Kyrgyzstan: helping conflict survivors earn a living
Following the violence of June 2010 in southern Kyrgyzstan, the ICRC launched a Micro-Economic Initiative (MEI) programme to restore the livelihoods of people directly affected. The MEI enabled people to launch simple business activities so that they could start generating an income as quickly as possible.
"The programme has enabled me to buy tools and start earning money again," says Mr Ibragim. (All MEI participants' names have been changed to protect their identities). Mr Ibragim is a metalworker, but he lost his tools and welding equipment during the violence. "I have lots of clients, so I was able to buy a welding set with the money I earned. Now I have even more orders!" Mr Nabil also found a new job through an MEI after his workplace was burned down. Being a carpenter by trade, Mr Nabil joined forces with a colleague and opened a carpentry business, using the MEI to buy tools. When the ICRC last visited him, Mr Nabil was busy building a staircase.
Business activities are chosen on the basis of their economic feasibility and the participants' work experience and skills. They often involve several members of a family or even several households from one big family. Some MEIs, such as small grocery shops, are located near the families' homes. Others, such as cobblers or hairdressers, may be set up in a room within the participant’s house.
The 2010 violence brought tragic change to the lives of many. More than 50% of the MEI programme's participants are women. Like many other women, Ms Zeinabi lost her husband in the fighting. Overnight, she became the family breadwinner. Before, Ms Zeinabi just used to sew for her family. Now, her passion has become her profession as she and her sister make traditional wedding dresses and curtains. The MEI enabled Ms Zeinabi to buy a new sewing machine and some fabric to start her business from home. Ms Zeinabi and her sister are doing well: "We have a complete division of labour: one of us cuts out, the other transfers the pattern onto the fabric and sews the pieces together. It’s good to be able to earn your own money. Thanks to this business we can support ourselves, and there’s plenty of work!"
The registration process for a MEI is simple, and potential participants are briefed in detail on how to apply. All participants receive basic instruction in marketing and accounting. The training also includes time for discussion between the participants, so they can swap tips and ideas. Ms Choplon now owns a small shop and is planning to install a fan and a fridge as soon as she gets connected to the electricity system. "We are very grateful to the ICRC for the help,” she says. “We have learned how to keep accounts and use the money we earn wisely.”
After making an initial payment so that participants can get started, the ICRC supports the MEI during the first four to six months, continuing to advise on how to further develop the business. A second and final payment is available, but will only be made if the initial money is used properly. The ICRC's close support means that MEI participants know they will not just be left to their own devices. Designing each MEI according to individual needs and abilities, plus the emphasis on keeping the individual at the centre of the decision making process, increase their self-esteem and sense of ownership. "For the projects to be successful long-term, it’s important to give people confidence in their abilities," explains Hind Abdulraheem Abbas Akooly, the ICRC delegate in charge of the MEI in southern Kyrgyzstan.
By December 2011, the ICRC will have implemented 640 MEI projects involving families in the city of Osh and in the village of Bazar Korgon, Jalal-Abad Province.