Women’s empowerment in Kyrgyzstan is on the rise. According to U.N. Women, the Central Asian democracy has signed more than 50 international agreements on women’s rights. The Kyrgyzstan government boasts civil, penal, labor and family codes aimed at ensuring equal rights.

Still, there’s a significant need for improvement. U.N. Women in Kyrgyzstan prioritizes fundamental areas such as economic empowerment and ending violence against women. Numerous other organizations and governments are instrumental advocates as well.

On May 27, 2017, Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev signed significant new domestic violence legislation. Domestic violence affects nearly one-third of women and girls aged 15 to 49 in Kyrgyzstan. Local organizations and activists helped to draft and pass the new law, which strengthens protections for victims and affords them new rights. The government now recognizes physical, psychological and economic violence. Victims will soon have recourse to shelter and services for both mental and medical health.

Previously, in 2014, President Atambayev specifically requested support from the U.N. Peacebuilding Fund for student peer education about violence against women. Through the program, youth learn about inequality and crimes such as bride kidnapping and forced underage marriage. Teachers lead a course called “My Safe and Peaceful School,” developed by U.N. Women with support from the Kyrgyzstan Ministry of Education.

Women who win Kyrgyzstan elections are frequently removed or pressured to step down before taking office. After witnessing this happen to dozens of women in a recent election, the International Republican Institute joined forces with the Women’s Democracy Network to coordinate a series of private training sessions for women elected into local Kyrgyzstan councils. The training aimed to increase women’s access to leadership opportunities, culminating in a national forum on International Women’s Day in 2017.

USAID also promotes women’s empowerment in Kyrgyzstan through multiple initiatives. USAID Agro Horizon helps women access agricultural information and services, while USAID Business Growth Initiative provides business and management skills training for women-owned businesses. USAID Dignity and Rights focuses on the elimination of human trafficking. USAID Collaborative Governance Program has a sweeping aim, targeting domestic violence, women’s rights, leadership and entrepreneurship.

In January of 2017, Japan donated $490,000 to the U.N. World Food Programme for women’s empowerment in Kyrgyzstan, particularly for women in rural areas. Over 2,000 households will benefit from the funding, earmarked for the provision of vocational and business training for women. Small family farmers will be included as well, particularly female farmers.

During the ceremony celebrating the donation, Japanese Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Yoshihiro Yamamura, observed that “empowered women benefit societies throughout the world.” The power of international, national and local initiatives is bringing this sentiment to fruition in Kyrgyzstan.

– Anna Parker

Photo: Flickr

The territory of modern-day Kyrgyzstan was once an important stop on the ancient silk road when brave traders needed to pass through the Tian Shan mountains. Today, many of the routes through the mountain passes remain the same.

Kyrgyzstan is a recovering ex-soviet state with infrastructure dating back to its occupation. Landlocked within the mountain range without many natural resources, international trade is difficult. The country uses the resources it does have to its benefit, the government is on good terms with many of its neighbors and as long as the current government does not follow the suit of former leaders, Kyrgyzstan is set to grow. However, infrastructure in Kyrgyzstan must improve along with its economy.

Traveling throughout Kyrgyzstan, although a challenge, is not impossible. Most travel takes place between its northern and southern regions; in the north, Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan is the main destination and in the south, it is Osh, home to one of the oldest bazaars in the world. The capital is home to the nation’s only international airport but because air services do not match the safety specifications of many nations there is not a high demand for international air travel. It is in Bishkek where the main train line runs across the northern border to Kazakhstan.

The railways are the major trade lines in and out of Kyrgyzstan. Many of the roads in the country are not open all year round due to the winter conditions in the mountains. But because 14.9 percent of the economy and 48 percent of the workforce is based on agriculture, the roads are essential since they are the only way for the people to get their goods to a trade hub. The majority of the manufactured goods come from urban industrialized areas. The steep frozen mountains are a blessing and a curse to infrastructure in Kyrgyzstan. The blessing is that 79.4 percent of electricity produced in Kyrgyzstan is hydro-electric. The many rivers and streams that run down from the mountaintops are a perfect environment for generating electricity, cutting down the country’s need to import natural gas and petroleum.

