TAJIKISTAN: Abduholik Kamolov, Tajikistan, “Instead of going to school I work as a shoe polisher to help my Mum”

TAJIKISTAN: Abduholik Kamolov, Tajikistan, “Instead of going to school I work as a shoe polisher to help my Mum"

Photo: Fakhriniso Qurbonshoeva/IRIN
Eleven-year-old Abduholik (centre) refused to have his picture taken while working but rather asked for a "dignified photo" with his friends

DUSHANBE, 14 May 2007 (IRIN) – Every morning 11-year-old Abduholik Kamolov buys his supply of shoe polish. Originally from Vahdat district, 27km southeast of Dushanbe, he travels to the capital city with his mother, who carries milk and eggs for sale. With the little money he earns from shoe cleaning, he contributes to his family income.

“There is no flour at home to bake bread, and very little food. In our family we are often hungry. We eat meat only on holidays. We can only dream of good food or see tasty food in advertisements. There are seven in our family – my mother Saida, an older brother of 16 called Shokir, two sisters of 14 and 12, myself and two younger sisters of nine and eight. We eat food twice a day, in the morning before we go out to work and in the evening, when everybody gathers together. We have chickens at home but we take all the eggs to market. We sell eggs and milk to buy flour, rice, macaroni and soap. We may not afford sugar for months on end.

“There are very few places where one can earn good money in our village. A lot of people from our village left for Russia to look for jobs.

“My Dad migrated to Russia as well. While he was working on construction sites he was sending home about US$200 every three months for our family and relatives. But as a result of the hard working conditions and very cold climate he fell ill. He could not afford to get treatment there. He was ill for a long time and then died there. Now we have no one to feed our family.

“My mother is uneducated thus it is difficult for her to find a job and earn daily bread for her children. My mother suffers a lot. She often has to borrow sugar, tea and vegetable oil from relatives and neighbours. If she has to borrow frequently she sends us to them. She says she is embarrassed.

“My mother cannot pay for us to go to school or buy all the supplies necessary for studying. I am ashamed of my old clothes and shoes and do not go to school, especially when it is freezing cold in the winter. It gets so cold in the classroom that I cannot hold a pen in my hand.

''As a result of the hard working conditions and very cold climate [in Russia] he [my Dad] fell ill. He could not afford to get treatment there. He was ill for a long time and then died there. Now we have no one to feed our family.''

“Shokir dropped out of school upon completion of the ninth class because our mother needed help to support the family. He washes cars out on the main highway. He is paid 2-3 somoni [about 58 US cents] per car.

“To help my mother, I have started working as a shoe polisher. I make 30 diram [about 9 US cents] per client. On average I have 13 to 15 clients per day. I buy daily two tubes of polish – brown and black – each costing 1 somoni. The rest of my earnings I give to my Mum.

“My four sisters stay at home to help with housework. Their poverty is obvious from their clothes, footwear and general appearance. The only clothes available are very old. Our family cannot afford soap to wash clothes either.

“I was sick with flu last winter. After that my ears started to ache all the time. The doctor said I needed further medical treatment. But medicines are expensive. My mother is trying now to heal me with traditional medicines.

“I want the factories, plants and farms to start working again so our brothers and fathers will come home, and their children will be able to study.“


TAJIKISTAN: New studies reveal major gap in HIV/AIDS awareness among youth

TAJIKISTAN: New studies reveal major gap in HIV/AIDS awareness among youth

Youth HIV peer educators meeting in Tajikistan

DUSHANBE, 19 April 2007 (IRIN) – The results of two surveys released this week in Tajikistan warn of low levels of HIV/AIDS awareness among young people and a lack of knowledge about preventive measures.

One of the studies, conducted between November 2006 and January 2007 with support from UNAIDS, found that 77 percent of respondents between the ages of 15 and 24 had heard of the HIV virus, but only a little over half knew how to protect themselves from infection. The majority of HIV-infected people are between 24 and 39 years old.

"Although rapidly increasing HIV infection is already a serious concern, the low level of HIV awareness among young people is making it even more alarming," said Maria Boltaeva, the UNAIDS Country Officer.

