Special Theme Edition on the Current Ukrainian Crisis:   Volume 22, No. 3  (Summer 2014)

The East West Church &  Ministry Report has issued a special theme edition examining the impact of the current Ukrainian crisis on the church and ministries in Ukraine and Russia.

This theme issue is now available in pdf format in English,  Russian, and Ukrainian.

Read more about the East West Church & Ministry Report  in EnglishRussian, or Ukrainian 

Galina Kolodinskaya

New Freedoms; New Restrictions

To understand Christian economic and social development efforts in Kyrgyzstan, it is first necessary to provide historical and political background. For some time after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, independent Kyrgyzstan received favorable press for its respect for human rights and its progress towards democratization. More recently, Kyrgyzstan increasingly has restricted freedom. The religious situation in the Kyrgyz Republic can illustrate these trends.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the first Kyrgyz law on freedom of religion and conscience, adopted on 16 December 1991, was very liberal and did not limit any rights of believers. A large number of religious communities of different faiths succeeded in obtaining registration under the terms of this legislation. In the 1990s many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and humanitarian and religious organizations applied and received official registration for their activity in the country.

Currently, however, in accordance with the temper of the times in Russia and the Central Asian republics, religious policy in Kyrgyzstan has become more restrictive. This new direction in religious policy may be seen in the actions of the president and the legislature to extend the influence of Islam and prevent the conversion of Muslims to Christianity. The government implemented new restrictions on 6 May 2006, and on 31 December 2008 the Parliament adopted the current law on freedom of religion and conscience (K.O. Osmonaliev, K.C. Murzakhalilov, and K.K. Mamtaliev, International Rates of Regulation of Freedom of Religion and Conscience; Juridical Normative Notes from the Kyrgyz Republic [Osh: 2010]). The current law differs from previous legislation by forbidding proselytizing (drawing people from one faith to another). Under such conditions many Christian organizations cannot function openly. For this reason many of them prefer not to register as religious organizations but as NGOs, humanitarian organizations, even entertainment centers.

Local Christian Charities

Christian economic and social development organizations and foundations in Kyrgyzstan may be divided into three main categories. The first group consists of small local workshops that are the property of Christian churches (usually Protestant) or the private property of members of churches. Such organizations are very widely spread in the north, in Bishkek, and in towns near the capital. They supply the city with a variety of products and provide work for many people. Some of these workshops receive support from foreign donors or investors, as well as from churches helping their members open businesses. A number of Christian humanitarian organizations also work with orphans, the handicapped, and poor people. Churches and foreign charitable foundations finance such groups.

One of the best-known Christian orphanages is in the village of Sosnovka near Kara-Balta. This extraordinary center is not so much an orphanage as a family of orphans. Some Christian families now adopt orphans and raise them to live normal lives with parents, brothers, and sisters in an atmosphere of God’s love. In such cases homeless children have a great chance to feel parental love, receive a good education, and learn how to build their own families, overcoming the wounds of the past. Often these children find jobs in workshops founded by churches or by individual Christians.

National Christian NGOs

The second category of groups consists of national parachurch organizations. Generally, they have the status of non-commercial or charitable NGOs. Such Christian guilds cannot proclaim their Christian roots officially. Their staff, for the most part, consists of Christians. The activities of such organizations include training in business and the procurement of work permits, passports, and visas, and many other tasks related to work in Kyrgyzstan. Most of these parachurch groups are local in origin but obtain financial support from Western churches. In a few cases financial support comes from church agencies such as the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). This agency and others like it are well-organized and well-connected; they partner effectively with local churches and other groups. The result is the possibility of assisting many people through cooperative efforts.

International Christian Agencies

The third group of Christian organizations consists of international agencies that work worldwide. They strive to cooperate with local NGOs, centers, and religious communities. The majority of their employees are not Christians, but they hold strong convictions about the importance of human rights and Christian business ethics. Their main goals include the reduction of poverty, the development of civil society, and legislative reform. Sometimes international organizations finance projects of religious communities. For instance, Danish Church Aid is assisting the Russian Orthodox Church in developing a self-sustaining church-based farm in Kant. Christian organizations in Kyrgyzstan meet annually to gather information, discuss important issues and challenges, and develop new contacts for cooperation and partnership.

After the tragic ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh in June 2010, a humanitarian crisis threatened southern Kyrgyzstan. To their credit, local and international organizations united to provide aid in this emergency situation and to defend those threatened by violence. They managed to prevent the further escalation of this crisis. International Christian organizations also appealed to the United Nations for assistance for Kyrgyzstan. Indigenous and international NGOs and parachurch organizations play an important role in strengthening Kyrgyz statehood and national development. International observers frequently note that the majority of NGOs in Kyrgyzstan are linked to local or international Christian organizations.

The Scope of Christian NGO Work

Christian economic and social organizations in Kyrgyzstan address a diverse array of human needs. 1) They ameliorate the plight of refugees in Kyrgyzstan by assisting them in obtaining passports, visas, and other documents necessary to provide them with a legal status and protect their civil rights. 2) They promote agricultural and small business development. A coalition of international Christian NGOs and churches, including Christian Aid, Danish Church Aid, Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, and the Church of Sweden, are helping finance and develop private farms, to date, primarily in northern Kyrgyzstan. Plans are underway to extend help to farmers and small and medium-sized businesses in southern Kyrgyzstan, an especially needy area after the ethnic conflicts in and around Osh. 3) ACT Alliance, a worldwide coalition of Christian relief and development agencies, is engaged in a project to promote primary and vocational education. To date 23 primary schools have been assisted through the efforts of ACT. 4) A number of NGOs, churches, charitable foundations, and other religious communities have been involved in providing assistance to the elderly. 5) Various local NGOs, international organizations, and the Kyrgyz Office of the President have sponsored a number of forums and consultations addressing government corruption as part of a larger effort to promote transparency and honesty in government.Unfortunately, to date these efforts have had little effect. 6) Finally, a number of NGOs advocate for better state protection of civil liberties.

The Kyrgyz constitution, Kyrgyz legislation, and international human rights treaties that Kyrgyzstan has ratified all provide protections for civil liberties. However, contradictions exist in the safeguards provided by the constitution compared with Kyrgyz legislation and compared with international accords. In addition, enforcement of protections of human rights has been uniformly deficient.

The YAVNA Foundation

Children’s Charitable Foundation YAVNA has been working in Kyrgyzstan since 2001, with official registration from the Kyrgyz Ministry of Justice since 2003. Founded by husband and wife Yashin Vadim and Natalia Aslapovskaya, the Foundation’s mission is to care for orphans, with the hope of giving every child a family upbringing, a sense of responsibility, and the chance to become a successful person. YAVNA develops programs for the benefit of both orphans and orphan graduates.

Beginning in 2004 YAVNA sponsored a foster family in the village of Sosnovka, with orphaned children living in foster care along with the biological children of adoptive parents. In 2005 this charitable foundation opened a shelter for teenagers in Kara-Balta where graduates of orphanages are able to continue their studies or work. In 2006 YAVNA launched a project to provide assistance to prospective adoptive families and orphan graduates living on their own. Prospective adoptive families and families who already have adopted children receive training in the best care for adopted children.

In 2008, with the support of international partners, YAVNA established a new program called “Workshop and Service Stations.” The goal is to provide permanent jobs for orphan graduates and other adolescents through the development of their own businesses so they can support themselves and their families. In 2009 YAVNA created a Youth Center for Learning and Leisure in Petrovka, a Kyrgyz village that previously had experienced riots and pogroms against its Kurdish minority. In partnership with the Resource Center Suyuu Bulagy in Bishkek and the local Church of Jesus Christ, this center provides training in computer literacy and English and conducts problem-solving seminars. In just its first year, the center trained 105 people, and 300 people participated in its various programs.

In January 2010 YAVNA undertook a project to support small business development. Enterprises established in the program’s first year included a confectionary shop in Kara-Balta (January 2010), a social shop in Sosnovka (May 2010), a sewing workshop (July 2010), a hairdressing salon (October 2010), and a computer training business (October 2010).

ARDI

In 1995, a group of Christians in Kyrgyzstan founded the Association of Parents of Disabled Children (ARDI in Russian) in response to the problems and needs of children with disabilities and their parents. ARDI’s main goal is to help children with disabilities and their parents find new hope in God. The first such association in Kyrgyzstan, ARDI has helped thousands of parents and children through the provision of humanitarian and technical assistance, legal and psychological counsel, training, cultural activities, and entertainment. Currently, ARDI is one of the leading NGOs in Kyrgyzstan. HelsProm, its first major project, stressed a personalized and multi-disciplinary approach to support children with special needs and their parents. Its goals include the integration of children with disabilities into society, the promotion of tolerance and equal opportunities for them in Kyrgyz society, and legal advocacy for children with disabilities.