With electricity comes the internet. Currently, around 1.9 million people in Kyrgyzstan use the internet. The number is set to grow over the next decade. With the help of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Kyrgyzstan’s government is working to upgrade its domestic telecommunication systems. Much of the infrastructure in use is dated and left over from Soviet times.

The EBRD is not the only bank interested in improving the infrastructure of Kyrgyzstan. The Asian Development Bank has invested in Kyrgyzstan to help fight poverty and increase the country’s economic growth and sustainability. One way that the ADB is supporting the infrastructure of Kyrgyzstan is by allowing Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation Program. CAREC consists of 11 countries, their goal is economic growth in the region. The ADB is supporting the construction of three major transportation infrastructure projects in Kyrgyzstan. The projects are three of six corridors linking the CAREC countries to each other and the world. Europe, the Mediterranean Sea and Russia all have three major roads running through Kyrgyzstan.

In time, and with a stable government, infrastructure in Kyrgyzstan will improve and Kyrgyzstan will improve as a whole. Hopefully making access to its beautiful landscapes easier for everyone.

 – Nick DeMarco

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in KyrgyzstanKyrgyzstan is a mountainous country located in Central Asia, west of China and south of Kazakhstan. It gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and has had a rocky road, both politically and economically, since.

The GDP of Kyrgyzstan is $5.4 billion and it has the second-lowest GNI in Europe and Central Asia, after Tajikistan. The poverty rate is 32.1 percent. Kyrgyzstan ranks 126th out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index and 66th out of 146 countries on the Gender Inequality Index. Poverty is a relevant issue, and there are three main causes of poverty in Kyrgyzstan.

1. No more Soviet support

Kyrgyzstan does not export many goods, though agriculture is the largest sector. While it has gold deposits that make mining attractive, the deposits do not make up for the other economic deficiencies. When Kyrgyzstan was part of the Soviet bloc, it could count on other Soviet satellite states for market opportunities, specifically on Russia for investment. Since independence, it no longer has this safety net.

Unemployment is 8.4 percent, so many workers leave the country and go to Russia to find opportunities. However, the remittances from former workers are not enough to sustain the economy. The economy has stabilized since the 1990s, but it has a long way to go before it can support the 6 million citizens of Kyrgyzstan.

2. Insufficient agricultural development

Perhaps one of the largest causes of poverty in Kyrgyzstan is its dependence on agriculture despite gaps in knowledge and resources. Two-thirds of the population live in rural areas: however, these people are not adequately trained in land management, animal husbandry, veterinary practices and harvest techniques. This results in land that can no longer produce food and feed animals at full capacity and a group of people who cannot subsist on their agricultural efforts alone.

It is not surprising then that 75 percent of poor people in Kyrgyzstan live in rural areas and that 12 percent of the total population is food insecure.

3. Lack of financial resources

Another result of the Soviet collapse in Kyrgyzstan is weak financial institutions. Financial institutions – such as a strong banking system, investment capabilities, microfinancing and personal finance management – are all key to sustaining economic growth, regardless of the dominant sectors.

Few people, especially those in rural areas, have access to banks and therefore have no ability to invest or save. Even at a national level, money is frequently mismanaged and Kyrgyzstan ranks poorly on the Corruption Perceptions Index.

Kyrgyzstan may have a high poverty rate, but it has made great strides in reducing poverty in recent years. In 2000, the poverty rate was 62 percent: it has since been halved.

Economic and political uncertainty pose barriers to poverty reduction and economic development, but there is hope. The causes of poverty in Kyrgyzstan are not incurable. Since the political revolution in 2010, Kyrgyzstan has been steadily stabilizing and there is no reason to believe it won’t continue reducing its poverty rate.

Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is a small country of just over 5.5 million people. Geographically, Kyrgyzstan is located west of China and is slightly smaller in land mass than South Dakota. As with most small countries, the Kyrgyzstani people face problems that more developed nations do not face. Nations in situations like that of Kyrgyzstan often are unable to completely help their impoverished citizens, and need others to lend a hand. If wondering how to help people in Kyrgyzstan, read on to learn more.

