Europe and Central Asia featured program: Kyrgyzstan
—Kelima Yakupova, exchange program volunteer from Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is a country of breathtaking natural beauty, boasting some of the highest mountains, largest lakes and most remote and untouched wilderness in the world. This Central Asian Country is also filled with folklore, nomadic traditions and warm hospitality. In addition to the ethnic Kyrgyz population, Russians, Uzbeks, Tatars, Koreans and a myriad of other nationalities share this small, landlocked country.
Kyrgyzstan shares borders with China to the east, Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west and Tajikistan to the south. During Soviet times, Kyrgyzstan was one of the poorest Soviet republics. After independence and the economic upheavals that followed in the 1990s, the Kyrgyz people became even poorer. In Kyrgyzstan today, according to the National Statistics Committee, 71 percent of the population has an income below the poverty line.
There are two projects in Kyrgyzstan that currently work with international teams:
Bishkek is one of the largest cities in Central Asia and the capital of Kyrgyzstan. It is also the political, economic and cultural center of the country. Picturesque mountains with snow-white peaks surround the city.
Barskoon is a village located on the southern shore of Lake Issykul. This famous lake is called the “pearl” of Kyrgyzstan for its beauty and location in the Tien Shan Mountains.
Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Russian, Dungan.
Seventy percent of the total 5.4 million population of Kyrgyzstan lives in substandard housing. Low-income families, about 35 percent of the population, spend up to 50 percent of their monthly income on utility payments. These families have no way to build or buy a house and have to spend their life living in inadequate housing conditions in rented flats or sheds.
In Barskoon, many families live in houses constructed in 1930. Most of the houses are overcrowded with 10-12 people living in one three- or four-room house. One of the main problems in the villages is that, due to a lack of resources, many young families build their houses on average for 10-15 years. While building their own houses, the young families live with their parents and with the families of their siblings, crowding up to 15 people in one house. It is indeed one of the biggest housing problems throughout Kyrgyzstan that the families build their houses for a long period of time and some cannot finish the project of construction due to lack of funds.
In 2005, more than 30,000 people in Bishkek declared they were homeless and claimed houses from the government. At present the government is not able to provide people with new housing units.
Habitat is the only organization in the country that provides no-interest, long-term mortgages for homes in Kyrgyzstan. Traditionally, a family must pay for their home in one lump sum, making it impossible for most people to own their home.
Habitat for Humanity Kyrgyzstan focuses on apartment renovation and finishing partially constructed homes. Habitat Kyrgyzstan addresses the housing need through several innovative projects:
Sustainable building: Cane reed construction
Cane reed is an ancient technology which has been used for centuries in Kyrgyzstan; however, Habitat has added a modern under-floor heating system to adapt this technology for modern use. Cane reeds are locally harvested, environmentally friendly and inexpensive. Coupled with wood beam framing and clay plaster, this construction is as strong and earthquake-proof as conventional brick or steel. This construction also provides a high level of insulation, and the clay provides protection from fire and insects.
Renovations: Partnering with communities
Many residents of Bishkek experience the crowded, unsanitary conditions of dilapidated condominium buildings. These buildings were constructed during Soviet times to house workers in the large factories. Residents of these units are some of the lowest paid people in the country. One family will often live in one room, sharing toilet and cooking facilities with other families; oftentimes up to 100 people can share toilet facilities.
Habitat works with condominium associations to identify and work on the most serious problems. Repairs are carried out in stages, and as repayments are made, further work takes place. Habitat also works with the associations to provide residents with the necessary skills to continue to maintain the improvements in the future.
Water and Sanitation
In rural areas in Kyrgyzstan, many communities have no access to central water and sewage systems. In response to this need and in partnership with a non-governmental organization, habitat developed an ecological friendly toilet. The ecological toilet is an innovative, low-cost solution that provides clean, sanitary toilet conditions and also prevents the pollution of soil and water with waste products. The toilet converts the waste into safe compost, which can be used as fertilizer.
Learn more about Habitat for Humanity Kyrgyzstan at habitat.elcat.kg.
