Coalition of Communities of Kyrgyzstan: “We United to Strengthen the Voices”

The Coalition of Four Communities is developing a media campaign to eradicate hate and stigma speech

Author: Olga Ochneva, Kyrgyzstan

Community organizations are often not cooperative: each one deals with specific problems and has its own approaches to work. Nevertheless, the Coalition of Four Communities: people who use drugs (PUD), sex-workers (SW), people living with HIV (PLHIV), lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LGBT) is developing and gaining strength in Kyrgyzstan. Consolidation began three years ago without any financial support. The goal is to make the participation of communities in solving the problems of their groups meaningful, to fight against HIV, to reduce stigma and discrimination. Below we discussed the experience of interaction, successes and plans with the representatives of the Coalition.

Four years ago, our interlocutors could not even dream of uniting all groups vulnerable to HIV.

“I said three years ago, that organisations for people who use drugs can only unite with a group of PLHIV, and probably with sex-workers organisation. The representatives of our group often have experience of imprisonment and would never join the LGBT community,” says Sergey Bessonov, leader of the IDU community organization Harm Reduction Network Association. “At the meeting earlier this year, 99% of my employees agreed to work with convicted men who have sex with men. This is the result of the gradual and systematic work on the consolidation of our groups, which we have been carrying out in recent years. People start looking at each other differently.”

The true spirit of unity

The groups began to unite in 2015, when women who use drugs (Asteria), sex-workers (Tais Plus) and the LGBT community (Labrys) took part in presenting an alternative report on the situation with all three groups at the 60th session of the CEDAW Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in Geneva. According to the members of the Coalition, they sensed the real spirit of unity during the election of a representative from the community to the governmental Coordinating Council for Public Health.

“As community organizations, we have mobilized to promote our candidate as an alternative to a candidate from AIDS-service organizations, since we have different approaches to work. Spontaneously, within two hours we managed to organize 47% of the votes,” recalls the director of the organization for women who use drugs Irena Ermolaeva. “Then the community of PLHIV and men who used drugs joined us. Although our candidate did not win, we understood that we are stronger standing together than alone, understood the real power of consolidation and were inspired by it.”

Similar problems in groups

The first activity of the Coalition was the development and submission of two project applications. At this time, a large regional network announced grants for the development of consortiums of communities. According to the representatives of the Coalition, the focus of their applications was on maintaining tolerance among groups as the basis for the future work. The Coalition has not received support but did not stop a joint activity. In 2017, the Coalition together with the Office of the Ombudsman conducted monitoring: they monitored the rights of all four communities. Later the organizations united to conduct a media campaign to eradicate hate speech and a language of hatred.

“Initially, the campaign had to be focused on the LGBT community. At the joint meeting last summer we decided to include all our communities in the campaign,” says Nazik Abylgazieva, the LGBT representative of the Labrys organization. “We made a video with famous people of the country who spoke about our problems. Our message has been heard: during three days, the video was viewed by more than 150 thousand people.”

50 representatives of different communities took part in a joint training, recalls the psychologist of the PLHIV-organization Prosvet Margarita Sabirova, and the team-building process was seen. People overcame external and internal discrimination. It became clear that groups had similar problems.

Involvement on a short notice

Now the Coalition includes seven community organizations representing women, men and young people who use drugs, PLHIV, sex-workers and the LGBT community. The Coalition is considering two more candidates. The association is not officially registered and is currently developing its strategic plan.

“Memorandums, agreements and the formal creation of consortiums do not solve the problem. If we understand each other and trust our partners, there is no need to register it legally since we are ready to help each other on a short notice, ready to get involved, to support,” claims Sergey Bessonov. “Together we already submitted several applications for our Coalition. The first joint project is aimed at bringing our communities closer together. We develop the three-year strategy of our Coalition and determine how we will interact to promote common interests.”

The Coalition received Global Fund project this year. Due to cuts of funding, it was decided to leave only one network that would work for all the groups instead of four separate national networks of communities. In the framework of this activity, communities monitor and advocate to improve the quality and access to HIV programs as well as receive technical assistance to increase community capacity and solidarity.

AFEW Shared Techniques of Relaxation in Kyrgyzstan

Author: Olesya Kravchuk, AFEW International

The community dialogue platform gathered for the summer school last week in Kyrgyzstan. This summer school was organised within ‘Bridging the Gaps’ programme. The director of programs of AFEW International Janine Wildschut attended the school. After some days of serious work in which the community discussed struggles they face in Kyrgyzstan and how they can come up with a united voice, a training on burnout syndrome and how to prevent it was arranged.

“For many community leaders life is hectic and full of stress. First of all, they do their work with their full heart, which makes them also more sensitive for the stories and troubles of people they help. Secondly, the community members were mostly not trained as managers and leaders of NGOs, and now they are carrying this responsibility with big feeling of commitment. Besides, daily life in Kyrgyzstan for many people consists of a lot of struggle: family responsibilities, economic challenges and little time for relaxation,” Janine Wildschut shares. “This results in feelings of stress, little division of private life and work and little awareness of spending time on hobbies or personal time. Besides, within NGOs there is not much awareness of the need for staff to relax, take holiday time, have some breaks or breathing exercises. Women seem to have more pressure than men, as women are the main caretakers of the household.”

Thіs summer school gave the community members an opportunity to become more aware of stress factors. For one week they were thinking more about themselves, exchanged their worries and learned relaxation techniques.

“As I am not drinking or taking drugs at the moment, I do not know how to relax since that normally was my relaxation,” says one participant of the training who stopped to use drugs. Most of the participants of the summer school also feel that it is very important to be together during such studies since it is the only opportunity for them to gather together outside of official gatherings.

Janine Wildschut shared her experience with stress and burnout. Some of her lessons were taken as eye opener for many.

“When your system stresses up, it “tells” you to run harder, and that is the moment to stop yourself and slow down completely,” Janine said. “To have a boss that understands that this is important and supports you taking a break sometimes is also very important. As the problems around you are a fact of life, you are the only one that can change how you handle this: with stress or by contributing the best you can, but not more than you can.”

Besides, on her trip in Kyrgyzstan, AFEW’s director of programs conducted a focus group about community advocacy to see if change in this area is occurring, what is required to have a greater involvement of the community, and how the dialogue platform contributes to that. Janine also interviewed community NGOs on the situation of shrinking space for CSOs in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The situation in Kyrgyzstan nowadays is stable. Wider coalitions are initiated and hard work is done with the government to show the invaluable work that NGOs are doing.

Communities will be Educated how to Analyse Data and how to Act

Two new modules for the program community-based participant research CBPR [e] Education that is supporting and strengthening the research capacity of organizations acting on behalf of and representing the interests of communities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) are released online today.

The program consists of the number of activities, including training for community-based participatory research, small grants program, workshop on dissemination and abstract writing and workshop on presenting research findings on AIDS2018 Conference.

AFEW International gives program participants the opportunity to take part in online e-learning modules for further development of their research skills. The modules are also available for others who are interested in community-based participatory research. Course that costs 75 euros, includes 7 modules on the preparation and conduct of community-based participatory research.

The first module announced today is Data Analysis. Analyzing data is necessary to make sense of the outcomes of the study and to answer the research questions. Analyzing data will help working towards a way of representing the data to a larger public.

The second module is called Bringing about social change: translating knowledge into action. After the data is collected and analyzed, the participant is ready to write the reports and to disseminate the results to others. It is the time now to determine how the participant can bring social change that will benefit the community. The evaluation of the research will be also discussed in this module.

Later on, everyone will be able to participate in the webinar on data analysis, which will be held in late spring or summer of 2017.