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VIDEO: Bleeding hearts and pragmatic minds

Kyrgyzstan, July 30, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mary Tam/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Ainash in her burned-out home. Photo: Mary Tam/Mercy Corps

Ainash Mamatova and her husband had just finished remodeling their home earlier this year; it had taken them many years to save up enough money to do this. Ainash had worked at the bazaar for 16 years, mainly selling shoes. In June — when violence broke out in southern Kyrgyzstan — the two containers that served as both her warehouse and place of business were looted and one was badly burned, and her home was completely destroyed.

Ainash broke into soft sobs as she explained that her children are now staying at two different locations, and she rotates between friends and family so as not to inconvenience anyone for too long. Ainash’s husband described how, at first, they did not want to run away and thought it was best to stay in their apartment. The second day of the violence, they witnessed their seven-year-old neighbor get shot in the chest from her balcony. It was then that he and Ainash decided they needed to leave, for the safety of their children.

In their absence, some sort of grenade or bomb was thrown in through their window. The entire apartment was decimated. We had to take careful steps to avoid wreckage and broken glass as they showed us the remains of their home, which was charred from floor to ceiling. Bullet holes decorated the walls. It smelled of cinders and sadness. Almost symbolically, the sound of a slow, ghostly drip came from what used to be the bathroom — a broken home’s tears creating dull splatters before being absorbed into ash.

Ainash wiped away her tears, saying she has many loyal customers who have come to her for years. But how does one restart a business with no resources? She has applied for a Mercy Corps equity grant so that she can purchase inventory and pay for a new space. With the money, she plans to buy goods from the wholesale market and sell from a location she has found at a different bazaar.

Some people are even worse off than Ainash’s family — those that were beaten or violated during the violence, or were left with dead or missing relatives. It is a disturbing moment when you realize those who have lost their home, business and life savings can be considered lucky by some standard. My throat and nose stung a bit as I held back tears leaving Ainash and her husband. I didn’t want to be one of those “soft” development workers who can’t keep it together out in the field — and besides, they were not my tears to shed.

What I have to remind myself is that although we cannot help everyone, that doesn’t mean I should dismiss those we can help. Right now Mercy Corps has limited funds to issue these equity grants. There are thousands of people here who are out of work following the recent clashes. Not because they are lazy. Not because they are inept. Simply because they have lost everything and lack the resources to resume business operations.

What we need are more people with bleeding hearts and pragmatic minds. Those who will recognize the value and functionality of the equity grant program. Those who do not need to be thanked, but will be happy enough knowing their contribution will make a meaningful difference for some stranger they will never meet.

Here's a short video I made during my visit with Ainash: