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Each student in the EPMM program developed several stories in different formats for classwork, all based on original research. Here, you can explore stories written by intermediate and advanced level graduates. The topics they chose, ranging from the environment to women’s rights to culture, demonstrate the diversity of voices and opinions represented by the group. The graduates’ writing also shows that they engaged deeply with the issues described, and actively applied multiple sources and perspectives to their work. Explore the work students produced while in the EPMM program below.
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EPMM Program in Action

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EPMM program students participated and worked online and attended various workshops and other classes in person and in a blended learning format.

Discover how you can apply to the EPMM program for 2021-2022. Applications are accepted until Aug. 31. Learn How to Apply

Articles, videos and podcasts by EPMM graduates (2020-2021)

Full Contact

by Murodkhodja Ibragimov, Advanced level EPMM graduate

 

The largest Russian social network VKontakte (VK) announced plans to be represented on the Uzbek market (34 million inhabitants) and posted a vacancy on hh.ru (headhunter website)

The arrival of VK is not accidental now — Alisher Burkhanovich (Usmanov is a billionaire from Russia) is preparing to participate in most projects for labeling goods (tobacco, alcohol, medicines, building materials) and he will need media support — said Feruzkhan Yakubkhodzhaev, a popular Uzbek blogger who writes about problems in marketing and economics. "The local digital advertising market will also boom," he said.

Some media experts believe that the social network is belatedly entering the market, where Facebook (3 million users) and Odnoklassniki (2 million users) are already represented, and the main tool of delivering communications is Telegram messenger.

Alisher Yusupov, director of a startup factory, claims that VK was very late in entering the market and competitors shared attention of users.

Yevgeny Lukyanchikov, the former representative of Yandex in Uzbekistan, on the contrary, is sure that VK has the most promising prospects and, given the underdevelopment of e-commerce in the country, everything is just beginning.

"The emergence of a new social network on the market, which in the future will influence the formation of public opinion, is a logical step," says Alisher Azimov, one of the leaders of the TV channel and news portal Uzreport. "As long as Usmanov owns them (VK), everything will be fine in Uzbekistan," the journalist, a former member of the presidential pool, does not hide his sarcasm. "It is logical that, given his long-standing and close ties with the current leadership of Uzbekistan, his business structures can receive preferences in more than 40 directions," Azimov added.

Askhat Gimranov — Head of the .UZ Domain Service — the technical administrator of the Internet in the country highlighted only the technical part of the questions: "If there are investments in the technical side, the interface is in Uzbek, etc. — the audience will gladly switch to the new platform. Facebook has been gaining an audience of 3 million users for 8 years. And the peak of registrations came after the introduction of the mobile application. VK was originally designed for mobile platforms and is more flexible for the specifics of local e-commerce."

Polls of people on the streets and cafes make it clear that the target audience of VK will clearly be young people, the generation of startups and online businessmen. "The arrival of social networks, Facebook in particular, had a strong impact on the country. There is more real publicity, it is now very difficult to conceal big problems, and information spreads instantly." — says Alex Dalinski — another popular blogger who brings up social topics. "Any tool that allows you to put an official in his place and protect the interests of citizens will be actively used, and we (bloggers) do not care who owns this tool" — her position.

"We are developing as a social network and now we see an opportunity in the Uzbek market. We think the timing is right. E-commerce is on the rise and our brand is well known here" — comments Julia Kingsep — CMO VK. "As for Mr. Usmanov, we are not connected and do not receive any instructions from him and his people. Stakeholders may be in contact, but we are developing independently," she added.

VK is owned by the Mail.ru group, whose main shareholder is Alisher Usmanov, an ethnic Uzbek from the Ferghana Valley known for holding stakes in FC Arsenal (30%) and Alibaba group (10%). Alisher Usmanov's structures own the telecom operator Megafon and companies for the chip, accounting and labeling of goods in Russia.

* "In full contact with information" — VK slogan. Karate schools are divided into those where the strikes are only indicated and where the strikes are delivered in full force.

