We were very fortunate in 2011 to have Farida Sulaimanova , a native of Kyrgyzstan serve as an international fellow at the Volunteer Center.
She was among 66 individuals chosen from emerging democracies around the world to participate in a civic leaders fellowship arranged by the US State Department.
Her goal- to better understand the role that western style democracy plays in the business, government, and the non-profit sector.
“ My country is in the infant stages of developing accountability among government, non-profit and businesses for social needs and I wanted to better understand how such policy has evolved in the United States ”, states Sulaimanova.
Upon meeting Farida, one is struck by her quiet and unassuming demeanor and yet she is a woman of intense drive who is at the forefront of paving a path for civil society in her country.
Kyrgyzstan just elected their third president. A growing non-profit sector ensuring democratic processes, transparency, and accountability has evolved since the transition to free elections. Farida is among a handful of individuals actively striving to shape social policy and practice for the non-profit sector.
As the second poorest country in Central Asia, with the average annual income of $280 and more than 50% of the population living below the poverty line, Farida has her work cut out for her.
If you ask her about her motivations she will tell you, she is a woman with a mission. After graduating from a university in her home country of Kyrgyzstan, Farida Sulaimanova went to work at a crisis center for women. While there she encountered a young homeless boy who set her on a dedicated path to alter the lives of women and children.
“Some of the children we were working with, told us there was a homeless boy hanging around our neighborhood. We asked them to invite him to the office and he came. After food and a shower, we began talking”, states Farida.
The young boy relayed that he had no parents. His mother had died when he was six and his father was a drunk who later was put into jail, where he died. The homeless boy went to school until the second grade but with nobody to take care of him, he had to begin working instead.
“By the time we met him he was supposed to be in the fifth grade. He was only 10 years old and had lived such a tragedy. The most shocking thing for me was that he didn’t have eyes full of malice, which can be characteristic of street children. On the contrary his eyes were full of joy. When we asked him if he wanted to study, he said “with pleasure” and said he wanted to be well educated in order to have a job and a family”, states Farida.
It is with great pride she shares that she and her co-workers were able to help this young man and eventually send him onto a boarding school.
“I always remember this experience when I meet orphans and needy children. I want them to be ready for life’s challenges. In the end, taking opportunities to move forward and improve our lives depends only on us”, says Sulaimanova.
Motivated by this experience, Farida and fellow social workers developed the organization El Tirek. Their mission is to develop programs that empower women, orphans, and children to help themselves through education and job development skills. Since launching the organization in 2007, they have established business planning workshops linking hundreds of women with micro-credit agencies, created a partnership between governmental organizations and technical schools to provide post-secondary job training for orphans, and they have developed an English tutoring program for orphans in boarding schools.
“ Our latest project is to develop a sewing education program for orphans. Most of the children have no clothes to wear to school. We would like to teach them to not only sew their own clothes but also how to use this skill to generate additional funds for themselves. We are currently looking at international grants and private funding to purchase the sewing machines”, states Farida.
“It was an amazing experience to have Farida with us at the Volunteer Center. She has shifted the perspective of all of our staff on what financial struggle and poverty really means”, states Executive Director Karen Delaney.
We at the Volunteer Center, hope that the relationship we have established will be a lasting one. We would love to help facilitate the development of sister city or an ongoing donation program to support her organization if there is interest among community members.
To learn more about Farida or the organization she founded visit www.el-tirek.org