Save the Children’s Will Lynch: Edgy Days in Osh as Relief Continues

WilliamLynchHeadshot05 OSH, Kyrgystan

June 22

When the shooting stops, traffic picks up and the markets open — and it is sometimes hard to see the stress. Today was a day, one of several mentioned, when ethnic violence (or what the Kyrgyz I spoke to called “the war”) was to start again. Nobody seems to know why that term is used, but on June 10 people called and texted each other saying, “The war has started.”

According to rumors, a number of dates will bring renewed fighting. June 22 is recognized locally as the day WWII started with Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union. June 27, the day of the referendum on the constitution here, along with July 18–19 are also mentioned, though the latter dates seem to hold no historical significance.

As the staff meeting today neared 4:45 p.m., our local employees noted the meeting should end so they could get home before the 6 p.m. curfew. Usually these same staffers stay well past 5 p.m., but today they left early. A little after 6 p.m., Soviet-era choppers flew over the city dumping pamphlets urging peace and reconciliation. Children ran through the empty side streets laughing and jostling to catch the fluttering pieces of paper as they neared the ground. As midnight neared, a female staff member expressed relief that nothing had happened. 

There were mixed reports yesterday of an operation in Nariman. The consistent information was it was carried out by authorities, two people were killed and several were injured. There is a lot of conjecture. Some NGOs suspended their work today as a result. Save the Children was making health and hygiene kit distributions and taking assessment data in Nariman several hours after the incident and were unaware anything had happened.

There was a visit this morning by the President. Our staff was to attend but when they arrived, a very large crowd (hundreds) was trying to see her as well. They described the situation as tense, and we advised our staff to leave the area.

Teams distributed another 200 hygiene kits in Osh to women displaced by the fighting and administered another 20 assessments. We’ve delivered 1,200 kits benefiting 6,000 people, mainly women and children. I was supposed to write a narrative explaining the findings, but never got to it.

Much of my time was spent meeting, orienting and generally trying to get 10 expatriate emergency response team members up to speed. It is time for me to hand the operation over to the longer-term staff. This is not a sprint and probably 200 people will be needed over the course of the marathon of relief and rehabilitation being undertaken by Save the Children. There are another four or five experts backstopping from Bishkek. The team that is being assembled has everybody from child protection and education specialists to accounting and logistics professionals.

We rented additional office space, taking over the rest of the compound where the office is located. Warehouses for the non-food items and relief food are coming under contract. The 5,000 health and hygiene kits we ordered yesterday were bid, tendered and bought in Bishkek. They are expected to arrive tomorrow.

The town is filling up with relief agencies and with them will come additional assistance. The time of beginning is ending and full-fledged response is getting under way. And I leave on Thursday.

Will Lynch: A Slow Return to Normalcy?

WilliamLynchHeadshot05 Osh, Kyrgyzstan 

June 21

Today was the first official day back to work in Osh. Traffic was light, but heavy by recent standards. The purple public busses carried commuters instead of soldiers around the city. Motorists even stopped at traffic signals, and checkpoints allowed most cars to pass unquestioned. Some barricades around Nariman have been removed opening more of the city to traffic

We see more smiles among the larger, but still sparse, crowds. However the unease was still there. We witnessed a sharp exchange between Kyrgyz and an Uzbek outside the mayor’s office. An official said he felt starting a program should wait until after the planned June 27 referendum on constitutional changes.

Save the Children delivered 300 health and hygiene kits today. Uzbeks sheltering in and living near a school in Nariman received 150 kits, and another 150 were distributed in Charumushka. To date, we have reached 5,000 people with health and hygiene supplies. We also are conducting needs assessments and administering 6-page questionnaires — and sharing the results with the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

Meetings were held in Osh to plan child protection centers based in schools. Attending were a range of officials and professionals, including the chief of the department of Family and Children’s Support, the Vice Mayor of Osh, the president’s special representative on children’s security and protection, the president’s special representative on the distribution of humanitarian aid, the head of education and the head of the Osh Children’s Home.

Save the Children will engage in planning school-based child protection. This will include providing supplies as well as supporting reconciliation and counseling.