Podcast: Why Samarkand Pilaf by Nigora Samatova

Listen to the podcast here

Podcast: Uzbekistan: Pearl of Central Asia by Umida Qodirova

Listen to the podcast on YouTube

Podcast:The Life of Uzbeksby Barchinoy Juraeva

Listen to the podcast here

Video: A Long-standing Tradition That Kills the Competition in the Market: what taxpayers are dissatisfied with and long-term effects of coronavirus

by Elena Chuyanova

Watch the video on YouTube

Op-ed: Uzbekistan Bans State Purchases of Over 500 Imported Goods. Is it the return of good old protectionism or..?

by Dilafruz Radjabova, Advanced level EPMM graduate

 

Did protectionism previously work for Uzbekistan?

On January 29, the Cabinet of Ministers approved a decree on measures to support local producers of electronics, cars, and etc. which imposes a ban on the import of 529 items of goods and services of foreign origin.

Banning certain imports limits free trade, and in turn, limiting free trade prevents economic development of Uzbekistan.

At first glance, it seems reasonable that the state supports local producers, but since in Uzbekistan the state by 2019 had monopolies in 137 areas including but not limited to production, household appliances, vehicles. This inevitably leads to complete absence of the market-based competition in the country. If import restrictions are introduced, few selected manufacturers receive governmental support.

According to Yuliy Yusupov, protectionism drives the black market and does not stimulate healthy competition because monopolies receiving governmental support already have the competitive advantage over the other local enterprises. Thus, absence of competition does not provide market incentives to lower the prices and to increase the quality of the products produced by the local manufacturers.

One of the declared economic rationales of protectionism is to create new job opportunities. In case of Uzbekistan, this is not going to happen because employment in the sector of local pro-export production will barely increase. However, employment in the import sector is most likely going to decrease simply because import in Uzbekistan significantly exceeds the export from the country. Thus, import absorbs more labor than export does, and will lose more of it if trade restrictions are imposed.

The Ministry of Justice of Uzbekistan defended the measure by asserting that similar policies have been implemented in other countries. In particular, by the decree of the Russian government dated April 30, 2020, the import of over 170 goods and services within the framework of state purchases is prohibited.

However, referring to the Russian case to support protectionist measures in Uzbekistan, is misleading and inaccurate argument because:

Theoretically speaking, free trade is advisable for economic development. In contrast, protectionism causes corruption, price and quality disadvantages for consumers, and finally, economic underdevelopment.

In fact, 30 years ago, after gaining its independence, Uzbekistan introduced protectionist policies to support its domestic production and substitute import. However, Uzbek government’s import substitution model could not make infant industries truly competitive. Therefore, after 30 years of receiving governmental support they still in need of protection. In contrast, domestic GDP did not grow rapidly (PDF), informal sector expanded to over the half of domestic economy, poverty increased. Today with the ban of over 500 imported goods, the situation may be repeated again. If politically motivated, protectionism is very destructive policy option. Besides that, in the long run, it makes the country and its industries less competitive in international trade.

Here the question follows, if the decades of protectionism did not lead to the sustainable economic growth, how will it now affect Uzbek domestic economy?

Indeed, it is fairly expected that protectionism will again contribute to underdevelopment and poverty. Back in 1993, well-known American economist Jagdish Bhagwati, argued that "the national formulation of the case for free trade is the one that predominantly shapes the policy debate. It posits national welfare as the objective of policy and proceeds to demonstrate that free trade will maximize national welfare." (Bhagwati, 1993: 18). The economic history provides us with examples (e.g. China) when the free trade and investments inflow led to economic growth. Clearly, Uzbekistan needs to introduce the free trade instead of protectionist policies. Free trade drives economic growth and has a developmental impact on individuals. Yet, Uzbekistan has not benefited fully from the free trade. At the same time, almost 30 years of protectionist measures did not prove their efficiency.

