Children of Tien-Shan provides essential services to Kyrgyz kids during COVID-19

By Maria Creamer | July 21, 2020 | Europe & Eurasia | Freedom from Violence & Exploitation, Youth Empowerment

Irina Trofimova founded Children of Tien-Shan two decades ago in Balykchy, a town in western Kyrgyzstan, to provide critical shelter and counseling for children and youth at risk of, or experiencing, neglect and abuse. Because of COVID-19, the organization has had to shift its approach.

Under Irina’s guidance, Children of Tien-Shan works to match the children into safe and caring homes. The organization also provides support to struggling families, helping them to develop the skills to deal effectively with their problems and to keep the family together. Unfortunately, like many GFC partners, Children of Tien-Shan has had to shift its programmatic approach in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

A group of children supported by Children of Tien-Shan. © GFC

The organization’s approach to rehabilitation and family reunification has been significantly delayed due to COVID-19, forcing many young people and families to endure unstable – and often unsafe – family environments. Families that had been growing stronger with Children of Tien-Shan’s personal development programs found themselves once again in precarious circumstances.

“Since many families survived on daily earnings, with the loss of work and the lack of opportunity to earn money, they became more vulnerable. In such urgent situations, it was almost impossible to use the development approach – it was just necessary to help people to survive,” Irina explained.

Since the coronavirus pandemic emerged in Kyrgyzstan, Children of Tien-Shan has had to pivot away from its usual programs and instead is monitoring the effects of the virus on the local community, especially children and youth. Irina shared that quarantine and self-isolation have negatively affected the mental and physical health of young people.

First, many children and youth were already navigating trauma or difficulties within their family homes. The stay-at-home order helps protect children from the virus, but quarantine has exacerbated many existing issues – and in some cases, these issues have prompted young people to take their own lives.

Second, many families and schoolchildren are struggling with distance learning. Not only are families having to restructure their livelihoods, but many cannot afford the necessary learning tools to keep up with the school curriculum.

“Many families do not have access to the internet because it is very expensive here and they cannot afford it. Sometimes they do not have money to buy food, not to mention internet, and even if the children could have access to lessons via TV, they do not have the means to send their homework to their teachers,” Irina said.

Many families received food and hygiene kits from Children of Tien-Shan. © GFC

With the permission of the local mayor’s office, and while observing the necessary safety measures, Children of Tien-Shan has been able to conduct regular visits to distribute food and hygiene kits and provide general wellness checks with a certified social worker. Both kinds of kits have been crucial, since the prices for essential goods have risen, and many household earners are currently unemployed. The food kits include staple ingredients such as flour, vegetable oil, rice, pasta, sugar, cans of stewed meat, condensed milk, and tea.

“We have collected more than 150 food packages with the most necessary food products,” Irina said. “Separately, we delivered hygiene supplies and medicines (vitamins, acetaminophen, etc.).”

As Kyrgyzstan potentially enters the pandemic’s second wave, families fear they will not be able to put food on the table. Teenagers who graduated from school do not know if they will be able to continue their studies or find work. However, Irina and her team continue to provide hope amid the uncertainty.

“There is an understanding that if not us, then who? All this will pass; the restoration will come. Yes, it is a long process, but we are all one human race and we all face this tragedy. We need to help each other to survive,” Irina said.

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