Children

One group of people that is highly vulnerable to impoverishment, and certainly less able to help themselves, is the children. In Kyrgyzstan, this is no exception. Ethnic fighting in the nation, particularly in Osh and neighboring areas, has resulted in the displacement of an estimated 400,000 people from their homes. Children are often the most severely affected by this upheaval.

Save the Children is a group dedicated to protecting the lives of children, as their name indicates. Save the Children is also one of the few international humanitarian agencies operating in the small nation of Kyrgyzstan. As such, this organization provides life-saving assistance to the people affected in the fighting in Osh, particularly to the children.

Some of the ways in which Save the Children has helped the Kyrgyzstani people is through providing food, removing rubble, providing protection and giving non-food items and help in general to the livelihoods of the affected. Save the Children’s emergency response program has reached more than 250,000 people, most of whom are refugees fleeing to Uzbekistan.

Donations are a great way to support organizations like this, and give a readily available option to those looking to help people in Kyrgyzstan here and now. For Save the Children, a positive way to assist is through the Children’s Emergency Fund. The Children’s Emergency Fund enables Save the Children to respond immediately and effectively to situations like the fighting that occurred in Osh.

Nutrition

Other problems faced by impoverished nations like Kyrgyzstan are nutrition and food insecurity. This is especially the case when one takes into account the rural and agrarian aspects of Kyrgyzstani society.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is an organization that looks to tackle the problem of hunger and inadequate nutrition around the world. The WFP is dedicated to delivering food assistance during emergencies, providing food to the hungry and working with communities to build nutritional resilience.

In Kyrgyzstan, the WFP has helped locals in a number of different ways. A farmer named Osmon Kabulov, a Kyrgyzstani native, tells the WFP community that he is “excited by the prospect of a better harvest” due to the installation of multiple water reservoirs. Other examples of how the WFP has helped the Kyrgyzstani community include providing school meals, teaching families about proper nutrition and giving food and other assistance in farming. This is yet another organization to look into regarding how to help people in Kyrgyzstan.

Like Save the Children, WFP is always in need of donations as well. For those looking to be a little more immersed in providing assistance to the people in nations like Kyrgyzstan, volunteering with WFP is a good option. This gives people seeking to help those less fortunate a much more involved experience, as well as the ability experience new places. Find out more information, including the volunteer application form, on the official website of WFP.

Stephen Praytor

Photo: Flickr

Why Is Kyrgyzstan Poor

Once known as one of the great crossroads of the Silk Road, the mountainous Kyrgyzstan lies in Central Asia. After being controlled by a rotating series of tribes and clans, the country finally gained sovereignty in 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Since its inception, the nation-state of Kyrgyzstan has made economic progress, but there have been serious obstacles during the transition. So, why is Kyrgyzstan poor?

Kyrgyzstan is undoubtedly a low-income country as it has the second lowest Gross National Income (GNI) in Europe and Central Asia and 32 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. There is also a significant wealth disparity between the urban and rural populations, with 74 percent of the country’s poor living in rural areas.

Kyrgyzstan’s economy heavily depends on farming which accounts for about one-third of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Furthermore, 48 percent of the workforce is employed in agriculture and 55 percent of the farming output comes from household plots where many individuals participate in subsistence farming.

Kyrgyzstan is only able to export cotton and tobacco as the country has few natural resources desired by the rest of the world. While there are untapped coal deposits and a major gold mine in the country, there has been little done to take advantage of these resources.

When asking “why is Kyrgyzstan poor?” one of the most important factors to be considered is the severe lack of access to proper banking and financial services. There has been little competition between large commercial banks, and the country has continued to rely on imperfect Soviet methods for accounting and banking. Furthermore, the Kyrgyz Revolution of 2010 led to the discovery of high-level corruption in the banking sector. In fact, over $170 million or 10 percent of the country’s assets, was stolen by the former president’s son.