Money for Nothing and Your Tips for Free

by Murodkhodja Ibragimov, Advanced level EPMM graduate

 

Uzbekistan with population of 34 million hosted 1.5 million tourists in 2020 introduced tourist tax for all tourists, including locals. Country with ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara was unreachable for the rest of the world during soviet times and later was almost inaccessible due to post soviet paranoid-on-safety President Karimov’s regime.

Uzbekistan became a tourist servicing country. Announcing of tourist tax also proving this.

Just three years as authorities began to pay more attention to tourism. Some privileges declared for local tourist operators. Local population not used to travel in own country were really surprised by long holidays for Navruz and big discount for local flights and hotel staying. Now they are really in shock that government decided to impose a tribute for any tourist. In general, it cost 112 thousand soums (~$10) per person per stay. Noted that all payments will go to the special fund of supporting tourism, events and promotion.

Are taxes high or low?

For your understanding — what you can have in Uzbekistan for $10?

  • Ticket to Samarkand from Tashkent cost 95 thousand soums
  • (~$9) It is half of the cost room in hotel in Bukhara (Samir hotel)
  • Full course at some of the local restaurants for that price.

Sure, person spending around $22 tourist tax for week staying in Turkey will pay easily that tax in Uzbekistan. But for local it is touchy. Dildora Asimova — manager of small two-star boutique hotel Malika in Bukhara says that local tourists very upset that government demanding extra pay for them.

It is also connected with culture of spending money. In Uzbekistan we still have lack of knowledge of nature of taxes. People don’t know how much taxes in their receiving and payment. "As a service agency we are supporting taxation. Usually we show to a customer cost of service and taxes separately. We hope it will fill fund of tourism and helps to restore historical places. Some transparency in this fund spending would be greatly appreciated" — says Assal Ibragim — CEO of BCD travel agency.

Of course, it is not a know-how. Other countries using tourist tax for years. Mainly they doing it to unload overcrowded places like Venezia, Rome or Paris. Somewhere it is direct fundraising to support ancient places like Parthenon.

"Ministry of tourism of Uzbekistan planning to invite 1.7 million foreign tourists in 2021. It could bring around 19 million USD by the tax only. We are going to spend this money to promotion in other countries and rise up a quality of local services." — Aziz Abdukhakimov — Ministry of Tourism commented.

Announcing tourist tax not successfully implemented everywhere. For example, collecting tourist taxes in Ukraine has failed as Ukrainian agencies says. Some of Emirates discussing to cancel tourist tax to attract guests to a not well-known place. Vietnam also have very flex policy on taxation for tourists.

In any case — would it be successful or not — tourist tax in Uzbekistan is a signal of development in field. It gives people responsibility for service and clear understanding how they supporting the state.

With quality of food, natural fruit and vegetables, growing in quality taxi services and public transport Uzbekistan will be tourist servicing country.

Murad Ibragimov for Webster University EPMM course.

Moratorium on Illegal Logging: Can public reaction prompt promising action?

by Avazkhon Khaydarov, Advanced level EPMM graduate

 

On Nov. 25 Social media users have been quick to tweet by hashtagging "The trees nearthe Turkiston concert hall have been marked for felling!" sparking hot debates online and drawing not only public attention but also spurring Uzbek authorities to rethink.

The State Committee of Uzbekistan on Ecology and Environmental Protection responded promptly to the twitter that helped to subside the public’s seething anger at least for a short time. The website cites "a task force consisting of the Committee, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Academy of Sciences and the Tashkent City administration officials will determine the biological state of each tree in the central streets of Tashkent". According to it, the perennial public trees will undergo a treatment or be removed upon thorough inspection.

For years, Uzbekistan’s many unrecorded trees have been the primary targets of different people trying to gain the control over an informal timber market. Despite countless laws and decrees, they still continue illegal logging.

