In Violence-Torn Kyrgyzstan, Hope Blooms Anew

Rebuilding in Kyrgyzstan

Sohiba Mamatova and her family outside of their new home after violence broke out in Kyrgyztan last year. Photo by Jonathan Seiden for CRS

Sohiba Mamatova is bending over a tiny plant in a big bucket. “I love flowers,” she says as she peers at the small leaves that are just emerging.

The plant is about two inches tall. It was a lot taller in June 2010, when all her plants—along with the rest of her garden, her family’s house, and their belongings–were burned down. As ethnic violence tore through her hometown in the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, families fled for their lives while gunfire and burning bottles of gasoline hit their homes.

Three of Sohiba’s four children had escaped their house before the worst came. When the furious mob arrived, Sohiba’s husband drew attention to himself so that 43-year-old Sohiba and their teenage son could run to a small mountain nearby and climb up. From above, they watched the fire consume everything they owned.

“When I was watching our house burn down, I asked God for only one thing,” she says. “To let my husband live.” Angry crowds took him to the streets and beat him, but Sohiba’s prayer was answered: her husband survived.

After some time, her family was able to return to the site of their burned-out home. For months, they lived in a tent in the yard, surrounded by rubble and ash. A cold winter was coming—Kyrgyzstan is located between Russia and Afghanistan, and its mountain areas get especially cold—but they didn’t have the money to rebuild their old house.

Catholic Relief Services approached Sohiba and her husband about building a shelter that would keep their family warm in the winter. In some cases, CRS supplemented new housing for large extended families of up to 20 people, all living together in a compound. CRS paid impoverished victims of the violence to clear space in Sohiba’s neighborhood and other ones for the transitional homes. Then, with funding from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, Caritas and CRS donors, it started constructing houses well-insulated against the cold.

As workers cleared the rubble away, Sohiba could see her plants again. Along with other flowers and medicinal herbs, she had planted roses in spring 2010. It seemed that while their branches were gone, some of the roots and stems had survived.

Carefully Sohiba transplanted what she could. She put the tiny remnant of her favorite plant, called “Indisky”—Indian—in a large plastic bucket with plenty of soil. When her family moved into the two-room shelter, the plants came with her: though each room was about 12 feet by 12 feet, she squeezed a dozen planters in next to the window.

As the winter progressed, she cared for the plants, for her children, and for her relatives—three orphaned children who occasionally stay with her. The little white house is still surrounded by fire-blackened masonry and chunks of plaster. Sohiba cooks outside—she misses the kitchen she used to have—and worries about how her kids are doing; six months after the violence, she herself has only recently stopped having nightmares about it.

But she has faith that things will improve. The small plants are thriving in the window, freed from the ash and rubble that covered them for so long, and safe from the cold outside. Sohiba is waiting for the Indisky plant to put out its red leaves—“they are so beautiful.” When spring comes, she will plant them in her cleared garden.

Most of her possessions are gone, but “I am happy to have what we do,” she says. “I thank God we have a home.”

“I hope for a better future. I pray for it every day,” she continues. “The flowers will grow, and the future will be bright.”

Laura Sheahen is regional information officer for CRS in Asia.

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One Response to “In Violence-Torn Kyrgyzstan, Hope Blooms Anew”

  1. Mom and Dad M Says:


    We see you in the picture.

    More Bee-yooo-ful than ever!

    And your handiwork is even moreso.


    Mom and Dad M.

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