As a result of these serious issues with the banking infrastructure, many living in Kyrgyzstan do not have access to banking services, preventing investment and economic growth. There is also a lack of services crucial to aiding entrepreneurs, such as credit risk assessments and bank loans.

To find a solution to the question “why is Kyrgyzstan poor?” the country’s government needs to implement reform that leads to the creation of an effective, corruption-free banking system and the diversification of the domestic industry.

Akhil Reddy

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in KyrgyzstanOn June 27, the European Union hosted representatives from the Kyrgyz Republic in Brussels for the eighth installment of its annual Human Rights Dialogue, discussing human rights in Kyrgyzstan. Much of the conversation centered around improving existing structures within the Republic, as well as implementing new legislation to benefit certain groups’ rights. The EU representatives stressed the importance of reform of Kyrgyzstan’s judiciary system as well as praised the introduction of new bills to protect the rights of women and children.

Earlier in June, U.N. secretary-general António Guterres made remarks about his belief in the importance of increased responsiveness in public service, particularly in regards to supporting and protecting the poor and marginalized.

Guterres promised continued U.N. assistance to Kyrgyzstan and expressed his confidence that it will lead the way in this sector: “I am also sure that Kyrgyzstan will play a very important role in what I hope will be future developments in Central Asia for better cooperation, better integration among the different countries and peoples of [the region] to guarantee its prosperity and its development,” he said.

According to Amnesty International’s 2016/2017 review of human rights in Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyzstan has some progress to make on the home front before it can turn to leading the region. Torture and ethnic violence are common, and when taken to court the cases are often stretched out over months or years.

Domestic violence against women and children is widespread, with more than 4,960 cases of domestic violence reported to authorities between January and October of 2016. A mere 158 of these reports led to prosecution. Many women, due to social stigma and inability to support themselves independent of their husbands, do not feel confident in going to the police, which suggests that the number of actual domestic violence cases is even higher.

Human Rights Watch reports that amendments to Kyrgyzstan’s constitution are currently pending after a December 2016 referendum, and are supported by nearly 80 percent of voters. These amendments could greatly strengthen the executive branch at the expense of Kyrgyzstan’s parliament and its judiciary, which several organizations believe will lead to increased discrimination and a superseding of domestic over international law.

Amnesty International notes that one of these new amendments establishes a family as being founded on a marriage between a man and a woman, a distinction not made in the current constitution. Members of the LGBT population, as well as other marginalized and stigmatized groups such as sex workers, face widespread abuse and discrimination, the majority of which goes largely unacknowledged and unpunished.

A bill that would have made positive language, or “propaganda,” about “nontraditional sexual relationships” illegal was voted down for the second time. Kyrgyzstan has also recently voted against a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution that would have implemented an independent expert to evaluate the treatment of LGBT people.

Kyrgyzstan joined the U.N. Human Rights Council in early 2016, around the same time as it was awarded the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+), which, Human Rights Watch states, “[The GSP+] grants tariff reductions for improved human and labor rights and environmental protections.”

Following the nation’s induction to the Human Rights Council and the GSP+, the EU states that it “expects the Kyrgyz Republic to fully implement the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee.”

The next Human Rights Dialogue between the EU and Kyrgyzstan is scheduled to take place in Bishkek sometime in 2018. In the meantime, Kyrgyzstan has an upcoming election, as well as the results of further constitutional referendums. Both of which could affect the nation’s willingness to work with the EU and the U.N. to strengthen human rights in Kyrgyzstan.

Erik Halberg

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in KyrgyzstanKyrgyzstan is a Central Asian country with 6.5 million inhabitants. It has registered positive changes in living standards in the past decade. In fact, it ranks 35 out of the 117 countries evaluated in the 2019 Global Hunger Index, and unlike nine years ago, the threat of hunger is considered low. Despite this progress, Kyrgyzstan faces challenges in pursuing the U.N. Sustainable Development Agenda on eliminating hunger and improving nutrition. Here are four facts about hunger in Kyrgyzstan and how it is being nationally addressed.