"On July 6 of this year, 37 ornamental urban trees were illegally felled in the town of Nurafshan in the Tashkent Region. In February, during a regular coordinated raid the officers spotted 4 maple tree trunks in the Charagil Farm, Karshi district. The residents of Yusuf Hoskhojib Makhalla (area’s name) have witnessed other acts by property developer Building and Supplies. The firm chopped down six elm, three maple, one acacia, eleven varnish, twenty four ash, ten Sephora, three oak, nine brussonetia and fourteen mulberry trees after it had clandestinely obtained a permission letter from the capital’s construction licensing department. What is more, these appalling cases are happening amid an imposed moratorium on tree-cutting declared by Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Bunyod Abdullayev," the spokesperson of the State Committee of Uzbekistan on Ecology and Environmental Protection Bunyod Abdullayev says.

Nevertheless, the public vigilance and media coverage help the authorities tackling some of those illicit acts.

"We work closely with NGO’s, local communities and journalists to spotlight the illegal logging across the country. For instance, local websites like kun.uz, gazeta.uz, Uzreport TV channel constantly cover such illegal cases. And yet, we may still observe some impudent poachers explicitly ignore the laws," Abdullayev continued.

Temur Akhmedov, The founder of "Green Building Council of Uzbekistan" (NGO) corroborates Abdullayev’s statement and says that Non-Governmental Organizations work on the ground and are better at listening to people's concerns. NGOs provide immediate care and people view them as impartial participants in public life, without any financial benefit.

"Most of the reports during the moratorium have been initiated by online posts that clearly prove vigilance and eagerness of ordinary people. It clearly shows that public awareness matters. The prohibition law has proved its effectiveness and the government can tackle the eco-problem by working closely with people who care about future, concludes," the Ecology committee public affairs representative.

Nargis Kosimova runs ekolog.uz website and telegram channel that cover environmental issues of the Republic. The prominent journalist is a strong adherent of an idea that the law on Ecology must be reformed. According to her, the government should take into consideration public opinion in passing any bill.

"Although my channel has highlighted many environmental infringements that were positively resolved by the Committee on Ecology and Environmental Protection, the present moratorium has still some significant flaws which untie few lawbreakers’ hands to fell and sell the ‘national treasure.’ The document does not clearly define what types of plants fall under the category of ‘prohibited for cutting.’ I suppose the Ecological Party should actively engage in the matter and look through each article," Kosimova says.

Dilfuza Safoyeva, the Spokeswoman of the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan, corroborates Kosimova’s word that the law needs to be thoroughly studied before it could be re-imposed.

"The party is trying to spotlight those illegal actions by attracting mass media’s attention. However, it is not enough to eliminate the problem thoroughly. We have to actively involve our citizens in those urgent issues and raise their awareness. After all, people must understand that we are all connected and if we don’t take all the necessary measures now, it will have a huge negative impact in the near future," Dilfuza Safoyeva answers.

The moratorium on cutting down trees has come into force from Nov. 1, 2019 to Dec. 31, 2020 by presidential decree. However, it does not apply to the permits issued before Nov. 1.

So far, Uzbek officials have prevented illegal cutting of 134,232 trees, including 65,105 eastern maples, oaks, Crimean pines, chestnut, ash, spruce plants and more than 20 other valuable trees and shrubs resulting in 4.31 million soums of fines. Seventeen legal cases have been lodged against poachers and illegitimate business entities.

What Do We Breathe? Why is it important to cover eco-issues in Central Asia?

by Jannat Rakhimova, Intermediate level EPMM graduate

 

The first Central Asia Climate Journalism Conference took place online on November 26-27, 2020.

The Central Asian Climate Conference brought together representatives of media bloggers, journalists, eco-activists from four countries who have been working on their projects for about 4 months.

The project partners were the international network of journalists and non-governmental organizations N-Ost, the public foundation MediaNet, publications Anhor.uz, Asia-Plus (Tajikistan), Vlast.kz (Kazakhstan), the Public Foundation Media Development Center (Kyrgyzstan), German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Anna Kirilenko, head of the environmental movement BIOM (Kyrgyzstan), "Journalists should submit a real figures about climate change, based on facts, not fear."