Will Lynch, Save the Children’s Central Asia Country Director: A Tense Calm Holds

WilliamLynchHeadshot05 Osh, Kyrgyzstan 

June 20

Traffic is picking up, more stores are opening and many of the barricades on the main streets near Uzbek mahallahs have been pushed to the side in accordance with a government order. Side streets are still largely barricaded. The barricades are positioned so they can be reinstalled on short notice.

Our three Uzbek drivers came to work with their cars today and were among 11 of the 15 staff who came into the office.

One staff member took the day off to visit family. Much of the leadership of the Ministry of Emergency Situations here also took a day off after sleeping in their offices for more than a week as the government worked to establish peace.

The results of our assessment indicate a huge difference in the well-being and living conditions of Uzbeks and their Kyrgyz neighbors. The Uzbeks have greater need for the basics of life, such as NFIs and shelter. Children in both communities have been left with nothing to do.

Supplies for safe play areas along with children’s shoes and clothing arrived with the latest batch of health and hygiene products from Tajikistan. We provided 300 hygiene kits and 134 disposable diapers to women from the Kyrgyz enclave of Barak, who fled to Aktash village 35 kilometers northeast of Osh.

Barak enclave is surrounded by Uzbekistan, a remnant of Stalin’s gerrymandering in the region. The women’s husbands drove them to Aktash, where many have connections. The male family members returned to their farms but are barricaded in their houses unable to farm for fear of attack. The women said it has been tense in Barak since the 1990 fighting and that they’d been recently threatened after years of harassment. The women asked for land in Kyrgyzstan so they could rebuild their lives. The children asked for apples.

Approximately 300 women and 140 children, from infants to adolescents of 15 years old, are encamped at a kindergarten. They have 10 walled tents from the government of Pakistan and four latrines in very poor condition. Water comes from a tap for one hour a day and is stored in a tank. The local village has provided some onions, potatoes and flour. Soldiers from a nearby base have provided flour, macaroni and oil.

The women and children are getting by, but it is a precarious situation, especially as the hottest part of summer sets in and temperatures reach the 90s. They are tired, scared and bedraggled. They need clean clothes and a bath. But more, they need a sense of what the future holds.

A group of men in the Uzbek mahallah of  Nariman in Osh described in vivid detail to staff how they today captured a Chechen woman who was sleeping sitting in a nearby field propped on her rifle. They said she was a sniper who’d grown too tired to keep going. The men said they turned her over to the police.

Reports the Main Market is on its way back appeared premature on a visit today. Scavengers still searched for anything of value among the debris. The smell of rotten food is strong. The place is a mess. Large sections can be salvaged, but it will take a huge amount of work to restore it. But the initial cleanup efforts are underway and a little commerce is occurring.

We spoke to several traders in the market who described personal debts in excess of $3,000 to banks and NGO micro finance programs. They want to start selling their sweets ad dried fruit again, but are bankrupt in the truest sense.

Part of the Save the Children emergency response team arrived over night in Bishkek including the team leader, health specialist, child protection specialist, head of finance, security specialist, education and protection coordinator and a communications person. See staff tracker for details. Two logisticians are due in to augment the loggie already here and the 15 local staff in Osh. Two four well drive vehicles were driven down from Bishkek today increasing our fleet to five vehicles.

On a personal note, my suitcase also arrived.

Universally the first response to the opening question — “What do you need?” — was answered: “Peace”

WilliamLynchHeadshot05 By Will Lynch, Save the Children's Central Asia Country Director

Osh, Kyrgyzstan

June 19. 2010

Life in Osh is slowly creeping back to normal. Some of the smaller shops that were not looted have reopened, but their stocks are seriously diminished. An increasing number of traders are selling onions, potatoes, cabbage, apricots and cherries. More cars are on the streets, including some taxis, but no public transport yet.

We passed 200 hygiene kits over the barricades of the Uzbek enclave of Soliev Habibullo to an Uzbek Save the Children driver who still does not feel safe venturing out of his neighborhood. We’d expected to distribute hygiene items at a neighborhood mosque that had been sheltering 200 families. But when we arrived, they were gone. We were directed to large private building housing hundreds of displaced children and adults whom we’d visited earlier this week and made the distribution there.

Some people in the Uzbek mahallahs are estimating that 50 percent of displaced people have moved home or closer to their homes. The Uzbeks remain behind their barricades, distrustful of a peaceful future. Predictions of  renewed fighting are discussed on the one hand while on the othe, people read and discuss pamphlets dropped from the air signed with the name Alisher calling for peace.  