4 Facts About Hunger in Kyrgyzstan

  1. Poverty Causes Malnutrition. As many as 1.5 million Kyrgyz citizens live on less than $1.30 a day and tend to purchase cheaper, nutrient-deficient food items to save money. Spending more than 50% of one’s earnings solely on food is commonplace. Many households cannot afford to expand their food budgets further to sustain a healthier diet. In turn, the resultant high consumption of starchy food is responsible for such nutritional problems as vitamin and mineral deficiencies in children and stunted growth among infants. The pandemic and the concomitant economic downturn risk impoverishing another 1.8 million as domestic businesses lose profits and remittance payments from Kyrgyz citizens working abroad, amounting to nearly 30% of the annual GDP, have declined.
  2. Geography Matters. Another obstacle to eradicating hunger in Kyrgyzstan is its geography. The country is mostly covered by mountains, which makes large-scale crop cultivation difficult without sophisticated infrastructure. Cold winters and hot, dry summers undermine agricultural yields, and restricted access to equipment and funding prevents producers from implementing better irrigation and fertilizing techniques. In turn, this results in Kyrgyzstan importing much of its essential food. Those who reside in the vast remote mountainous areas account for two-thirds of Kyrgyzstan’s population. Many are subsistence farmers. They grow crops to ensure that their families do not starve, rather than to generate income from selling them. Their yields equally suffer from geographical limitations and weather conditions, particularly floods and mudslides, and hunger remains a major concern for them.
  3. Malnutrition Mostly Affects Children. Hunger severely affects the wellbeing of local children. Around 13% of Kyrgyz children aged below the age of five experience stunting and 43% of the same demographic suffer from anemia. In 1997, every fourth infant was affected by the former, and every second by the latter.  By 2011, malnourishment affected around 18% of children. Despite noticeable diminution of Kyrgyzstan’s stunting and anemia rates, malnutrition continues to have lasting consequences. With nutrient-deficient diets, children fail to receive the vitamins and minerals required for their growth and development. This may impact their physical and mental capacities in the future and restrict their career prospects.
  4. Progress Continues. Kyrgyzstan has already achieved plenty in fighting hunger, and further progress is in the making. In 2018, its National Statistics Committee adopted the Food Balance Sheets to examine the national food supply, the kinds of foods being eaten and whether the food supply meets the population’s nutritional requirements. This constitutes an important step toward accurately measuring the prevalence of undernourishment, as prescribed by the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal No. 2: Zero Hunger. They should demonstrate the proportion of the nation whose habitual food consumption does not offer the dietary energy required to live a healthy and active life. To aid in this, the World Food Programme has remained active in Kyrgyzstan. It has distributed 2,000 tons of food assistance to 64,000 poor Kyrgyz citizens and provided 53,000 children with take-home wheat flour rations. The program is likewise partnering with the state to introduce hot meals into the nation’s 2,200 primary schools and is supporting rural farmers with food, funding and training in cultivation, harvesting and sustainable management of resources.

Further Progress and Aid

UNICEF is also conducting humanitarian aid in Kyrgyzstan. Its work focuses on bettering child nutrition and has incentivized several breakthroughs in this field. Under its guidance, the country developed its inaugural National Food Security and Nutrition Strategy that directs government efforts to address hunger in Kyrgyzstan and offers children vitamins and minerals to fight malnutrition-induced iron-deficiency anemia. UNICEF first introduced the project in the Talas province, resulting in a 26 % drop in anemia rates between 2009 and 2010.

Shoring up these efforts are those of smaller nonprofit organizations, including the Red Crescent Society Kyrgyzstan and the Aga Khan Foundation. The former runs an urban school designed to encourage “social integration and rehabilitation” for street children. Most of these children come from impoverished and food-insecure backgrounds. The school cares for 30 children. The latter has pioneered the Mountain Societies Development and Support Programme, working with 440,000 rural Kyrgyz residents. The program links farmers to microfinancing companies and helps them to improve productivity and manage their livestock. Additionally, it has provided some 60,000 livestock-owning families to access veterinary points and breeding services.

