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In the wake of violence, home visits ensure social assistance for families in Kyrgyzstan

By Rob McBride

OSH, Kyrgyzstan, 23 July 2010 – From the outside, the walled compound of the Kozybaeva household looks relatively undamaged, raising hopes that unlike most of the neighbouring houses, this one might be intact. But just beyond the gate is the burnt-out shell of what used to be the family car. And beyond that are the ruins of what was once the family home.

VIDEO: 2 July 2010 - UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on home visits to assess the needs of children and families affected by recent violence in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.


A solitary tent in the courtyard is shared by the entire multi-generational family as they try to rebuild their lives.

Three generations of Kozybaevas – including Shaarkan Kozybaeva, 83, the matriarch of the household, and daughter-in-law Gulnara, accompanied by some of her six children – gathered at the compound recently to greet Kyrgyz Government Social Protection Officers and UNICEF staff. The home visit was part of an effort to better assess the status of families affected by the recent ethnic clashes here – and to give them greater access to social assistance.

Sitting down under the shade of a tree in the courtyard, a case worker took out a pen and notepad, and began asking questions to assess the family’s need for benefits.

Help for worst affected families

Since the terrible events that tore apart this community in the middle of June, UNICEF and its local partners have discovered that families such as the Kozybaevas are sometimes too afraid to venture out to government offices – as they might have done previously – to register for social assistance. And some families have lost all their paperwork in the fires and looting that destroyed so many homes.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1352/Estey
Temirbek, 11, and his sister Akbermek, 6, stand outside their burnt-out home in Furkat district, located in Osh city, southern Kyrgyzstan. The house was destroyed during the recent conflict.

Either way, home visits aim to help families who need help the most.

“Since the emergency started, more and more people are coming to the Social Protection Department,” said Saguyn Mambyetova, a case worker. “So we are looking at ways of speeding up the process of enrolling such families in the social assistance programme.”

Burul Sharshenova, who heads the State Department of Social Protection, has travelled from the capital, Bishkek, to support the work of local colleagues. “We have started to review current legislation for state benefits with a view to simplifying and accelerating the system to help affected families,” she said.

Pressing need throughout Osh

With thousands of families displaced by the violence, their livelihoods and homes destroyed, there is a pressing need for assistance throughout the city of Osh and in neighbouring communities in southern Kyrgyzstan. Very few families here completely escaped the turmoil.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1352/Estey
Temirbek sits in a tent outside his burnt-out home in Furkat district, Osh, Kyrgyzstan. His large, ethnic Kyrgyz family now shares the tent in the courtyard of their destroyed house.

Sahiba is evidence of that. As a senior case worker with the Social Protection Department in Osh, it will be her job to assess households’ needs, based on the number of children they have and their sources of income and assets. But her home, too, lies in ruins.

Judging by its size and the remnants of furniture and possessions left behind, Sahiba’s house was obviously large and comfortable. It was the kind of place that takes a lifetime of struggle to put together – but just one night to wreck. On a visit to see the remains, she was in tears within moments of entering and had to be consoled by her colleagues.

“Now she’s also victim,” said UNICEF Social Policy Officer Gulsana Turusbekova, “and her family should be assessed itself to see if she is now entitled.”

Concerns about education

As UNICEF and its local partners work at many levels to help families recover, other concerns are emerging, as well.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1345/Estey
Sahiba, a government social worker, cries in the ruins of her home in an ethnic Uzbek enclave in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh.

For example, just as some people are afraid to leave home and approach government offices for assistance, they may also be reluctant to let their children attend school. With the new school year due to start on 1 September, this is a major issue.

“When school re-starts, if things are back to normal, then I’ll let them go,” said Gulnara Kozybaeva, back in the courtyard with her children. “But it’s a long way away, so obviously I’m concerned.”

Knowing the important role that regular schooling plays in helping children recover from emergencies, UNICEF is determined that conditions should allow for all children to attend the first day of classes in Kyrgyzstan. The hope is that the greater availability of social assistance in the community will contribute to a sense of stability and, in turn, allow families to keep their children in school.



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