OSH PROVINCE, Kyrgyzstan, 1 September 2011 – Hundreds of children from Shark village have settled down in the new Tolstoy School following a year-long journey.
After the civil strife that struck Osh Province in June 2010, when their school was burned down, they studied in tents. Then, when winter came, they shared classrooms of the hospitable Sharipov School nearby. Now, they finally they have come back to their home village to attend a newly built school.
“When we studied in tents, it was like an excursion. When it was too hot, we pulled up the walls and we could see fields around us,” recalled Khojiakbar Yanguibaev, 17.
When the students went to Sharipov School, they were taken by bus for their own safety. The school’s director, teachers and students gave them a warm welcome, and UNICEF supported the renovation of classrooms, built new toilets and provided basic school materials.
“Nevertheless, we were always afraid that we would never have our own school back”, confessed Sakhiba Kurbanova, 16. Now all the children’s fears seem to have passed.
Support from UNICEF
Adults have a longer memory of the fears and stress experienced over the past year.
“I had to convene parents six times before they were convinced that it would be safe to let their children go to Sharipov School,” said Tolstoy School director Muradil Moidinov. “UNICEF supported minibuses, which went from house to house to collect children in the mornings and bring them back after school.”
Mr. Moidinov promised the students and parents that a new school would be built. He refused to let the children be dispersed among other Osh schools. “It would have been impossible. The nearest schools are so far away. We are very thankful to UNICEF for all the great support they provided,” he said.
Besides the buses, as well as furniture, school materials and recreation kits from UNICEF, that support came in the form of the tents used as temporary learning spaces.
“Thanks to those tents, we remained together, unlike another school – Hamza – whose children were sent to several other schools,” noted Mr. Moidinov. “This helped me to convince the authorities to start building a new school.”
Difficult issues remain
The new Tolstoy School’s opening was long-awaited in a community that has seen its share of hostility between people of different ethnic backgrounds. For their part, students still remember the old school warmly. “It was like home” said Muazam Mamadjanova, 15.
To make the new building more like home, children have brought in pots of flowers to adorn the windowsills. They are also planting flowers in the beds near the school entrance. In autumn, they plan to plant trees as well.
But there are still difficult issues to address. For example, Mr. Moidinov, the school director, wonders how to accommodate all the children in the growing community.
“I am afraid that in two or three years, we won’t have enough space for all the children,” he said. “I plan to have another building built in the backyard.” Students also hope for additional opportunities for extra-curricular activities and, in particular, languages courses.
Muazam said she wanted to learn Kyrgyz fluently and enter a local university to become a teacher. Mr. Moidinov said he planned to focus on language instruction so that his students can more easily continue their education in post-graduate institutions in Kyrgyzstan and abroad.
New buildings and equipment
Attendance is another issue at the top of the school’s agenda.
“In my class, 5 out of 27 students are still staying with relatives in other parts of Kyrgyzstan,” said Uzbek-language teacher Yuldyz Alimbaeva. “I’ve been calling them and their parents and inviting to come back. When they hear about the new school, they want to return. I hope they will all be back this autumn.”
In addition to the extensive support provided to Tolstoy School, UNICEF has provided furniture, computers and basic school materials to Alimbekov School, another Osh school that has been rebuilt.
Alimbekov student Abbas Aitbai-uulu said he looked forward to studying at the school with new equipment, roofs that don’t leak and classrooms that aren’t freezing in winter.
“I also wish that we had teachers for all subjects there,” he added. “For instance, we don’t have algebra, geometry or physics teachers. For me this is a big problem, because I will need to pass these exams to enter university.”
Access to education for all
While cutting the ceremonial ribbons to open both Tolstoy and Alimbekov Schools, UNICEF Representative in Kyrgyzstan Jonathan Veitch stressed that there is still a long road ahead for the government and its partners to ensure that every child in the country has access to quality education.
“It is a happy moment for the students of the Tolstoy School, but thousands of children are still out of school,” he said.