These four facts about hunger in Kyrgyzstan show that the country has yet to eradicate hunger entirely. Local poverty rates and geographical landscapes complicate this task, affecting the wellbeing of the Kyrgyz children. However, the government and the nonprofit sector remain actively involved in alleviating hunger, striving for positive change.

Dan Mikhaylov
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in KyrgyzstanEighty-two percent of the world’s urban population has access to clean drinking water. This fact may sound impressive until it is juxtaposed with the 51 percent of the world’s rural population without the same benefit. In total, that’s 2.4 billion people without access to proper water sanitation. In Kyrgyzstan, a country in Central Asia, about 64 percent of the population lives in rural areas. Water quality in Kyrgyzstan is, therefore, a major threat to everyday life. Here are some facts about water quality in Kyrgyzstan:

  1. Of the 1,805 rural villages in Kyrgyzstan, 595 do not have access to centralized drinking water, and 390 have no water supply networks at all. Instead, people drink from open water sources.
  2. The 150,000 people in those 390 villages depend solely on aryk for drinking water supply. Aryk water is from open irrigation channels that are vulnerable to contamination from animals, debris and trash. Even something as simple as leaves falling into the aryk in autumn significantly increases the number of acute waterborne diseases.
  3. In villages without access to clean water, homes, schools and hospitals must all collect water in buckets. The water should be filtered through cheesecloth and then left overnight to let the dust settle to the bottom. Finally, the water should be boiled. Unfortunately, those without the time or patience to go through this process pay the unfair price for skipping steps.
  4. The poor water quality in Kyrgyzstan offers an ideal breeding ground for diseases. Consumption of contaminated water causes 24 percent of acute intestinal infections due to parasites and 86 percent of typhoid cases.
  5. The impacts of climate change also threaten the water quality in Kyrgyzstan. The average rise in temperature in Kyrgyzstan due to climate change is three times higher than the global average. This climate change can cause droughts and therefore, a lack of water for the population.
  6. Glaciers cover 4.2 percent of the land in Kyrgyzstan. Glaciers can often be a steady source of water. However, one impact of climate change is the transformation of glaciers into glacial lakes. The accumulation of such mass amounts of water in unprepared terrain leads to the threat of mudslides, landslides and floods, all of which threaten water supply and water quality in Kyrgyzstan.
  7. Thankfully, Kyrgyzstan’s government has taken notice of the water crisis in its abundant rural regions. In 2017, the government launched a new program to develop the water supply and sanitation sector. The program, called “Ala-Too bulagy,” allocated $51 million toward the program’s implementation in the areas of Osh, Chui, Issyk-Kul and Jalal-Abad.
  8. The World Bank has already promised to allocate $36 million to the “Ala-Too bulagy” program in its second stage beginning in 2018.

While the “Ala-Too bulagy” program holds much promise for the future of water quality in Kyrgyzstan, the situation in the country’s rural communities is much too dire to simply write off the issue as resolved. Further efforts to both increase water supply and sanitation services and decrease the effects of climate change are necessary to help Kyrgyzstan and the countless other nations affected by the global water crisis.

Sophie Nunnally

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is a small, mountainous country, landlocked amongst countries that spent most of the 20th century under Soviet rule. Hunger in Kyrgyzstan is an issue that overshadows the progress the country is making.

Of Kyrgyzstan’s six million citizens, 30 percent live in poverty. Twelve percent of the population is food-insecure with 43 percent of children under five suffering from anemia. Thirteen percent of this under five population have stunted growth from malnutrition.

Two-thirds of Kyrgyzstan’s population lives in the countryside where agriculture is the main source of income. The fragmentation of the small family farms, however, inhibits overall production from reaching the scale necessary to meet the market demand.

Farmer-to-Farmer is a five-year program introduced in 2013 by USAID designed to bring technology transfer innovations to Kyrgyzstan’s agricultural sector through short-term technical assistance. The goal of the USAID program is to generate economic growth with person-to-person assignments. The farmers of Kyrgyzstan learn such things as new pruning techniques, ways to improve cold storage management or food safety standards. The volunteers who arrive in Kyrgyzstan gain a better understanding of U.S. foreign assistance outside their country.