Journalists and environmentalists from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan presented the project, "Мы дышим или задыхаемся?" ("Are we breathing or choking?").

Journalists from the newspaper "Almalyk Rabochiy" and environmentalists from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan conducted a study on the level of air pollution in large cities of the region and revealed statistics.

Researching in major cities in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have shown that cities with unstable ecology have more diseases of the population.

Almalyk resident Tamara Aitmatova, "Since childhood I have health problems — severe allergies, the industrial town makes itself felt."

According to data for 2019-2020 of the Center of the Hydrometeorological Service of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Almalyk has become a leader in air pollution and is recognized as the most polluted city in the country.

The second project "Древесное лобби. Зеленые герои" ("Woody lobby. Green Heroes") aims to highlight the problems of tree felling in Uzbekistan. The project format is a podcast. Tatiana Yugai, Pavel Volkov and Abdusalom Normatov became the green heroes of media content, they noted the important preservation of parks and the creation of green corners in the country. The potential for absorption of carbon dioxide emissions by the forests of Uzbekistan is estimated at 2.53 million tons per year.

Abdusalom Normatov shares his opinion "Near the Bozsu and Ankhor canals there are empty places, there is a need for landscaping on the banks. Moreover, it should not be the same as in parks, where everything is strictly according to the ruler, namely, it is necessary to create the look of a wild forest. People like this much more than if the trees stood in line like soldiers."

In Uzbekistan, a moratorium on cutting down trees was introduced in 2019. But despite this, an entire grove of 90 trees in Tashkent was cut down in February 2020. This situation was widely publicized in the country's media and turned into a high-profile case.

Another interesting project is the problem of garbage cleanup in Uzbekistan, created with the support of the International Open Data Campus.

Project "Garbage VS Clean Air. WHAT WINS IN UZBEKISTAN?" shows on the statistics how problematic the situation with recycling in the country.

The authors Sayyora Atabayeva and Jannat Rakhimova are confident that the transition to alternative garbage treatment will enable rapid clean-up of the area and reduce air pollution.

Nowhere to Breathe: Residents of Yunus Rajabi Mahalla ask to protect the grove on the embankment of the Burjar Canal

by Viktoriya Abdurakhimova, Intermediate level EPMM graduate

 

A group of residents of Yunus Rajabi Mahalla opposed the construction of a playground and a cafe on the embankment of the Burjar Canal in Tashkent.

Approximately 50 people attended the meeting at the site of the proposed construction. Some of them came with posters in which they asked the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev to help preserve the coastal grove.

The grove was planted along the embankment in the 60s under Sharaf Rashidov, the first Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Uzbek SSR.

There was another green zone on the territory of the mahalla associated with the name of a famous Uzbek statesman. Despite the moratorium in the country 81 trees were cut down for the construction of a multi-story residential building in February.

The grove on the embankment was surrounded by a fence in March. Mahalla residents fear that history could repeat itself.

Nodir Akhmedov, a resident of Yunus Rajabi Mahalla, said that this is the third attempt to "seize the territory of the embankment."

"Unknown investors came here twice a year ago. After visitings notches appeared on the trees, someone damaged the water supply pipes, and now there are problems with irrigation," he said.

The participants of the meeting noticed that the condition of the grove was the reason to transfer the territory to a private investor under the pretext of improvement.

Ulugbek Khakimov, the Chairman of the Mahalla Committee, made his argument in favor of construction. According to him, "not all houses have courtyards, but adults and children need to walk and relax."

"The residents have twice asked the mahalla committee to organize a playground. I addressed the Yakkasaray Khokimiyat, he could not help. In early November an offer was received from an investor, Congress Hall private company. It needs to be studied," Ulugbek Khakimov said.

Some residents support "territory renewal." According to Rinat Ravshanov, now "it is impossible to walk, nowhere to sit for the elderly" on the embankment. The possible felling of trees, which the supporters of the grove preservation fear, he calls "fictions."

