible results. The campaign focuses on providing information sessions on DRR and safe behavior skills and supported schools and teachers in conducting emergency drills, as part of a disaster simulation exercise.

Zhalalbek Akmatov, a 20 years old Volunteer from Bishkek, who has been part of the initiative from the start, describes how this campaign brings change: “Once, during our DRR Campaign we were in a school in Bishkek which had had problems in the past with emergency situations. We were supporting the school staff to run an emergency drill, and I felt that our work was making a difference when I noticed how all the classes that had attended Volunteers presentations had learnt not to panic and let the children from primary classes pass first. If an emergency ever happens again in the school, those children will be ready to make a difference”.

Volunteers work is also raising UNICEF brand awareness, but as a first step to raise awareness on the key issues affecting children. – “High school children had heard about UNICEF, but when we were finishing the presentation and asked them what they would remember now about UNICEF, they started adding new points on children rights and UNICEF goals. From this moment, I understood how the work we do is so important to help children to be aware of their rights” says Gulnura Alieva, a 22 years old volunteer from Bishkek.

This connection between the UNICEF Volunteers and the community level is supported by the emotional connection to the work they are doing  - “I can say with confidence that I got a lot more [as a UNICEF Volunteer] than I wanted at the beginning. My original goal was just to do socially important things. At that time, I did not even fully understand the meaning of these words, what exactly is significant in society? What can I do? (…) I can safely say that UNICEF helped me fill the inner void. For me, UNICEF is primarily a place where I got ideas, principles and new goals. Here, I found not only what is significant for society, but also what is important to me. I realized what I want to strive for. I found my way - I found myself” - emotionally describes Ainuska Asanova, a 20 years old UNICEF Volunteer from Osh, South of Kyrgyzstan.

Aisuluu Omurbaeva, 27, from Bishkek, expresses herself similarly: “It is important for me being a volunteer of UNICEF to be useful for every child. When I see the smile of a child, I feel it is the outcome of my mission, and because of that smile, I want to do more and more”.

The connection of the Volunteers with UNICEF mission is so close, that they have also taken a fundamental role in other UNICEF initiatives. For example, the Volunteers participation was key in the Caravan of Children Games, an initiative organized jointly with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports Agency, part of the Tumar Campaign, supported by the President of Kyrgyzstan. The Caravan reached over 7,000 children in more than 20 Kyrgyzstani locations to spread End Violence Against Children messages during June and July 2019.

UNICEF Volunteers from the north of Kyrgyzstan celebrate together the  end of the year during the closing Gala in Bishkek in December 2019
UNICEF Volunteers from the north of Kyrgyzstan celebrate together the end of the year during the closing Gala in Bishkek in December 2019

After almost two years of the Volunteer Programme and a growing number of campaign and initiatives, this connection with the mission and vision of UNICEF has turned UNICEF Volunteers into a core part of the organization. A bond that brings results for children in Kyrgyzstan - “As part of UNICEF, I feel my importance in implementing the objectives and the mission of this organization, and I also feel that my contribution is valuable. I’m glad that I can impact in our society by being a UNICEF Volunteer”, closes Arina Turgunbekova, a 20 years old UNICEF Volunteer of Bishkek.

During 2020, the Volunteer Initiative is growing in Kyrgyzstan, by expanding its range of activities. In addition to topics like disaster risk reduction, or the work to end violence against violence, new opportunities will increase the link between UNICEF Volunteers and the Generation Unlimited initiative

Arina Turgunbekova, UNICEF Volunteer, during her singing performance at the  closing Gala of the UNICEF Volunteer Initiative in Bishkek in December 2019
Arina Turgunbekova, UNICEF Volunteer, during her singing performance at the closing Gala of the UNICEF Volunteer Initiative in Bishkek in December 2019