ARDI also sponsors the Development Support Center for children with special needs and their families. The Center works to improve awareness and understanding of disability issues in Kyrgyz society. State agencies invite ARDI to participate in conferences and meetings in which ARDI representatives provide expert testimony on issues related to children with special needs.

The Fund Irayim

The non-commercial Christian charity Irayim founded Kemin Orphanage School for children with disabilities in 2001. With the support of churches and individual Christians, Irayim provides primary and vocational education to orphans with disabilities, allowing them to obtain good jobs in the future. It also seeks to encourage both intellectual and spiritual development for special needs orphans based on high Christian moral principles.

Kemin Orphanage School, in addition to housing, feeding, clothing, and instructing the children in its care, provides an array of enrichment opportunities including sports and musical competitions, summer camps, and therapeutically valuable work in the school garden and with the orphanage’s farm animals. Orphanage director Galina Mativeevna Bosikova oversees seven teachers and tutors, 42 foster care day students, and 30 children who live on campus. Over the past ten years Kemin Orphanage School has cared for and educated over 100 children. Kemin children clearly receive many material and educational benefits, but the most important gift they receive is the love and care of the orphanage school teachers and staff.

A second group of Christian organizations cooperates with international Christian and humanitarian organizations by supporting small indigenous charities. Despite some difficulties with finances, the latter play a very important role in fostering prosperity and reconciliation in Kyrgyzstan.

Adventist Development and Relief Agency

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), which began operations in Kyrgyzstan in 1995, works to improve health, nutrition, education, economic development, and disaster assistance in more than 120 countries. As part of its efforts to create jobs and reduce social inequality, ADRA assists women in acquiring employable skills and developing small businesses and sponsors literacy programs for children and adults.

Suyuu Bulagu

The Suyuu Bulagu Center for Initiatives has worked since 2005 to improve the living standards of poor and socially vulnerable segments of Kyrgyz society. Its Resource Center provides free vocational training for poor and unemployed people in fields such as computer literacy, bookkeeping, sewing, hairdressing, and manicure/pedicure services.

Computer literacy and bookkeeping are required in every Kyrgyz institution, organization, and commercial enterprise. Because textile manufacturing is one of the few industries in the country that continues to sustain small and medium-size business growth, seamstresses are in demand. With well-qualified teachers and modern sewing equipment, the Resource Center is able to train seamstresses for sewing factories, where they enjoy a reputation as highly skilled workers. Suyuu Bulagu helps a substantial number of women in Kyrgyzstan earn a good income, thereby reducing the ranks of the unemployed. Hairdressing and manicure-pedicure work are very popular professions for women, but training can be expensive. The Resource Center’s free courses provide excellent opportunities for such training and lead to steady employment and improved self-esteem.

Suyuu Bulagu Resource Center has well-established links with the Kyrgyz government’s Youth Labor Exchange Office through which it has the opportunity to help people find employment. Hundreds of graduates of Resource Center courses have been able to earn a decent income, have been able to improve the quality of their lives, and have become valued, skilled workers.

Suyuu Bulagu also supports a number of orphanages and shelters for homeless people in addition to providing assistance to people with disabilities and the elderly. In its various projects Suyuu Bulagu cooperates with relevant governmental bodies and NGOs.

Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe

The German church charity Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe (DKH) provides humanitarian aid worldwide, including Kyrgyzstan. It supports people who have fallen victim to natural disasters, war, and displacement and who are not able to cope with emergency situations on their own. One of its most important principles is impartiality and independence. DKH painstakingly strives to avoid becoming an instrument for political, economic, or military interests. To maximize its positive economic impact, it purchases aid commodities locally as far as possible.

Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe funding is derived from four sources: private donations, its most important source; its sister organization, Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World), providing up to ten percent of its annual income; Caritas International (in certain emergency cases); and German government agencies including the Humanitarian Aid Department of the Foreign Affairs Office, the Department for Food, Emergency, and Refugee Assistance of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and, from time to time, individual German provincial governments and cities.

Danish Church Aid

The goal of Danish Church Aid (DCA) is to support the poorest of the poor and other disadvantaged groups in cooperation with local partners. Its long-term and short-term assistance includes public advocacy, technical and material assistance, and spiritual support. Its priorities in Kyrgyzstan include: human rights, provision of food, and support for civil society, health, and education. DCA is financed through fundraising, Danida (the Danish government aid agency), the European Union, and church donations.

Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation

Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (IODC) supports projects in some 70 countries worldwide, including Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In Kyrgyzstan it co-finances projects with partner organizations including Transboundary Waters Management Experience in Europe, Caucasus, and Central Asia (TWME ECCA), Development and Cooperation in Central Asia (DCCA), Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), and the European Union. ICCO has co-sponsored a cross-border project of rural development in the Fergana Valley (2003-05), a project to rehabilitate the Kyrgyz village of Kaynama after a landslide (2004-05), a civil society development project in Kyrgyzstan and other parts of Central Asia (2006-08), and a socio-economic development project for rural communities in southern Kyrgyzstan (2006-08).

Christian Aid

Christian Aid, an agency of the churches of Great Britain and Ireland, supports local organizations worldwide that work to alleviate poverty. In Kyrgyzstan, to that end, Christian Aid supports various economic development projects and campaigns for changes in laws to assist people in overcoming poverty.

Kerk in Actie (The Church in Action)

Kerk in Actie, the missionary and service arm of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands and ten smaller Dutch churches and ecumenical organizations, cooperates with nearly 1,000 partner churches and organizations in more than 60 countries of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe. It facilitates networking between local congregations in the Netherlands and churches and organizations abroad to proclaim the Gospel and promote justice. In Kyrgyzstan Kerk in Actie provides prayer, financial support, and personnel for its partner organizations and serves as an advocate for various humanitarian concerns. In Central Asia Kerk in Actie frequently conducts outreach in cooperation with Danish Church Aid and IODC.

BPN

BPN (Brand Profilers Network) is a Swiss development charity that focuses on assistance to small and medium-size businesses. It promotes entrepreneurship and the improvement of professional competence through training seminars, business consulting, and loans. Business consultants from Switzerland visit Kyrgyzstan several times a year to conduct seminars on basic economics and the organization of production, to supervise BPN staff, and to make final selections of candidates for BPN programs. It also provides personalized professional assistance (coaching) for business owners participating in BPN programs.

Those wishing to participate in BPN’s program complete initial application forms and questionnaires. Candidates who receive a positive assessment attend training sessions to develop business plans. BPN consultants stress the importance of honesty and professionalism in all aspects of business.

Businesses partnering with BPN receive assistance with personnel management, combatting corruption, customer service, employee relations, and negotiations with suppliers and government officials. Participating business personnel attend seminars lasting four to five days on business, financial management, marketing, and employee supervision. To expand production BPN program participants are eligible for loans of $2,000 to $20,000 at interest rates well below the going rate in Kyrgyzstan. Businesses that receive BPN loans include manufacturing plants of all kinds, enterprises that process agricultural products, and businesses in service industries including hotels, restaurants, medical facilities, and internet services.

In Summary

In the past two decades, Christian charities and Christians employed in NGOs in Kyrgyzstan have played a significant role in fostering economic and social development and providing humanitarian assistance. The stress has been on microenterprise development, humanitarian assistance for especially vulnerable populations (the poor, the orphaned, the disabled, and the displaced), and the promotion of transparency in government, civil liberties, and ethnic and religious tolerance. In recent years increasing government restrictions on religious liberties and on the development of civil society parallel trends in the Russian Republic and undermine long-term prospects for democracy and freedom of religion in Kyrgyzstan.

Editor’s note: In 2006 the Association of Civil Society Support Centers in Bishkek published a 142-page Review of the History of Establishment and Development of the NGO Sector in the Kyrgyz Republic, with assistance from the Aga Khan Development Network. The full text is available at http://www.akdn.org/publications/civil_society_kyrgyzstan_review.pdf. On pages 36-39 the study examines various approaches to NGO classification, the most comprehensive of which enumerates the following Third Sector categories: social reform, legal, health care, civic education, gender, ecology, NGO support, agriculture, culture, business development, conflict resolution, mass media, professional associations, and science

Neither in this listing nor in the rest of the lengthy report do the authors take note of the existence of church-sponsored NGOs in Kyrgyzstan. Practically none of the Christian charities noted in Galina Kolodinskaya’s article, active as they are in social reform, health care, agriculture, and business development, are mentioned in the Review of the…NGO Sector in the Kyrgyz Republic. Most studies of Western NGOs, as well, exclude Christian charities and parachurch agencies from their coverage even though they fit non-governmental Third Sector definitions.