"The mahalla committee said that no one would touch the trees. If there is logging, it will be minimal: they'll remove old dead trees," he said.

Anvar Hotamov, the Deputy Director of Congress Hall, who came to meet with the residents of Yunus Rajabi Mahalla, confirmed that no tree would be harmed. He brought a plan for future development. According to the drawings, a playground, a cafe, a gazebo, a fountain, and a parking will be built in an area of 3000 square meters.

"We do this for our children and pensioners. We have no other interests," he said.

Resident Lola Rikhsieva who grew up in a makhalla, considers the declared care for pensioners and children as a screen behind which financial interests are hidden.

"If they really want to do something useful for the elderly and children, then it’s better not to touch this place, so that we and those who come here from all over Tashkent can walk and breathe fresh air," Lola Rikhsieva said.

She said that the Burjara promenade is very popular with athletes, joggers, and Nordic walking enthusiasts. There are enough cafes and places where children can play in the area. There is the Next mall across the street, the famous Blues Domes square is a 15-minute walk away, and there are playgrounds in the courtyards next to the former residence of Sharaf Rashidov.

Rashid Asamov, an architect, believes that the green area is not a place for entertainment. According to him, the construction of a playground presupposes certain norms.

"You can't make a playground under the trees. There is a risk, branches break. To make a playground and a sports ground here you need to cut it down. We will not agree to this. We don't need playgrounds and sports grounds at such a price."

Residents notice that power lines pass over the grove. According to the project plan of Congress Hall, a fountain is planned right below them. The cafe will put an additional burden on worn-out communications. And the street, if the construction takes place, can turn into a parking and lose old trees.

Abu-Ali Niyazmatov, a member of the public council under the Khokimiyat of Tashkent, said that "green zones in our dry, dusty climate should be inviolable."

"It is important for residents to unite and achieve the conservation of the grove. If an investor takes a piece now, he will take everything else. This is the practice," he said.

The editors sent official inquiries to the Yakkasaray Khokimiyat and City Department for Environmental Protection with a request to comment on the situation on the embankment. The authorities have not yet to respond.

How 4x World Cup Gold Winners Amputee Football Players Survive in Uzbekistan

by Alya Zagrutdinova, Intermediate level EPMM graduate

 

They were brought together through a shared misadventure: an illness, an occupational injury, or an accident.

"I worked as a stamping blacksmith at the Aviation Plant. It was 1985. There was a work injury — my arm got hit by the press. I was 25 at that time," Zahid Tashkhodjaev, 61, goalkeeper and goalkeeper coach of the amputee football team says.

With his small stature, fit and smiling Zahid, does not look at his age at all. Sportswear further emphasizes his good physical fitness. Not everyone can boast of the title of the main goalkeeper at 61, although recently Zahid began to devote a lot of time to coaching, since the question of changing the composition and rejuvenation is not far off.

We met at the entrance to the stadium under the Football Association of Uzbekistan, which provides a field for training for the team of amputee football players 3 times a week. Zahid sincerely and without any pathos, although in front of me stayed a four-time gold winner of the World Championship, telling how he found this community and transitioned into a more positive outlook on life.

"At that time, I was a young man, not married, and I thought I would live the rest of my life without a hand — it was very difficult to accept this, and at first I was simply confused. I got depressed. I don't know how it would have ended, but one day a friend called me and said that there is a football team in Tashkent where only people with disabilities play. Forwards, centers, defenders are all one-legged, and there are armless goalkeepers at the gate," Zahid Tashkhodjaev continued his story.

It is quite difficult for a disabled person to find a job in Uzbekistan. Not every employer agrees to create the necessary working conditions for a person with disability. The results of a joint study of the government of Uzbekistan and UN agencies for 2019 showed that people with disabilities are about 4 times less to find a job than people without disabilities. At the same time, the chances for women with disabilities and those who live in rural areas are much lower than for men and residents of the capital. The coronavirus pandemic has further exacerbated this situation.

