A new initiative driven by local youth and supported by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme and local counterparts in Kyrgyzstan offers an innovative approach to tackling social problems in the country.
The initiative Linking Hands for a Robust Tomorrow aims to engage young people in volunteer actions in their communities, especially in activities that serve socially vulnerable people.
The idea came out of a series of conferences that UNV has been conducting with Kyrgyz youth since International Volunteer Day (IVD) last year. During the meetings in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, young people from different walks of life expressed their desire to volunteer but did not know how or where to do it.
With the assistance of the UNV Field Unit in Bishkek, Kyrgyz youth have decided to create thematic mobile volunteer groups focusing on areas where needs have been identified, namely health, culture and environment.
The health mobile volunteer groups comprise youth who volunteer to help elderly people living in nursing homes with very limited care. Economic and social deficiencies in Kyrgyzstan mean that the welfare state is unable to provide an adequate safety net for old people, who often find themselves in an extremely vulnerable situation.
Life is especially difficult for those who have lost their relatives, have no family network to support them, and can only resort to facilities that provide state-run care, like the one located in the remote village of Serafimovka which has more than 280 residents. For some of the elderly people living in the nursing home, it is very difficult to maintain standards of personal hygiene without assistance.
The Health Volunteer Group provides assistance to the nursing homes understaffed personnel twice a week, helping to cover basic needs.
Emotional neglect can be as devastating as any physical pain, but can be much more subtle in its onset and manifestation. Elderly people are susceptible to depression and may retreat to their rooms, withdraw from social activities, and be in dire need of emotional support and connection.
The Cultural Volunteer Group listens to the elderlys life stories, organizes joint games and concerts. One of these concerts was given by the enthusiastic Choir of Veterans from Bishkek, and was a great success among the nursing home residents.
A safe and clean environment is very important for elderly people who have limited mobility, and every Saturday the Environmental Volunteer Group cleans the grounds of the nursing home, taking care of the greenery around the buildings and the surrounding area. This volunteer group is also planning to start a kitchen garden to add vegetables to the table of the elderly.
The volunteers were able to build meaningful relationships with elderly members of the nursing home and broaden their own understanding of various elder-related issues, says Ms Raissa Muhutdinova, UNV Programme Officer in Kyrgyzstan. The initiative aims to promote awareness of volunteerism, philanthropy and community service. The very fabric of Kyrgyz society depends on the efforts of individual citizens to voluntarily reach out to those in need and lend a helping hand.