Many parents move abroad leaving their children behind

Siblings playing together in their SOS family home (photo: SOS archives)

Urgench is the capital of the Khorezm region, some 1,000 km north-west of the country's capital of Tashkent, and near the border with Turkmenistan.

Although the region has traditionally relied on agriculture, the harsh climate (temperatures range from +45°C to -45°C) and the shortage of water in the area make this way of earning a living rather precarious. There is very little alternative employment in the region; the few jobs that are available are badly paid and seasonal. As a result people move abroad in search of work; most go to Russia, the Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

In many cases parents migrate without their children, sometimes leaving them alone and other times in the care of extended family members who do not have the resources to care for them either. Many parents think that they will just go abroad for a few years in order to make money and then return home. However, the children suffer deeply from the loss of parental care during this time.

For children living in poverty, home is often a run-down basic shelter which lacks electricity, gas, running water or heating. Children from female-headed households are at a greater risk of being poor due to the unfavourable position of women in the labour market. These children are very vulnerable to exploitation; many do not go to kindergarten or school as their parents cannot afford it.

Poverty and unemployment often lead people to fall for the false promises of human traffickers operating in the area.

An urgent need to support families and care for children without parental care

SOS Children's Villages has had support from the local government since we started working in the area. For example, the local municipality informs us about families who are struggling to care for their children and are at risk of falling apart. We are then able to include them in our family strengthening programme. As well as working in Urgench, we also support families in the nearby town of Shavat.

What we do in Urgench

Children from the SOS families grow up together, living side-by-side children from the neighbourhood. (photo: SOS archives)

The SOS Children's Village provides different kinds of assistance to the local population: support to vulnerable families and children in crisis situations, educational support to teachers and children in the area, and loving homes for children who have lost parental care.

We work closely with parents in the neighbourhood so that they can continue to care for their children. In collaboration with local agencies we ensure that children have access to essential educational, health, clothing and nutritional services. We also provide advice on parenting skills and income generation, and inform parents of their rights regarding housing and state allowances.

We give younger children a free kindergarten place and older children textbooks so that they can go to school. Because there is a shortage of teachers with adequate skills, we run an educational programme for teachers in the community. We work closely with the local kindergarten and schools to enhance the skills of teachers and we support individual children by offering tuition in areas where they are struggling. We organise after-school groups, where children can do their homework. 

Children who can no longer live with their parents can find a loving home in one of the six SOS families. The SOS parents provide a loving and stable environment where children can flourish. The children attend the local kindergartens, schools and after-school activities – this helps with their integration into the community. In addition, the SOS Children's Villages houses and flats are located throughout Urgench, integrated in the community. In this way, the children from the SOS families grow up alongside children from the neighbourhood.