Two of our teams administered 60 six-page assessment questionnaires today. Universally the first response to the opening question — What do you need? — was answered: peace. Those who have lost their homes were asking for assistance rebuilding and for household items. Those who did not lose their homes say they need soap, toothpaste, diapers, supplemental food for small children and children’s clothing. They complained that they have food, but not enough.

I walked for nearly four hours from the northwest to the northeast and then south through the center of town and along the airport road where some of the heaviest fighting had occurred. Three schools and a children’s home I looked at were untouched by the fighting. In the gutted neighborhood to the east of the airport road, however, the Lev Tolstoy secondary school was destroyed. A sign proclaiming a donor’s rehabilitation efforts stood in front of the charred remains of the school. Nearby the electric substation hummed but many of the poles were burned and power lines were down.

These southern neighborhoods are heavily damaged and nearly uninhabited. A few cars passed through, and I approached a cluster of men who showed me around maze after maze of burned-out buildings and charred gardens. Ironically the garden tap in one of the houses gave cool, clear water when I turned it on. One man told me 140 houses in that neighborhood, near Nariman, had been destroyed. In Charumushka a woman gave one of our staff members the names, addresses and signatures of 197 families who’d lost their homes.

This southern road to the airport was a main commercial street. Along some stretches, there was the stench of rotted flesh. An unexploded Molotov cocktail lay among a carpet of empty beer, liquor and soft drink bottles. It has become evident from these walks and drives around Osh and Jalal-Abad that the official count of 500 houses destroyed is very low. A more accurate figure being discussed in the relief community is closer to 2,000 businesses and houses destroyed and perhaps as many looted and damaged.

Trucks of aid continue to arrive. But it is not yet the pipeline of relief needed. Most are local efforts from Kyrgyz who are reaching out to those in need. An eight vehicle ICRC convoy went through town. Some church groups and other smaller efforts are evident. Like much here, it is a beginning of a long and hoped for recovery.

Tomorrow we will get to the Kyrgyz camp, speak to the people there and distribute 300 hygiene kits and bulk hygiene supplies procured with USAID funds. Another 500 kits, diapers, children’s clothing and toys are expected by midmorning. We have word the truck will overnight on the road between Tajikistan and Osh. And next week we should have an agreement with the World Food Program and begin distributing flour and oil.  

Save the Children’s Will Lynch: Fear and Waiting in Kyrgyzstan

WilliamLynchHeadshot05 Osh
, Kyrgyzstan

June 17, 2010

About 20 miles outside of Osh and 10 miles outside Jalal-Abad, life
returns to normal. The open shops and few barricaded roads are a distinct
contrast to the bottled-up fear in the cities.

There was renewed unrest in Osh today, with fighting in Nariman and
Furkat, Uzbek areas of the city. Driving into the city from Jalal-Abad, we saw
smoke from at least three distant buildings burning in Nariman. Judging by the
volume of smoke, the buildings were fully involved. Meanwhile, at city hall, a
group of relatively peaceful Kyrgyz protested a hostage swap that didn’t

In Jalal-Abad the main market reopened this morning. More
than one-third of the shops and stalls were doing business. Merchants told us prices
were 10–20 percent higher than normal. Most items, except men’s clothing,
appeared to be available. Two merchants were painting over anti-Uzbek graffiti
that had been sprayed on their shop shutters.

Absent from the market were Uzbek traders. Whole rows of
shops and stalls remained shuttered or covered. Nearby a burned-out market was
being cleaned up. Blocks of shops along the main street were charred shells.
The Uzbek university had burned. Across the street the Turkish university was

Taxi drivers were hawking rides from Jalalabad center to the
capital, Bishkek. Minibuses were shuttling passengers around town. Our driver
told us he came out to work today because there was nothing to fear. “It is all
in God’s hands,” he said.

Residents of the still-barricaded Uzbek neighborhood of Sali
Bekeyev were not so sanguine. The men and women we interviewed expressed
apprehension that this was a temporary lull and that fighting would erupt
again. They complained that unless they protested loudly, they were left out of
ad hoc food distributions. Women and young children were few in the
neighborhood. We were told they’d been sent across the border.

