Editor’s Note: This publication is also available in Russian.
In Kyrgyzstan, young people who grew up in orphanages now have greater access to needed resources thanks to the advocacy efforts of community-based organization Our Voice, a GFC partner since 2013.
Our Voice helps orphaned youth to successfully transition to life as independent adults. The organization provides emergency housing assistance, medical services, and financial support. In addition to gaining access to essential resources, youth acquire life skills through leadership trainings, financial workshops, and education about their rights and responsibilities.
Our Voice’s founder, Ainura Ormonova, worked at a local orphanage before founding Our Voice. Ainura explained that when orphaned youth “graduate” from the orphanage system at the age of 15, they lose their safety net. With little support from their extended family or community, and little experience navigating societal systems on their own, these youth can find themselves in desperate situations. Many are left homeless, and some break the law in order to survive.
After seeing the existing problems, Ainura founded Our Voice in 2011 and started working with the government to help these youth.
An inspiring example of Our Voice’s influence with the government is its successful effort to ensure that all orphanage graduates can access financial assistance to support their transition to independent adulthood.
In 2014, Our Voice began a project to understand why some graduates were getting no financial support. The goal was to ensure that orphans actually received the state benefits that were legally guaranteed to them. The organization worked with allies and young people to conduct research and learned that half of orphanage graduates were not receiving state benefits. In some cases, the money was never sent to the graduates; in others, youth did not realize they were entitled to financial assistance.
The organization dug into the root of the problem and found an issue in the law itself, which stated that benefits are only given to those orphanage graduates who have death certificates for their parents. Ainura knew that not all children who live in Kyrgyzstan’s orphanages have deceased parents. Some children are considered “social orphans” – their parents are still alive but are unable to support their children for various reasons.
In April 2019, Our Voice and its allies took these research findings to the national parliament, as part of a larger advocacy campaign on this issue. Young people testified about their lived experiences. Recognizing the gap in the system, the parliament approved changes in July 2020, and the president signed the changes into law. Like other orphanage graduates, social orphans will also receive the full benefits.
This victory is giving Ainura hope as her country faces the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has confronted many challenges in the current crisis, but it started issuing payments to graduates at the end of 2020. These payments are an immense relief to young people facing extra financial hardship at this time.
Ainura considers advocacy an essential long-term strategy for Our Voice. “Our organization on its own can only help 50 young people per year,” she reflected, “but with the government’s intervention, legal changes can impact the lives of more than 1,500 youth across the country.”
Our Voice’s advocacy victory demonstrates the power of listening to young people, understanding their experience, and sharing their stories with decision-makers to influence policy changes that expand opportunities for youth to reach their full potential.
Viktoryia Liashchynskaya is a senior at Bryn Mawr College who served as an Advocacy intern at Global Fund for Children during the summer of 2020. Viktoryia is majoring in Spanish and French and is a native Russian speaker. During her internship, Viktoryia used her Russian language skills to complete an interview with Our Voice and share their story.
Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.
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