Giving something back
Despite its warm hospitality, Kyrgyzstan continues to suffer from a number of serious economic problems © Radiokafka, Shutterstock
Kyrgyzstan is a poor country in transition, with a range of serious economic problems that are not going to improve overnight, despite a large number of NGOs working in the country. Much of the poverty is quite visible, particularly in the case of elderly Russians whose grown-up children have left for Russia, leaving them more or less abandoned on impossibly small state pensions.
Many of these proud old people are forced into begging, hawking tissues and cigarettes or selling their few remaining possessions to make ends meet. Giving them a few notes, or buying something from them, is a drop in the ocean but at least it helps a little. The elderly are not the only ones who suffer: wages are low, unemployment is high, and more than half the population live below the poverty line.
For those interested in sponsoring other good causes that are trying to improve people’s lives in Kyrgyzstan, SOS Children’s Villages in Bishkek and Cholpon-Ata run a project that is helping to rehabilitate Balykchy’s street children, while Health Prom, a health support and social care programme, focuses on reducing maternal and infant mortality and disability. In addition to these worthy ventures, there are also projects that help people with disabilities as well as orphanages in Karakol and Krasnaya Rechka, and a boarding school for visually impaired children in Bishkek.
As well as supporting charities which work in Kyrgyzstan, another obvious way of ‘giving something back’ is to purchase hand-crafted souvenirs from a women’s craft co-operative, such as Altyn Oymok (Golden Thimble) in Bokonbaevo or Altyn Kol (Golden Hands) in Kochkor, rather than from a souvenir shop. Similarly, using the services of Community Based Tourism guarantees that most of the money goes directly into the local economy.