USAID Youth Program in Bishkek’s “Golden Circle” Yields Promising Results

June 1, 2010

Photos by: Creative Associates International

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Life is hard in Kyrgyzstan’s novostroikas. Existing outside the legal jurisdiction of municipalities established after the fall of the Soviet Union, those living in these “new settlements” face unemployment, dysentery, and hepatitis as part of their daily landscape.

Caustically known as the “Golden Circle,” the novostroikas are the result of an inward migration by rural families to the capital city after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Although it is not known how many families live in these novostroikas, numbers range between 300,000 and 500,000. Residences in the novostroika are largely improvised squatter settlements. For the most part, novostroika families have no electricity or drinking water because they are not “officially” part of the municipality due to regulations dating back to Soviet times. Because of this, for novostroika families, getting medical care or sending children to school means paying bribes.

In 2008, UNDP estimated that 39 percent of the Kyrgyz population is aged from 14 to 34. If recent history is to be considered, they are a force to be reckoned with. It is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of the rank and file who contributed to the upheaval that began on April 7th ousting Kyrgyz President Bakiyev were young people expressing their hopes and frustrations.

“Many people in my novostroika do not have jobs, especially youth. Hence, they have a lot of free time. During the upheaval, me and my friends were offered 500 soms [ $11-12 USD] for us to join the crowd. Some of my friends joined the crowd,” said 19-year old, Bekmyrza Kasymbekov from the Keremet-Talaa novostroika.

In the wake of the April crisis, USAID’s Quality Learning Project developed the Youth AID for Education Program to help young people in the novostroikas that encircle Bishkek. While local NGOs work with the population in the novostroikas, USAID appears to be the first large donor agency at this time of crisis to step in to bolster work being done by local organizations. USAID sees this as a critical opportunity to provide youth with positive choices for their futures, particularly in education.

“The educational angle of the [Youth AID] project is the most important part, because without education and knowledge, one can be a tool of manipulation,” added 18-year old Mairambek Anarbek uulu of Bakai-Ata novostroika.

USAID’s Youth AID for Education Program consulted directly with young people throughout the settlements to understand their needs. Improving in their communities the environment for children and youth were their priorities, including remodeling playgrounds, sports facilities and improving simple buildings to create facilities for youth centers by making furniture since the centers had none. The Youth AID for Education Program has reached nearly 2,000 youth and also sponsors sports tournaments and other social activities to build social and leadership skills and team work.

USAID’s Central Asian Republics’ Mission Director Andrew Sisson visited project sites on May 6, 2010. During Sisson’s visit, he witnessed youth making furniture for the Community Center in Archa-Beshik novostroika and helped cheer on a soccer match between two small communities. After the match, Sisson engaged the local youth in discussion, asking them questions to better understand what they think, value, and stand for. “If you had a chance to ask ONE question to [Kyrgyz Interim President] Roza Otunbaeva, what would you ask?” said Sisson. They responded that they would like Otunbaeva to fix the roads in the novostroikas, not allow nepotism in the country and work for Kyrgyzstan’s young people’s long-term future, not short-term remedies.

“The Youth Aid for Education project initiated recently is so much different than any of the government led approaches,” said Nasirdin Zarlykov, 19, of Keremet-Talaa novostroika. “The Project works directly with vulnerable youth. It is quite dynamic and flexible to accommodate realities of each novostroika. As a result it facilitates consolidation of young people’s potential to building and improving their community.”

Before leaving Sisson asked the soccer players one more question, “What would you tell President Obama to do for Kyrgyzstan at this time?” Their response: “Advocate for peace in the World.”

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