Another survey, funded by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and conducted at the same time, reported that some 76 percent of street children had no knowledge of HIV prevention and treatment programmes, while almost all (95 percent) sexually active street children – mostly those in their late teens – engaged in casual sex.

More than 52 percent of Tajikistan’s 7 million citizens are under the age of 19, with street children estimated at between 8,500 and 9,600.

"The reality of well-known risk factors and current [poor] medical and social conditions in Tajikistan are causing real concern. If not addressed, it could lead to a rapid spread of infection," said Amonullo Gaibov, secretary of the newly established National Consultation Commission on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

"The results of the surveys show that those measures implemented to prevent HIV infection in the country are not very focused, and there is a need to change our approach and adjust existing projects and programmes," added Gaibov.

Tajikistan has a relatively low HIV prevalence of 0.1 percent but is experiencing a steady rise in the number of infections. The total number of registered cases in 2004 was 317, but the most recent UNAIDS estimate puts the number of infections at 4,900. Injecting drug usage is the main mode of transmission, accounting for some 70 percent of all cases.

Boltaeva of UNAIDS said 55 patients had reportedly died of AIDS-related diseases since the registration of HIV cases began in 1991.

Tajik street children help each other

By Roxana Saberi
BBC News, Tajikistan

Qarchibeko and Jemayev talking to Olim

Committee members Qarchibeko and Jemayev talk to Olim

On most afternoons, Ma’ruf Jemayev swaps his school tie and sweater for second-hand clothes, and his classroom dialect for the lingo of the streets of Dushanbe.

His goal is to convince the street children of Tajikistan to pursue a better way of life by reaching out to them as one of their own.

"I want street kids to see that I know what it’s like to be one of them," says the 16-year-old, who used to wash cars to earn some cash.

"I tell them they can choose a better way of life by getting off the streets."

Jemayev belongs to Tajikistan’s Republic Centre of Information and Orientation of Youth, a UN-backed committee of young people dedicated to taking kids off the streets of Dushanbe.

"If our young people are uneducated, tomorrow our country will ask them for help, and they won’t be able to give it. Then our country will not develop

Ma’ruf Jemayev

After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which used to send economic aid to this former Soviet Republic, Tajikistan suffered a devastating civil war.

While the war ended nine years ago, children in this central Asian country continue to battle against poverty.

The United Nations says 64% of the population lives on less than $2.15 (£1) a day.

Many Tajik children drop out of school to work and end up falling into drugs, crime or prostitution.

Back to school

Members of the youth committee reach out to these children by telling them they do not have to work and live on the streets, and that going back to school is the key to a better future.

Their efforts seem to be working.


Many street children have left their jobs washing cars or peddling goods in the bazaar and have gone back to school.

Several have joined the youth committee, where they receive $20 a month and learn about computers, languages and leadership skills.

The committee has expanded from 20 children two years ago to around 60 today, organiser Sukhrob Kurbonov says.

"Street kids have their own rules and don’t allow just anyone close to them," he says.

"Because these kids we work with were from that group, they can speak to them more easily and get information from them. We wanted to know why these kids start stealing and begging and what problems they face."

Committee members say a lot of street children they meet left home either to get away from domestic violence or to make money.

"The main problem of these street kids, who steal, loiter and wash cars, is economic," says 16-year-old Firdows Qarchibeko.

"They think only of today and not tomorrow. They just wash cars and don’t improve their lives."

Cotton fields

Igor Bosc, deputy resident representative at the United Nations Development Programme in Dushanbe, says life used to be better for many Tajik young people.

"The Ministry of Education has nothing close to the sort of budget that the Ministry of Education had in Soviet times," he said.

School classroom

Youngsters are encouraged to pursue an education

"That is of course a pity, and it’s the children who suffer."

"They drop out of school, or they work in parallel," Bosc said. "In rural areas they’re often doing a lot of the agricultural work, and they’re working in the cotton fields."

So members of the youth group, like Jemayev and Qarchibeko, spend most evenings trying to get street children indoors.