Types of construction for volunteers
Bishkek: Volunteers may help with new construction of complete homes, cane reed technology houses, duplex and row houses, apartment and home renovations, and apartment and home repairs. In Bishkek, houses are built on a one-meter concrete foundation. Exterior and interior walls are brick covered in plaster. Floors and ceilings are made of wood. Roofs are timber-framed trusses with tile. All houses have running water, gas for cooking and electricity. Houses come in two-bedroom, three-bedroom and four-bedroom versions with decorative fronts and sizes of 58, 74 or 92 square meters. Houses sit on their own plots of land and have a small garden for growing vegetables.
Barskoon: Volunteers may help with new construction of complete homes, some renovations, and apartment and home repairs. In Barskoon, walls are made of big clay blocks, pressed one after another between boards. The walls are then plastered with a mixture of clay and straw, then a mixture of clay and sand. They are whitewashed, and when dry, the white clay compound is as firm as cement. For inside walls, families either use normal bricks, or clay bricks they have made themselves.
Bishkek and Barskoon.
Teams arrive by international flight to Bishkek for all project locations. Most flights arrive early in the morning.
Volunteers will be housed either in hotels or private apartments in Bishkek or a house in Barskoon. As summer is a slightly busier season, teams scheduled during these months must make their arrangements with the hosting staff well in advance.
Accommodations in Kyrgyzstan are minimal, safe and clean. Habitat has reserved apartments conveniently located in the center of the city in a large Soviet-era apartment building. Apartments are furnished and have full kitchen facilities. Each apartment has a telephone. There is one bathroom per apartment. In Barskoon, Habitat rents a house, which is set up in a dorm style with four to six people per room. There is an outdoor latrine and an outdoor steam bath.
The hosting staff will make arrangements for transportation from the airport prior to their trip, and a representative from Habitat Kyrgyzstan will meet the team upon arrival. Transportation is typically a private minivan and driver.
Food and water
Dinner: In Bishkek, dinner is served at local restaurants. In Barskoon, dinner is prepared for the team at the house.
Water: Tap water is not sanitary to drink in Kyrgyzstan. Purified, bottled water will be provided throughout the day.
Hosting structure and services
Habitat Kyrgyzstan hosting staff can be reached via email and are available to answer any questions prior to the trip. Hosting staff contact information is dependent upon the project destination. A Habitat staff person will accompany the team and will serve as a translator.
Itineraries are balanced with plenty of work, rest and free time. Hosting staffs in Kyrgyzstan offer teams a “backdoor” welcome to their community and encourage teams to visit local cultural treasures.
Team members experience great personal growth through cultural and linguistic challenges, and return to their home countries transformed. Lasting relationships with fellow team members and local people are created, and they gain greater understanding of the effects of poverty housing.
12-day itinerary (A 15-day itinerary is also an option for U.S. teams. The arrival and departure day may vary based on the flight schedule. Teams working in Barskoon will travel approximately five hours to the affiliate on day four and return to Bishkek on Day 11.)
Day 1(typically Saturday): Depart for Kyrgyzstan.
Day 2 (Sunday): Travel day.
Day 3 (Monday): Arrival in Bishkek in early morning; rest for a few hours; welcome and orientation with Habitat Kyrgyzstan staff member; dinner.
Days 4–8 work days (Tuesday–Saturday): Breakfast served before traveling to work site; work from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. with lunch on site; free time after work to clean up; dinner in local restaurants (Bishkek) or house (Barskoon); time for team activities. Special events throughout the week: Cultural experiences with host program staff, such as market tours, museum visits, church, Kyrgyz music, etc; walking tour of host city; visit completed Habitat homes; farewell dinner.
Day 9 (Sunday): Free day: activity in local community
Days 10–11 (Monday–Tuesday): Breakfast served before traveling to work site; work from 8 a.m.–4 p.m. with lunch on site; free time after work to clean up; dinner in local restaurants (Bishkek) or house (Barskoon); Time for team activities. Tuesday: Farewell dinner with families.
Day 12 Wednesday: Departure day.
Barskoon: $1,500-$1,600 (12 day) $1,620-$1,720 (15 day)
Bishkek: $1,700-$1,800 (12 day) $1,930-$2,030 (15 day)
*View costs included in the standard budget.
Volunteer Engagement specialist
If you have read the FAQs and have further questions before you submit a Global Village trip proposal, please contact Europe and Central Asia volunteer engagement specialist Joe Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-HABITAT , ext. 7980.