The Pearl of Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan, April 7, 2003

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    Photo: Mercy Corps Kyrgyzstan Photo:

The village of Ornok sits on the touristy northern shores of Lake Issyk Kul, the so-called "The Pearl of Kyrgyzstan."

The town's one and only school sits in the shadow of fancy, private resorts built with private money that serve as a daily reminder that, in this new age of free market economy, there are "haves" and "have-nots" and that the students and their families are in the latter category.

The school was built in 1961 for 210 students and, since that time, has had no capital repair done. Due to the original poor design, the foundation did not have any ventilation. Additionally, the roof was flat and covered with soft tarpaper which is adequate for hot, dry climates but total unsuitable for Ornok's cold, snowy region.

In their proposal, which was supported by the school and a local NGO, they noted that "Because of the absence [of ventilation], the floorboards are rotten and the plaster peels off. When it is raining, the roof leaks in four classes."

The useable space had been reduced to three classrooms for the current 250 students. Since this was physically impossible, the school began operating in three shifts and even sent some of the students to study in a nearby building which had no heat whatsoever.

Of even more concern for the Mercy Corps grant committee reviewing the application was the statement that "It is very cold in winter in the classrooms. The heating furnace does not work properly. Carbon monoxide fills the rooms which is very harmful for children’s health. Children and teachers are very often sick."

The community had tried, in vain, to effect repairs. They even went as far as to lay a foundation and construct walls for an addition to the school. This was an attempt to overcome not only the disastrous problems facing the 250 students and 20 teachers but the overcrowding as well

Mercy Corps, with funds received from the monetization of USDA-donated wheat flour and vegetable oil, granted this community the requested sum of $4,420. With this, the community was able to fix the ventilation problems, install a new roof on the old portion of the school and complete the construction of the addition.

When the work was completed, the community organized an opening celebration of the "new" facility. People from five surrounding communities came to marvel and to congratulate Ornok's residents on their wonderful work. On seeing the success of this one small village working together, they all returned to their own villages with the resolve to imitate the residents of Ornok.

The children of Ornok now do not have to study in shifts. Parents and teachers do not have to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning or worry about the children becoming sick from damp and cold conditions. 250 children are now happy to be studying and would rather be doing that than anything else.

One girl approached me as I left the celebration. "Thank you," she said shyly. Her mother added, "It's nice that someone cares."