One Friday afternoon, they find 16-year-old Olim washing cars near the city bazaar.

"I wash five or six cars a day," says Olim, who did not want to give his last name.

"I come from a family of five kids. My father works in Russia, and my mom stays at home. My four brothers and I wash cars to make money."

Olim tells Jemayev and Qarchibeko he earns the equivalent of $3 per car.

After their talk, Qarchibeko says he believes he has convinced Olim to join the youth committee.

"I told him if you like, you can join the committee, and you can study again, and he said he would like that," Qarchibeko says.

Jemayev believes the committee’s work is important for the future of Tajikistan.

"If our young people are uneducated, tom
orrow our country will ask them for help, and they won’t be able to give it," he says. "Then our country will not develop."

Bash Street Kids

Bash Street Kids

Friday 6th – sometime in the afternoon

After doing the Sir Humphry bit on Mr Semenko, we were then off to another couple of presentations from the AgeNet Network partners.  The visit that really captured our hearts though was at the end of the day with the ‘Center for the Protection of Children’ in Bishkek.  Mira Itikeeva, the founder and director of the centre took us through the issues.

_mg_0722_extracted_1The centre has been working for the short and long term needs of street children since 1988.  There are no official estimates about the size of the problem in Bishkek, but regular surveys estimate the number of street and working children to be 2,000.

The centre works with 300 such children each year and 180 families of working children.

There’s no such concept as adoption or fostering in Kyrgyzstan, so it was a tough choice between the street or an orphanage before the centre was set up.  The centre now looks after children between the ages of 6 – 16 (most of the working children are over 12) and teaches them life skills and independent living alongside education and psychological care.

The children are often from families of migrant workers.  Where they do have a home, it’s an exaggeration to use the word.  ‘Home’ for these children is a single unheated room shared with the entire family.  There are no utilities and precarious rent arrangements.  Heat is provided by burning rubbish on the floor.  The girl children are often even worse off as they are expected to care for their siblings – the families do not see this as a proper job.

Many of the working children can be worked 8 – 12 hours a day and the payment is negligable for the portering and shoe cleaning tasks they’ll be expected to do at the local markets.  Around 50 – 70 soms per day (US $1.21 – $1.70) for the ‘good jobs’.   Many children are simply forced to collect bags and waste – and are paid 5 soms (12 US cents) per kilogramme.   You try collecting a kilo of carrier bags to see how futile this work is…

Exploitation of children = poverty
Poverty = exploitation of children

The equation is that simple.

Some of the children are so accustomed to being on the streets that they don’t want to be inside.  There’s no such thing as social workers here, so the centre runs a street outreach programme.  Once at the centre, a peer to peer mentoring scheme helps teach the children about STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) and drug abuse.  The centre also tries to work with the parents – as there’s no use helping the children and delivering them back to an abusive environment (abuse isn’t always physical – neglect is just as damaging).

The statistics were moving enough.  Then we got to meet the children.   They were like children anywhere – alive for the camera, excited at foreign faces, eager to show us what they’d done.  Look at their faces in the photo album (link on right) and they might challenge your perceptions of what poverty looks like, but trust me these boys are as much in need of help as many African children we often see in the more ‘traditional’ development literature.

_mg_0728_extractedAs part of their life skills work, the children are taught how to make traditional felt goods such as slippers, wallets and handbags.   Here’s Steven with the boys who very entrepreneurally sold him a pair of slippers that were too big for him!   In fact, not one of us got away without buying something, a trend which Catherine, Amanda and Frances have gladly continued over the last 24 hours.  The hotel now looks like a Notting Hill craft stall – quite how we’re going to get the carpet on the Tajik Air flight tomorrow I don’t know.

These lads deserved every penny – one of the biggest challenges in working for an NGO is reporting these stories and having to walk away.  You want to empty your wallet for everyone you meet and, of course, that’s not what development is about.   We were energised, moved, and worn out by the day’s experiences.  We were determined to get this blog entry out early Saturday morning, but we all overslept.  No bad thing given what we were to face the very next morning…