Culture Bites


As part of the Health Education projects, CDI staff does follow up home visits after seminars. This gives us a chance to meet people in their homes and ask how they are implementing what they learned from our lessons.

Kyrgyz culture is very hospitable, so we are never allowed to leave without eating something and we are often invited to lunch.


Cooking osh for a large group involves an outdoor fire and strong men to stir.

Before entering the house a young boy pours water over our hands and gives us a towel to dry them. We enter the living room where a table is already covered with food. Surrounding the table are floor mats called tushuks for sitting The older, more respected guests sit on the end furthest from the door; the hosts and young people stay close to the entrance so they can easily fetch food and tea.

Round loaves of bread, called naan, are the staple and centerpiece of the meal. Between each person is a plate of salad and a dish of nuts, candy and dried fruit. As we sit down the hostess pours each person a cup of tea and passes it with her right hand.


Afternoon tea with ladies from our Women’s Health project

After chatting and sampling the goodies for a while, the main dish is brought in. Usually when people are entertaining guests they cook osh: rice fried with carrots, onions and meat. Several of us eat off of one plate, adding salad with our spoons and eating it together with the osh. There’s no room for dieting here- if we slow down or stop eating we are immediately told to “Eat! Eat! You’re too skinny! Have some more! Do you have tea? Why aren’t you eating?” This while they break off chunks of naan for us and call the young girls to bring more tea.

For dessert our host slices up a ruby watermelon grown right in their village. We sit sipping tea and politely refusing (for the third time!) offers of more food. Kyrgyz hospitality has done it again- we can’t hold another bite.



Circuit Midwives

first labor ward tourDuring the month of May, CDI Bishkek hosted a midwifery student (Abigail) and an experienced labor and delivery nurse (Kimberly) visiting from the US. The weeks they were here were packed with village trainings, CDI staff trainings, and observation and assistance at hospital births. The training they provided covered a broad spectrum of women’s health issues, including fertility cycle and family planning, menopause, breastfeeding and breast health, anemia, kidney heath, and nutrition.

One of the overarching themes was how the foods you eat impact your health, and that food can be your “medicine.” Some of the villages we visited don’t have a local pharmacy, so this was particularly welcome news. Several natural plant remedies are readily available in the village communities and participants were fascinated to learn about alternatives in health care.

In addition to the topics mentioned, we also shared about fitness, emotional health, spiritual health and how they also influence physical health. For some of the trainings we also provided a meal as an example of healthy, locally available foods. The trainings were well received in each village we visited. We connected with the local health committees and established a good foundation to continue building positive relationships with these communities in the future.

Kyrgyzstan is embracing the WHO recommendations for maternal and child health and is striving to meet the UN’s Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) but considering recent news about rising maternal mortality rate it seems there is still more work to do.  We’re excited about how CDI’s women’s health projects can play a part in Kyrgyzstan’s aims, by working at the grassroots level and also in hospitals.


Ernie ‘Talks’

IMG_6970“Look in my eyes, Ernie. Do you want a drink of water? If you do, look at my right hand. If not, look at my left hand.” Ernie, who’s cerebral palsy makes his movements jerky and who can’t speak, rolls his eyes to my right hand. “Good! You want a drink of water. Here you go!”


A CDI volunteer teaches numbers to “Beth” from the crawling group.

This week we’ve started teaching some of the nonverbal, non ambulatory kids at the Children’s Home how to express their needs through signs and eye movement. Several of them have caught on really fast and are already progressing to the picture phase. We hope that both CDI volunteers and nannies from the home can use this system to communicate with the children.

A nanny from the crawling group told us she likes it when we come play with the kids in her group. “They love it and it makes life easier for me too. After playing they sleep better. Their behavior improves; they don’t cry as much and they listen to me and obey.”

Bringing Art Back to Jalalabad

IMG_8034In the mountain city of Jalalabad, art is making a comeback amongst young people in a small art studio and classroom located near the center of the city. The studio presented its first art exhibition on Friday April 17, 2015 in the streets of Jalalabad where the work of at least 15 young school children was hung for the public to enjoy. The scene drew many visitors including students from the nearby university and parents with their children. The young and old alike passed by, marveling at dozens of paintings, drawings and collages made by the students. People amidst their daily lives stopped to see the art and watch the students drawing in the spring sunshine. It was a perfect day to display the hard work and creativity of the students to their parents and anyone interested who happened to walk by.


