In Kyrgyzstan, the Aga Khan Foundation works through the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDSP), a locally registered NGO established in 2003. MSDSP’s overall goal is to improve living conditions in selected mountain communities in the country. The programme area includes the mountainous districts of Alai, Chong-Alai and Kara-Kulja in Osh Oblast, as well as Naryn and At-Bashy districts in Naryn Oblast, covering a total population of more than 320,000.
MSDSP employs an area-based approach through which activities in education, health, income generation and natural resource management are implemented in villages in collaboration with community-based groups and local government authorities. Disaster risk reduction and local governance are cross-cutting themes that work across all MSDSP initiatives.
Natural Resource Management
In rural development, MSDSP seeks to enhance the productivity of selected crops and improve animal health as a way of increasing rural incomes. MSDSP works with farmers and community-based organisations to define and implement projects which diversify agricultural activities and re-orient these activities towards the market, improve farming practices, expand access to agricultural inputs and rehabilitate village infrastructure.
Recognizing that many farmers lack access to agricultural inputs, the programme imports high quality seeds and makes them available to farmers on credit. At the same time, it works with government research stations to test new seed varieties. When trials are successful, to the seeds reduce dependency on imports and lower the costs of inputs. Through demonstration plots, Farmer Field Schools and other methods, the programme is introducing farmers to new crops, like barley and sainfoin, as well as to cost-effective methods that improve productivity. At present, MSDSP is working with more than 3,000 farmers in the country’s mountain areas.
Livestock remains a major economic driver for many communities. Unfortunately, weak management of veterinary services in the country has resulted in the outbreak of disease and poor animal health, limiting the amount of income that can be earned from livestock. To support this sub-sector, the programme has piloted a network of fee-based private veterinary points. Today, 20 private veterinary points in Osh Oblast have increased access to vaccinations and other veterinary services for more than 10,000 households. Internal evaluations have shown a decrease in animal morbidity in the pilot area. In addition, private veterinarians have become full-fledged entrepreneurs.
Initiatives that link producers to markets help to expand rural economies and inspire new businesses. Through training, exchange of information and participation in exhibitions, the programme is supporting rural entrepreneurs to develop sustainable and profitable businesses. Enterprises related to tourism, handicraft production and mini-bakeries are examples which have achieved both success and national recognition. More importantly, these small businesses generate employment and boost household income.
Early Childhood Development
MSDSP is concerned with developing and promoting Early Childhood Development (ECD) models which enhance the coverage, affordability, breadth and quality of programmes, as well as learning opportunities for young children.
MSDSP is helping teachers and administrators to gain the appropriate pedagogical training and access to materials and teaching aids. It is also assisting local education departments to introduce the use of a half-day shift system for kindergartens.
Satellite kindergartens are being established to allow children in remote communities to also benefit from ECD activities. These satellite kindergartens may be situated in the home of a teacher or in a community space. As many small villages are spread out, these kindergartens keep children closer to home, saving them from walking long distances to attend school. This system has been very successful in isolated villages where government-run central kindergartens no longer exist or are too distant to access. Faced with capacity shortages, the system relieves the burden faced by kindergartens while also increasing ECD opportunities for young children.
In the summer, whole communities in rural Kyrgyzstan leave their villages and set up yurts in the jailoos (high-mountain pastures) to fatten livestock for the winter. Children also participate in this important tradition. When they return to school in autumn, however, they lag behind children in towns and cities who have benefited from kindergartens, summer camps and other learning opportunities. This has led to a gap in learning achievement among children in rural and urban areas. To address this challenge, MSDSP introduced jailoo kindergartens to the education system by encouraging teachers to set up kindergartens in their family yurts during summertime. The demand from parents for this intervention is increasing. Parents see the programme as an important contribution to their children’s development that also enables them to preserve their cultural traditions.
By end-2010, MSDSP was working in 103 kindergartens and 52 primary schools, covering more than 22,700 children. In Alai and Chong-Alai districts, the programme has expanded access to ECD opportunities from 510 to 5,000 children in five years.
Recent analysis shows that children in Grade 1 who attend programme-supported kindergartens outperform non-ECD children by 16 percent in standardised tests. At the same time, local authorities have made a key contribution to ECD activities by financing the ongoing operational costs of kindergartens.
Reading for Children is a project aimed at building children’s interest in reading, raising their aptitudes and strengthening family bonds. The results enhance children’s ability to learn and prepare them for lifelong learning. The dearth of Kyrgyz-language children’s books prompted MSDSP to develop and publish 32 original titles and distribute them to libraries and schools across the country. More than 8,300 parents have been trained on reading techniques and a network of mini-libraries has also been established to give parents and other caregivers access to books and to highlight the importance of early reading.
The programme’s health promotion activities seek to improve the health status of children under five and women of reproductive age. In this regard, it is strengthening the capacity of communities to assess their own health needs and priorities, improving their knowledge and behaviour to prevent illness, and enhancing the capacity of rural health professionals to respond to and meet the needs of communities.
MSDSP is working with more than 84 Village Health Committees, comprising 680 volunteer Community Health Promoters, to disseminate information to improve hygiene and sanitation, ameliorate child and maternal health, increase nutritional status and prevent the spread of common communicable diseases. In this effort, it is implementing the Ministry of Health’s Community Action for Health initiative and is working closely with local health departments.
To promote healthy behaviour among children, the programme has established 59 School Health Committees in its programme area. More than 19,400 school children benefit from training and activities related to nutrition, infectious diseases, and personal hygiene and sanitation. School Health Committees have proven to be highly effective in communicating health messages to their peers and the wider community.
High-mountain communities suffer from poor diets and significant micronutrient deficiencies. In response, MSDSP is supporting the establishment of kitchen gardens in these villages. To date, more than 200 households are benefiting from this project. Some villages have been able to produce a surplus; in this way, vegetables have the potential to become a new revenue stream for households in high-mountain areas.
Disaster Risk Reduction
Given the active seismic zone in which it works, in 2009 MSDSP began initiatives to mainstream disaster risk reduction throughout its programme. In addition to saving lives, this work is expected to safeguard livelihoods and to ensure that development gains are not undone by natural disasters.
In this work, the programme is collaborating with the Ministry of Emergency Services to conduct assessments of kindergartens and other public buildings; train rescue workers and others on disaster response and mitigation; and support infrastructure work to protect against landslides, mudflows and other hazards.
Recognising the important role that local government authorities and community-based organisations can play in rural development, MSDSP is building the capacity of local authorities to more effectively connect with their constituencies. By encouraging participatory planning and joint decision-making over how public resources are allocated, the programme is helping to create the space for civil society to interact with local government. Efforts in this area are critical to long-term and sustainable improvements to the quality of life in rural areas.
As it deepens its activities in its programme area, MSDSP will continue to develop innovative solutions for the Kyrgyz Republic’s rural areas. It is working to introduce energy-saving farming techniques, realise the economic potential in rural communities, and continue efforts to support local civil society organisations.
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