Gaining Skills for a Better Life in the Kyrgyz Republic

Project Result / Case Study | 9 March 2020

Empowering the Disabled for Inclusive Growth

Ainura Osmonakunova, a 32-year-old mother of two, confronts daily challenges in her life. She was born with a physical disability that forced her to leave school in Sokuluk village in the Chuy Region of the Kyrgyz Republic in fifth grade. Unable to find work, she was divorced 3 years ago and left to raise her children on a monthly disability allowance of just Som3,700 ($53). Rent consumed the first Som3,000 ($43).

Ainura lacked the skills required to venture into the workforce. “Things were so hard,” she says. “We struggled to survive.” With no other options available, she was forced to make the painful decision to send her 11-year-old son away to a government facility where he would get meals and an education for free.

Ainura’s fortunes began to change when she heard about the free training being offered to disadvantaged youths and adults under a skills development project financed in part by a $10 million ADF grant.

She and 11 other women with disabilities from Sokuluk village signed up and took part in training in May and June 2018. Their physical disabilities made travel a challenge, so instructors came to them.

One year on, Ainura applies the manicurist skills she learned to make Som1,000–Som1,500 ($14–$21) a week working at home. “It feels wonderful to earn a living doing something you love,” she says. Once she recovers from recent surgery, she expects her home business income to rise to as much as Som1,000 ($14) a day.

“It feels wonderful to earn a living doing something you love. I plan to bring my son home next year, and to use my new skills to help provide him with the education he needs to realize his own life goal—to become an orthopedist and help people like me.”

Ainura Osmonakunova, manicurist

Ainura plans to keep building her skills and to pass on her training to other women with disabilities in Sokuluk. She is focused most, however, on what once seemed impossible.

“I plan to bring my son home next year,” she says, “and to use my new skills to help provide him with the education he needs to realize his own life goal—to become an orthopedist and help people like me.”

The Second Vocational Education and Skills Development Project that helped transform Ainura’s life began in 2013 and was completed in 2019. Almost half of the 17,500 people trained with financing from the Skills Development Fund the project established were women. More than 450 students with disabilities took specially designed computer, woodworking, manicure, and sewing courses, and 74% of all graduates found jobs within 3 months of graduating.

They included Mubina Samitova and Akmoor Rysbaeva, two 19-year-old friends who first met at a school for deaf children in the southern Osh Region. The two enrolled in a professional cookery course in April 2019 alongside 11 other young hearing-impaired women and men and gained practical experience in the kitchens of local cafés.This training continues with the support of $30 million in ADF 12 grants through the Skills for Inclusive Growth Sector Development Program. Of the 3,800 people trained in the first 6 months of 2019, 43% were women.

“I can’t wait to start working,” said Mubina, confident after their graduation in June that she will soon be employed and plying her new skills. “You not only get to make your own money cooking, you also feel alive.” Akmoor is thinking long-term. “Eventually, I want to open my own little restaurant,” she says, “and call it Akmoor’s.”

The ADF 12 project is also funding the establishment of five pilot centers of excellence across the country. They will provide specialist training tailored to regional priorities and the professional skills development needs of the Kyrgyz Republic to 4,000 students and cover 15 occupations or specializations, including tourism, food processing, and energy. Other systemic changes to improve the nature of training will benefit a much greater number of students across the country, including many more women who, like Ainura, Akmoor, and Mubina, are eager to break out of traditionally defined roles.

Realizing Dreams through Vocational Education and Skills Development

Aiza Karagulova’s story is similar in some ways to those of new cookery graduates Mubina and Akmoor. She benefited from the same ADF 12 funding, and she also found her calling in the restaurant trade. One difference, however, is that it was in a café kitchen where her prospects once seemed to have hit rock bottom.

Now 34 and a mother of three, Aiza left her hometown in Alay District, Osh Region, to find seasonal work in the Russian Federation. When separation from her family became too hard to bear, she returned in 2015 and found a job as a waiter and then as a low-level unskilled worker in the kitchen. The work was grueling, the schedule demanding, and the pay a mere $3 a day. She was back home but hardly ever seeing her children.

Gaining Skills for a Better Life in the Kyrgyz Republic
Aiza already employs a female staff member during peak hours and expects to do more hiring as her business expands.

Aiza’s future felt bleak until she spotted a local newspaper advertisement for the free vocational training provided under the Skills for Inclusive Growth Sector Development Program.

She has never looked back. She quit her job, enrolled in a cooking and restaurant course, completed it successfully in May 2019, and immediately started her own restaurant business.

She’s had no regrets since the day she first rented a vacant café space in Alay. “I serve lunch to up to 35 people a day and make a profit of about Som12,000–Som14,000 ($172–$200) a month,” she says. “I can do a lot more now to support my family.” That includes providing funds for her children’s education and helping her in-laws who are out of work.

Aiza already employs a female staff member during peak hours and expects to do more hiring as her business expands.

“Despite the difficulties I’ve faced,” she says, “I’m proud of what I have achieved, and I want to show other young women here that they can realize their dreams too.”

Learn more about the Asian Development Fund (ADF).

This article was originally published in Together We Deliver, a publication highlighting successful ADB projects across Asia and the Pacific that demonstrated development impacts, best practice, and innovation.