The studio presented its second exhibition the following month. Students displayed yet another month’s worth of artwork, this time including acrylic paintings, mosaics made from torn paper, decorated rocks and painted cutting boards. The event was yet again a success drawing even more attention the second time around. People of all ages came to marvel at the art work and inquire about the classes being offered at the studio, while the students worked on beautiful chalk sidewalk art.


Aigul J., a local artist and teacher, began the studio in September of 2014 and in November CDI volunteers began regularly teaching classes. The studio serves as a way to spark creativity in the lives of Kyrgyz school children, and inspire older people too, who often don’t have time to invest in creative pursuits, or were not aware it was even an option. The art studio has attracted many boys and girls who attend classes every Tuesday and Friday before or after school. Though art supplies are limited in Jalalabad, the kids have the opportunity to work in various mediums and styles including watercolors, acrylics, pastels, pencil, colored pencil, collage and more. They also study different styles, techniques and famous artists, inspiring them to think of their own ideas and develop their individual styles. The work of the children has attracted the interest of older kids, and a summer program for adults and teens is starting in June.

The studio is open to visitors and this spring’s exhibitions have allowed the entire city to share in the joy and wonder of being creative.

Written by Britta Seaberg

Times are Changing


imagePartway through the lesson I thought to myself, “Why are we even here? They aren’t listening to us anyway.” Many of the boys in the crammed classroom seemed to not care about the seminar or the discussion we were having. This was for their own good and they weren’t listening. Then slowly one of the boys got out of his seat, turned around, and told the younger ones who were snickering in the back to be quiet and listen. I don’t know if this bold move was out of respect for us or genuine interest, but one thing was for sure, all of these boys were at a vital moment in their life. They were at the age where one begins to question the essence of manhood and the struggles that come with it.

What does it truly mean to be a man? When do I become one? Do I have what it takes?


The implications of these questions are endless and answers vary according to culture and upbringing. The way a father addresses these issues in his example and words usually has the most impact. More often than not these conversations are neglected because it’s a difficult topic and shameful to discuss.

That’s why we were there. We wanted to teach and facilitate, but this conversation had to be theirs. We wanted to see them speak their opinions and come to their own conclusions. That included discussing the difficult, embarrassing topics of how to deal with their sexuality, what it means to transition into manhood, and how they ought to treat women. After the first boy silenced the snickering, the atmosphere changed and a few boys got up and gave their opinions about becoming a man.

And we suddenly saw it was happening right there; Those young boys were transitioning into men at that very moment by being willing to talk about these things!

A Special Christmas

Christmas Program at the Children's Home

Christmas Program at the Children’s Home

Christmas Cuties for Caregivers

Each Christmas we do things a little different at Belavosk. As we have the last few years, we gave gifts to 5 different groups of children as well as the nannies who care for them. This year however, we gave a very large bag of chocolates and other beautifully wrapped goodies to each group of workers – including the security guards, cooks, and caretakers of the bedridden groups. A few of the caretakers who received these gifts had tears running down their faces as we handed the gifts to them. When we shared the story of Christmas and how neither we, nor God, have forgotten these children, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the caretakers were listening carefully. One of them was even nodding her head yes.

These  women, and several men as well, devote so much of their lives to caring for the children at Belavosk with only a small salary and no thanks from anyone.

These are truly special people caring for special children! Many thanks to those of you who are investing in our remarkable Kyrgyz kids.

Hang It Up

Drying Room

Drying Room

 CDI has been working at an orphanage for over 100 mentally and/or physically disabled children in Jalalabad since last spring. We are seeing growth in the children as we do different kinds of therapy, as well as developing closer relationships with the staff. We also have a long term goal of the community becoming more involved at the orphanage, spending time with the children and learning to value them. For more stories about our work with the children click Here or Here.

Happy to have clean clothes.

Happy to have clean clothes.

     During the winter, we asked the staff what their most pressing physical need was and they showed us their laundry facilities. Every day they wash dozens of loads of clothes, diapers, and sheets. They don’t have driers and the building’s heating system was broken.  We were concerned that if the heating system was not repaired, laundry drying would be very slow at best. If they couldn’t keep up with the laundry, sanitation would become a huge problem.

