Filed under: Central Asia Development Disaster response Environment Poverty Social inclusion

Kindergarten literally translates to “children’s garden.” Friedrich Fröbel, who created the very first kindergarten in 1837, felt that children should be taken care of and nourished like plants in a garden.

Fröbel’s aim was to create a social experience for young children to bridge the transition from home to school.

But do children everywhere get to enjoy this meaningful social experience? What about children living in environmental disaster areas?

What can we do to ensure all children have access to this crucial learning experience?

Improving basic infrastructure in the Aral Sea region

The city of Muynak, in northwestern Uzbekistan, used to be home to a flourishing fishing industry. But when the Aral Sea started to dry up, so did the jobs.

Today, the population in Muynak is down to 29,000, and 40 percent of its citizens are unemployed. With fishing a thing of the past, most people now make their living from subsistence farming, cattle breeding, and pasture management.

Muynak is just one example of a community that’s been devastated by the shrinking of the Aral Sea – affecting over 130,000 people.

The United Nations Aral Sea Programme is working in the Aral Sea disaster area to create new income generation opportunities for the rural population and to help communities address their basic infrastructure needs, including irrigation, access to clean drinking water, and alternative energy sources.

Within the programme’s community development initiative, we are also addressing special requests from the communities.

One of these important requests was to renovate and equip existing kindergartens with proper furniture and learning supplies.

Public kindergartens in the region are financed by the Government of Uzbekistan and by monthly payments from parents (approximately $28 each).

However, according to the communities, current funding is not enough to keep the kindergartens running in satisfactory condition.

Community residents also expressed concerns that mothers often choose to keep their children at home due to the poor conditions of the kindergartens.

Not only does this deprive children from a valuable learning experience, but it keeps local women out of the workforce.

We believe that by helping these vulnerable rural communities to improve the conditions of their kindergartens, we will be able to impact children’s development and empower rural women.

We began with a needs assessment of local kindergartens in Muynak, Shumanay, and Kanlikul districts.

According to the local public authority, there are approximately 2,000 children of preschool age in Muynak but only seven kindergartens in the area.

“The Nauriz kindergarten was constructed in 1986, and there have been no renovations since. There is no heating system. Furniture items, such as beds and chairs, need to be replaced. Playground structures should be replaced due to safety reasons. Toys and teaching and learning supplies are limited. There are no lunch tables, and children have their meals while sitting on the floor.”

Sagitjan Aytjanov, UN Aral Sea Programme

We carried out similar assessments in Kanlikul and Shumanay districts and selected the kindergarten with the poorest conditions in each district to be the focus of our efforts.

Having carried out our assessments, we received funding from UNDP to purchase lunch tables, desks, chairs, beds, and bedding for each of the most vulnerable kindergartens we identified, improving conditions for 366 children overall.

In each case, the staff and children were delighted with the changes.

“Such support from the UN will help us to better care for the children, entertain them, and educate them in a better way while their parents are away receiving treatment. The improved conditions and learning supplies will help us to improve the children’s skills and creativity so that they become fully prepared for school.”

Flora Aymanova, Director of Gumsha kindergarten, Muynak district

We held a charity auction to gather toys and learning supplies for the kindergartens from our colleagues at UNDP. We also received financial contributions which allowed us to provide even more learning supplies for the children.

A big thank you to everyone who contributed

But our work is not done. The United Nations Aral Sea Programme will continue helping local communities affected by the Aral Sea environmental disaster to improve their living conditions.

We would love to hear about your successes and experiences with similar projects from other parts of the world!

A news story broadcast on Karakalpak TV (in Russian)

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