Many side streets remained barricaded. At one, tires were
covered with straw, ready to be set alight next to a tanker truck, and downed
trees blocked the street. Two-meter high letters spelling SOS were painted on
these streets — as they are in Osh.
An Uzbek man said they were painted as a plea for help after a helicopter made
several passes over the city on June 13.

We went to the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan border where they said
the women had fled. The border was closed as were the nearby shops and
restaurants that normally would serve travelers waiting to cross. The border
guards pointed us northward. After some difficulty, we located the a camp in
several farmhouse compounds across an irrigation ditch from the Uzbekistan
border. Displaced children and adults are sheltered at the end of a labyrinth
of dirt tracks and dead ends through wheat, rice and sunflower fields.

Some 200 women and 300 children were waiting to cross the
border. They are town people, unused to living rough. They have latrines, but
drinking water comes from an irrigation canal running through the compounds.
Diarrhea is already a problem among children. But when they get sick, they are
said to be handed across the border where they are treated by doctors on the Uzbekistan
side. Several women said bread and other food is thrown over the border from Uzbekistan. We
saw children eating porridge and bread.

People appear worse for the wear but healthy. The children
are active and curious. We were asked for hygiene items, diapers and food by
several women.

People in the compounds have no idea how long they will
remain. The population fluctuates as people come and go through the day.

The route to and from the camp was circuitous. On leaving
the camp we hitched three short rides and walked a couple of miles before we
found our car. Cell phone contact with our driver proved impossible due to
erratic phone reception near the border.

Our local staff members are beginning to return to work in Osh. They met with the
mayor and with several local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The NGOs
will be assessed as potential partners for distributions and child-protection
activities. We are discussing food distribution with the World Food Program and
sourcing hygiene kits, children’s clothing and toys from Tajikistan.

Image courtesy of: Lonely Planet

Will Lynch, Save the Children’s Central Asia Country Director

WilliamLynchHeadshot05 Osh, Kyrgyzstan

June 16,

Sirens and occasional gunshots could be heard into
predawn.  Today, people remain afraid to venture far from their front doors and
streets or out of their neighborhoods. Traffic has picked up.  There are a few
more people on the streets.  But the dead calm follows many episodes of civil
unrest. A local doctor’s treatment tally tells the story of the last six days by
the number of gunshot wounds he’s treated each day: 12, 18, 8, 3, 2 and one so
far today.

We drove and walked to two Uzbek
malhallahs, Kotgon and Cheremushke, to get a better idea of the conditions. Men
are living in their neighborhoods, often staying with neighbors near their
burned out houses. Women have been sent to Uzbekistan or are staying in
mosques or large private houses that have been converted to shelters. Painted
at irregular intervals on the streets in two meter tall letters is the message

Men and women alike expect that they will be targeted
again. Rumors about renewed violence abound. They say they have heard they will
be attacked again. Some have immediate reasons to worry: One woman said a person
had remarked to her that she’d be killed as soon as the interim government

However, Save the Children’s Sadar Tokhbobaev said he
was part of a group organized by elders in the Kyrgyz community to break bread
and pledge peace with a neighboring Uzbek enclave. He said they will continue to
meet, but that the street barricades remain for now. Other Uzbeks told stories
of how their Kyrgyz, Russian and Tatar neighbors came to their defense and
stopped the looting and burning in their neighborhoods. It seems the level of
devastation on a street is partly a function of the neighborhood’s diversity. 

There was a strong need to show us what happened. To
have witnesses. We were forced to view the charred remains of two adults and an
infant who had been brought to a mosque. Another group let us through a burned
out compound to see the bones of another victim protruding from a charred metal
bed frame. The resting places of others, and their brief stories were related as
we walked the streets.

Families are separated in the shelters – women and
children in some shelters and some sections of shelters and men in other places.
There is an adequate supply of bedding for the time being, but use and winter
will make replacements necessary. There is piped water and latrines, but not to
serve the populations. The sanitary situation is deteriorating. The city water
supply seems adequate. However, toilets are overwhelmed and there are no hand
washing stations or other measures at the ad hoc shelters. Diarrhea among
children was a common complaint at each of the larger centers and in the
neighborhoods in general. 

The people we spoke to want to return and rebuild. One
90-year-old woman declared that if she were given a tent, she would move back to
her old home site and start the rebuilding process. There is no desire to move
to Uzbekistan.
Wives and children were
sent away for safety, not for good.