After understanding this problem and talking through solutions with the orphanage staff, we decided to see what we could do to help. Thanks to a number of individual donors and different charitable funds, we were able to raise enough money to put in a new heater, fans for ventilation, and new hanging lines. The orphanage staff are so thankful that the drying can be done more quickly and efficiently, providing clean clothes for dozens of children.

New Legs

“Nurkurlai” is a little boy living in a home for disabled children outside Bishkek.  Ryan, our physical therapist, and Aibek, our physical therapy coordinator, worked with Nurkurlai, helping him develop his muscles and large motor skills. After 6 months of working with Nurkurlai, Ryan and Aibek were unable to visit for a couple of months.

When Aibek returned to the orphanage, he looked for Nurkurlai, but he was not to be found in the crawling group, he had been transferred to the group for children that can walk on their own! When Aibek finally found him, he was amazed to see that he was walking outside with the other mobile children.  On spotting Aibek, Nurkulai called out, “Watch me!” and he started to run!

There are many other children like Nurkurlai who, with Physical Therapy and practice, could learn to walk; they simply lack the opportunity. With the help of people like Ryan, Aibek and our whole CDI Children at Risk team, we can make an amazing difference in their lives.

CDI is currently recruiting physiotherapists to work with us in Bishkek. If you are interested, please get in contact with us!

What are You Drinking?


At a recent Clean Water lesson we passed around the results of a water test we took the week before. Each woman took a sniff of the black, stinky, unboiled water and compared it to the clear and clean boiled water.* “Ai-ee!” They said in surprise, “We’ve been drinking this junk without even knowing it!”

Participants watch as CDI staff performs water test

Participants watch as CDI staff performs water test


Water Test Samples. The water turns yellow with the test solution. After 24 hours it turns black if bacteria is present.

*Water Test Samples. The water turns yellow with the test solution. After 24 hours it turns black if bacteria is present.

In villages all over Southern Kyrgyzstan, people’s water supply is limited, as is their understanding of what is living in their water. It is common to drink un-purified water from the tap or even out of the canals. This causes all kinds of stomach and intestinal problems, as well as worms.

During our Sanitation and Hygiene course, women participate in 4 lessons covering topics such as Clean Water, Garbage Disposal, Disease Transmission and Proper Toilet Construction. During the clean water lesson, we took samples of boiled water and normal tap water and tested them (see picture right). Visibly seeing the difference in the bacteria content of different water samples helped women to understand the importance of clean water for health.

Now the participants of CDI’s Sanitation and Hygiene seminar are boiling their drinking water. One woman told us of a system she made to always have boiled and cooled water available for her children.

We’re excited to see the difference our course is making; seeing that people are drinking life-giving water, not bacteria-laden water!


Exploring New Muscles

Three boys and one girl sat in various positions; two in specially designed chairs, one on a plastic motorcycle and one on Pat’s lap. “Good job, Marzia! you are getting such strong muscles! See how strong you are? Maybe one day you will ride a bike!” Pat murmured encouragement as she stretched the little girl’s arms and legs.

One of the new rolling chairs that CDI designed and built with local craftsmen.

One of the new rolling chairs that CDI designed and built with local craftsmen.

CDI has been working in this children’s home since spring, once a week with Group 1 (read about Group 1 here) and twice a week with Group 2. The second group is mostly immobile kids. When we first started working there very few could even sit up on their own. They spent the day laying in bed, some of them stuck in one position. Their muscles were stiff and their movements spastic. Even sadder was the hopeless look in their eyes.

Enjoying a ride outside

Enjoying a ride outside

Over the last nine months we’ve been doing basic physical therapy, cooperating with the nannies to use a spare room. It’s a very slow process, but we’ve seen improvement in mobility and core muscle stabilization in several kids. Now when we enter the hall we hear them calling us, some leaning over the edge of their beds to look for us. Their eyes sparkle as we lift them and ask if they want to go “play” in the physical therapy room.

Some local people are also volunteering with the CDI workers. Physical therapy is very one-on-one, so more volunteers means more children have a chance to interact with people who care about them.