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Supporting multigenerational households affected by migration in Kyrgyzstan

04 May 2012

Much of HelpAge's work in Kyrgyzstan to support older people and their families is focused on the issue of migration. A big part of Kyrgyzstan's "middle generation" has migrated to other countries in the region, such as Russia, looking for work.

This means that villages all over the country are full of older people caring for their grandchildren or what we call "multigenerational households".

Sometimes remittances from those working abroad don't find their way back to the villages or aren't enough to support the grandchildren left behind. Older people have to go back to work if they can or, if they receive a pension, they use it to feed those they care for, often by sacrificing their own nutritional needs.

Older people's groups to provide support

To support these older people, HelpAge establishes older people's groups in communities affected by migration. Namuna is the head of Mekhribanu older people's group in the Aravan area of Osh in south Kyrgyzstan. The word Mekhribanu in Uzbek means "woman who gives care." Namuna (on the left) with a member of the Mekhribanu older people's group.

She was elected leader by the older members of the group for her enthusiasm and willingness to improve life in the community. Namuna's husband left his family in search of work in Russia. Now she is the head of the family, caring for her children and older parents-in-law.

While working with HelpAge, Namuna has learned how to manage, implement and monitor the entire older people's group, which under her leadership has become very active. The group members are now involved in raising older people's issues throughout their community. The group has also set up a Resource Centre for older people.

A healthy environment for children from skipped generation families

People in the village call Namuna their community president. Community members discuss and share their problems with her. She said: "When people share their problems with me, I feel responsible for them. Older people are especially vulnerable in this challenging time. I feel they rely on me and our group and trust us, so I don't want to let them down."

The next step for Mekhribanu group is to develop a kindergarten for children in the community. Most of them are from skipped generation families and their grandparents want them to have a good education from an early age.

Working with multigenerational households in Osh

Another village we work in is Myaly, which is also in Osh. It's very small and in a remote and mountainous area. In the entire village there are only 82 households and 532 inhabitants. These are mostly older people with their grandchildren.

Winter is very harsh in Myaly and snow blocks the roads so nobody can leave for months. When the snow melts it washes awayMembers of the older people's group in Myaly. the roads, also making it difficult to leave. As a result, the villagers live a very quiet life. The village has no pharmacy, access to health services or shops. The only place where community members can get together is a school which is in very bad condition.

Income generation activities to reduce poverty

HelpAge has set up an older people's group with the Public Foundation Mehr Shavkat, to carry out a programme to reduce poverty in multigenerational households. The group is very proud of their work; they have developed a homework club in the village school, implemented very successful income generating projects and conducted research on the vulnerability of multigenerational households. They also used the funds provided by the project to buy better furniture for the local primary school.

The older people's group is especially proud of their income generating project. With 500 Euros (US$660), they bought ten goats and distributed them among the most vulnerable families in their village. Last year the number of goats had grown to 30. The group will now identify more vulnerable families to share the goats' kids with.

A Myaly resident said: "We are proud of our older people's group! They have made a real change to our sleepy village."

Read more about our work with older people's groups in Kyrgyzstan.

Read more about our work on migration and with multigenerational households.

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Author profile

Begaim Eralieva
Job title: Project Manager, Kyrgyzstan

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.