Commerce and charity continue. Deliveries of large bags
of noodles, canned fish, oil, candy and soft drinks was observed. There is an ad hoc pipeline. Along the street a two ton truck was selling tea, coffee, noodles,
flour, soap and other essentials to ready buyers at 30% above last week’s

Save the Children has some start-up funds, and we should
have an agreement signed with the World Food Program (WFP) on Friday to start
distributing food and non-essential food items over the weekend or early next
week. The first shipment of hygiene materials – soap, toothbrushes, towels and
sanitary napkins – arrive tomorrow. They will be assembled into 500 kits and
distributed at women’s centers during the weekend.

Image courtesy of: Lonely Planet

Using Art Education and Therapy to Help Preschoolers in Mozambique Fight the Effects of HIV/AIDS

Veronica Photo Veronica

Guemulene Village, Gaza District, Mozambique

June 15, 2010

the rural areas of Mozambique where Save the Children works, almost all
children have been affected by the AIDS crisis, losing family members
and teachers to the disease.   

Save the Children, through funding from the Charles Engelhard Foundation and the 2007 Idol Gives Back
TV fundraising event, began piloting an innovative program using visual
arts to help give children a voice to their emotions about difficult
events in their every day lives in rural Mozambican preschools or
“escolinhas” in 2008.

As part of the “Healing and Education through Art” or HEART program, preschool teachers participated
in three training sessions. Monica, a
preschool teacher, shares her thoughts about how the training has helped improve her work with children:

“Children need to feel free to express whatever happens to them – good or bad.  But I cannot force them to express their feelings or thoughts.  Still, I am surprised at how much young children remember what they see and hear, but do not have the language to express themselves. 

We created a space at our preschools with art activities for children. Through art, children can finally express themselves and things they remember seeing and hearing.

Let me tell you about a little girl in our preschool named Gracindabel. When she first arrived at school, she would not speak or participate in activities with other classmates. She would often urinate in the classroom. During art activities, she would break her pencil or start drawing violently on her paper.  

My training had taught me to recognize the signs of a child who needs special attention. I was patient with Gracindabel, and over time, during the art activities, I noticed that she started to talk more with her classmates, participate in group work, and stopped going to the bathroom in the classroom. 

One day, she made a doll out of clay with one arm. She then went on to tell me a detailed imaginary story about a girl whose arm was bitten off by the crocodile that lives in the river behind her home. This was such a remarkable change from a child who started out afraid to speak or participate in class!

Before the teacher trainings, when I saw a child like Gracindabel who didn’t want to participate, talk or play, I would just let that child be and not do anything. Now, I have learned ways to find out what’s wrong with the child, helping that child to try to resolve her problems. I like my job so much now and have a lot of fun with the children.”

Using Art Education and Therapy to Help Preschoolers in Mozambique Fight the Effects of HIV/AIDS: Part Two

Monica photo (2) Monica

Chizavanae Village, Gaza District, Mozambique

June 15, 2010

the rural areas of Mozambique where Save the Children works, almost all
children have been affected by the AIDS crisis, losing family members
and teachers to the disease.   

Save the Children, through funding from the Charles Engelhard Foundation and the 2007 Idol Gives Back
TV fundraising event, began piloting an innovative program using visual
arts to help give children a voice to their emotions about difficult
events in their every day lives in rural Mozambican preschools or
“escolinhas” in 2008.

As part of the “Healing and Education through Art” or HEART program, preschool teachers participated
in three training sessions. Monica, a
preschool teacher, shares her thoughts about how the training has helped improve her work with children:

“Through the training, I learned how to listen to what children say,
and how to ask questions about what they draw or paint. I learn a lot
from doing this.

For instance, one day this past March during art class, one of my
students, Jameson, decided to draw what he had done the previous
weekend.  He began to draw a cross and flowers, which led to a
discussion among his classmates.  I heard him tell the other children
that his mother had died that weekend and his drawing showed where he
had spent his Saturday.  While talking, Jameson added sand on his
drawing to make the shape of a grave.  And, then, one of his classmates
picked a flower to place on top of the grave as a memorial. 

My training also taught me that it is okay to allow children like
Jameson to express sad things in their life and it’s not always bad to
draw about sad things.”