A bright spot in Kyrgyzstan is its 99 percent literacy rate and the fact that gross primary school participation is 100 percent. One way to conquer hunger in Kyrgyzstan, as well as childhood malnutrition, is to improve school meals. The U.N. World Food Programme funded a pilot project called School Meals Optimization, which provides culinary training and kitchen equipment to schools. It also aids in renovating school cafeterias and helps schools establish vegetable gardens to source their fruit and vegetables. By 2015, more than 62,000 primary school students in 260 schools received a nutritious, hot meal during the school day, almost six times the number of students in the project’s first year. The program has since expanded to all schools across the country.

The focus on healthy, nutritious meals is gaining momentum in this former Soviet satellite. Recently, 20 school chefs from across the country were chosen to meet in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, for a competition and a master class with one of Kyrgyzstan’s top chefs. They spent one day cooking vegetables, pureeing soups and making chicken fricassee among other things, all using affordable local produce. On day two, all 20 chefs competed to make a three-course meal in 90 minutes using ingredients from a mystery basket. These competing chefs can attack the issue of hunger in Kyrgyzstan in a positive and productive manner.

The students of Kyrgyzstan also emulate the healthy, nutritious meals they enjoy when they graduate from the classroom into society. They are building a foundation to help decrease hunger in Kyrgyzstan for future generations. Through their efforts, the future for Kyrgyzstan’s food security looks bright.

Jene Cates

Photo: Flickr

Current Education in Kyrgyzstan
Many formerly Soviet-controlled nations struggle to this day to bolster strong national institutions and free compulsory education. Kyrgyzstan has proved one of the most difficult to satisfactorily supply.

Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kyrgyzstan’s economy and industry were regulated by Moscow. Since Soviet disbandment, the nation has painstakingly transitioned toward a free market economy, which has had severe effects on the economy. Economic and governmental instability of Kyrgyzstan over the past 25 years leave 41 percent of the population below the poverty line, with many living on less than two dollars per day.

Kyrgyzstan’s challenging post-Soviet renovation undermined the nation’s education system. With more and more families slipping into poverty, many required every household member to work and contribute to sustaining the family, and schooling became a kind of luxury. Simultaneously, the staggering government could ill afford to provide effective educational benefits. With limited resources, the government reduced compulsory education to nine years and passed on the responsibility of funding schools to local governments and parents.

Poor access to education in Kyrgyzstan impedes the restoration of the educational system. Costs of schooling continue to rise while educational quality remains quite low. School infrastructures are deteriorating, discouraging students from attending and the cost of mandatory uniforms for primary school students deters poorer families from participating at all.

Teachers in Kyrgyzstan are underpaid and poorly trained, and with a student to teacher ratio of one to twenty-four, they are likewise over-burdened. The result is a student body that remarkably underperforms in science, mathematics and reading.

As concerns educational equity, there are hardly discernable discrepancies between boys and girls in school. However, the incongruities between urban and rural students are highly problematic. The difference is most drastic in pre-primary and secondary school students; about three times as many urban students attend pre-primary and secondary school than their rural counterparts.

After Kyrgyzstan gained independence in the 90’s, almost 75 percent of pre-primary schools closed for lack of funding, and to this day less than 25 percent of students benefit from early learning institutions. This lack of early education has exacerbated the low performance in attendance of primary schools in Kyrgyzstan, for early childhood stimulation enhances the intellectual and social development necessary to succeed in school.

Since 2015, UNICEF and the Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic have worked to address the severe dearth of pre-primary and early learning schools throughout the country. Throughout the nation’s rural and underprivileged communities, 17 new kindergartens servicing more than 1,000 children have opened. These new facilities will be essential to expanding school readiness to rural Kyrgyzstan.

The World Bank has also implemented a project to improve the current education in Kyrgyzstan called Sector Support for Education Reform. The $16.5 million program will improve the management and accountability of schools, enhance teacher training and make Kyrgyz students better learners. By its conclusion in 2018, the plan should “reduce poverty, promote economic growth, and encourage a better quality of life.”

Robin Lee

Photo: Flickr