By Galina Solodunova
OSH, Kyrgyzstan, 13 July 2010 – After weeks of violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, Osh is beginning to witness tiny signs of a return to normal life: The streets are filling up with people and cars. Some rush to the market to buy food, others go to visit their relatives and share their blankets and clothes with those who lost everything.
But there is one vital element missing: the children. Many were sent away by their parents for safekeeping, to stay with relatives in remote villages. Only a few families have started to bring them back.
Ongoing field assessments reveal numerous problems and hardships for children and women – regardless of ethnicity – who suffered the most during the civil conflict that broke out in mid-June and now have a long way to recovery. With this in view, UNICEF has opened an operating base in Osh, 600 km form Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital.
One of first projects for the team is to facilitate psycho-social support for children and help them to learn to play, draw and read again, without fear.
Hard to adapt
Gulnara Kozybaeva, an ethnic Kyrgyz from the city’s Furkat district, has just returned with her six children, who are finding it hard to adapt. They follow her all the time and spend the whole day at home, feeding the chickens or playing close to the tent that they have just received from one of the aid organizations working here.
“I don’t know how they will go to school. They are scared and only feel at ease when we are together in our yard,” says Ms. Kozybaeva.
Another Osh resident, Missiryo Ismanova, an ethnic Uzbek from Cheryomushki district, plans to bring back her three-year-old daughter, who has been staying with other family members. She worries that the little girl suffers from being separated from her parents but is also concerned that there are no children left in the community.
“We have a small part of the house that survived, and my child can stay there with us, but it would be difficult for her to stay indoors all the time,” says Ms. Ismanova. “The kindergarten is not open. Most of my neighbours keep their children with their relatives.”
Centres for children
Ms. Kozybaeva’s and Ms. Ismanova’s families live in temporary homes but are starting to think about the future. They say they welcome an initiative by UNICEF and its partners to open safe places where children can play together and receive counselling. The centres should help families in the community get their children home and restore a stable life for them.
The Ministry of Education and Science has agreed to base 20 such centres at schools. Twenty more locations are being identified in communities and in camps for displaced people in Osh province. UNICEF is playing a major part in equipping these safe spaces by training teachers and psychologists, and helping to set up the rooms, and has already delivered special toys that help a child’s dev.
“Children need a safe space to pick up threads of their lives,” UNICEF Kyrgyzstan Acting Officer-in-Charge Samphe Lhalungpa. “This is a place for them to play, draw, sing and dance and be active together. Communities need these spaces to overcome fear and return to some kind of normalcy.”