International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Creating big change through small projects

Aigul Alimbekova wants it done right. The International Rescue Committee engineer is on the job site almost daily in this southern Kyrgyzstan [map] community, ensuring her blueprints are followed to the line and letter, the concrete is poured correctly, and there’s enough steel rebar to guarantee long term stability. She’s working to provide new toilets for a secondary school in this southern Kyrgyzstan community where, as in many others, there was deadly ethnic violence over four days in June of 2010.

While latrines aren’t typically acceptable subject matter for thoughtful or passionate discussion, this school provides an exception. The current toilets are nothing more than two holes in a plank-floored outhouse. The floor creaks ominously, and there’s a pervasive stench from the pit below.  No wonder then that members of the multiethnic community decided new bathrooms were a priority for their children.  In humanitarian aid jargon, the project is referred to as a “QIP”, or “Quick Impact Project.” It’s one of dozens implemented by the IRC in the wake of the 2010 violence. The intention is to have an impact on the grassroots level, moving promptly and efficiently, with comparatively small projects in which the community takes a lead role. “We determined these types of small scale infrastructure projects would be extremely helpful for the community,” says IRC Head of Office Timerlan Pliev. “It’s up to them to decide what will have the most impact- we see it as their project- it’s the community’s project.”

Speak with 25-year-old Dilshod Ochilov, and he’s quick to praise the program.  He’s spent much of the summer volunteering to help build a primary care clinic for his neighborhood in Osh. When I meet him he’s slapping a finish coat of plaster onto a wall. He champions the project. “This clinic is a lot closer to our homes,” says the ethnic Uzbek. “It’s sometimes difficult for us to get access to hospitals and medical treatment, and this is something for my children and someday my grandchildren.” Like all of the QIP projects, community involvement is a prerequisite. In this instance, the IRC is providing construction funding and expertise; the Kyrgyzstan government has pledged to pay for medical salaries and equipment, while the community is providing volunteer labor.

In another Osh neighborhood 71-year-old ethnic Uzbek Mahamadjan Tashpolatov hacks at weeds in his courtyard garden. His home and all those on his street were gutted by fire in the 2010 violence. He thanks the IRC for initially providing shovels and wheelbarrows so his family could clean up the debris. The IRC followed up with a quick impact project that installed street lighting in the neighborhood. Today, Tashpalatov and his wife Malika say they much feel much more secure both day and night.  

The IRC has also been supporting the restart of small business and providing job training in areas hardest-hit by the violence. “We had no hope after the violence,” says mother of two Umida Moidunova. But she says that changed in the fall of 2010 as aid agencies like the IRC stepped in. “It was then we decided we could remain living in this place we’ve called home for generations. It’s helped us to forget, because we now have homes and work again.” Moidunova applied for help to restart her home tailor shop. The IRC’s support enabled her to buy new sewing machines to replace those burned in the rioting.  Today she employs a-half dozen neighbors.

Like so many of the IRC’s small projects here, the intention is that working together to rebuild lives, homes and businesses-  will lead to an increase in mutual respect and trust between Kyrgyzstan's ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities.

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