In 2012, I was able to join UNICEF’s Health and Nutrition team, travelling the length and mountainous breadth of Kyrgyzstan, monitoring programmes, visiting hospitals, and working alongside the CDC in ensuring that any measures implemented by the UN were in accordance with the needs and wishes of the population. Particularly, we were considering neonatal and maternal health; encouraging the use of “gulazyk” (a mineral-vitamin supplement for young babies named for the traditional Krygyz dried meat and fat cakes that were taken on long journeys) for babies who were weaning but, due to ubiquitous food shortages, falling short of getting all that they needed to continue to remain strong enough to survive.
We met with many families and, working with wonderful translators, discussed the challenges facing the rural populations. In particular, it was in the turbulent southern oblasts, where in 2010 nearly 600 people had died as a result of violent Uzbek-Kyrgyz clashes, that UNICEF had widespread involvement. Tensions still run high today, and riots break out with some regularity.
My desk, constantly adorned with maps and pins, trying to decide where we were to go next.
Many of the roads were tough, to say the least, and more than once out we all piled to change another punctured tire!
But, happily, the entrepreneurial Kyrgyz had tire repair stalls set up in the settlements nestled into the mountains.
All across the country there are beautiful roads and surrounding scenery. Driving to work became a real pleasure.
Flying to work wasn’t bad either…
And the accompanying scenes of human life were just as captivating, especially for an anthropologist…
One particularly memorable drive was when, in convoy, we were making our way through Batken to oversee the supplies coming in with our vehicle leading the way blasting Queen through the speakers and everyone signing loudly and happily along.
The project I was most involved in was a nutritional supplement, “Gulazyk” (named after the traditional travelling cakes eaten by the nomads when out on long pasture migrations with their herds), which was aimed at helping to reduce infant iron-deficiency anaemia. Read more about it here.
And at UNICEF, like with many other things in life, there was plenty of play to accompany the work!
I worked with an incredible team, very supportive and above all very fun, always happy and joking. They are incredibly dedicated to the cause, genuinely wanting to make a difference in some small way in Kyrgyzstan, standing up against journalists and politicians alike to defend what they believe to be right. It was an amazing time that gave me invaluable experience and unforgettable memories.