According to statistics for 2020, about 654 thousand people with disabilities live in Uzbekistan, of which 163 thousand are able to work and only 20 thousand are employed. These data were announced at an international conference on the employment of people with disabilities, held in Tashkent on February 23.

Moreover, even in the capital of our republic the issue of unhindered and safe movement of people with limited mobility are quite acute. That’s why, it is not so often seen a person with disabilities on the streets of Tashkent, for the most part they sit at home, unable to work and gain financial independence. Therefore, for some of them, playing football remains the only opportunity to realize themselves and their potential. In addition, it allows to be among people like them and quickly accept and come to terms with this situation. Although the issue of financial support and salaries in the team of amputee football players throughout the years of its existence remains unresolved and depends on the availability of sponsors.

Passion of all life

Zahid Tashkhodjaev has been playing football among amputees since 1991, that is, for 30 years. At that time, he himself was 31 years old. According to the goalkeeper, "sport accompanies his whole life." In his youth he was engaged in wrestling, and then there was the army and now football, although a special kind.

Not everyone can boast of owning 4 world championship gold medals. And it all started not so easy and simple.

"When I just joined the team, it was coached by Vyacheslav Mikhailovich, a very good coach who taught me a lot. You see, in the game you forget, and it happens that in the fight you want to take the ball away with a hand that does not exist, or kick with a leg that was long amputated. Often you miss the ball due to physical limitations. It is very difficult to hit with one hand. In addition, for the first 3 months I played without gloves, I wanted to feel the ball, but as a result my arm swelled a lot. I am such person, I like to create difficulties for myself and overcome them."

Almost immediately after joining the team, Zahid became the main goalkeeper. At first, the team was well supported by sponsors and the Football Association of Uzbekistan. In 1991, the World Championship was successfully held in Tashkent, where the hosts of the competition celebrated the victory. However, in subsequent years the situation began to change and it became more difficult to find funds, including due to the fact that the Football Association has ceased to support them.

The history of the national team

In October 1988 (33 years ago) American Bill Berry came to Tashkent — the sister city of the American Seattle — and brought 22 pairs of light crutches for introducing with his Program "Football for People with Disabilities." This program was for guys, who fought in Afghanistan. The club "Matonat" was created and on its basis — the National team of Uzbekistan.

Over the years of its existence the team amputee football players of Uzbekistan has managed to achieve incredible success. They are four-time World Championship gold medalists. In addition, this team has 11 cups of the Russian Open Championship and several victories in competitions among the teams of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The last time they won the gold of the World Championship in 2012. In 2014 they have managed to reach the quarterfinals, where they lost to the national team of Angola. They were eager to fight in 2018, for the World Cup, which was held in Mexico, they really wanted to take revenge and again prove that they are the strongest in the world, but it didn't work out. Nobody in Uzbekistan was able to provide funding for the trip of team to the World Championship.

"The next World Championship will take place in 2022, possibly again in Mexico or Turkey. And we hope to get on it this time," 61, goalkeeper emphasizes.

By themselves

The team of amputee football players is assigned to the non-profit non-governmental organization "Center for the Development of Amputee Football "Matonat Football"." Despite 33 years of its existence and high-profile victories, amputee footballers still don’t have their own association. First of all, this would allow to make the team financially stable and give the amputee players confidence in the future.

"We turned to the Football Association of Uzbekistan and the Paralympic Committee. FIFA has banned the football federations and associations of countries to deal with the problems of disabled football. Because there are special World Amputee Football Federation. We have now established contact with its leader from Turkey. We will discuss with him the issue of creating the Association in Uzbekistan and in Asia. There are Europe association or, for example, American Association of Amputee Football. And nobody has dealt with this issue in Uzbekistan. We have submitted such an initiative, but we don’t know where this will lead," Chairman of the Center for the Development of Amputee Football "Matonat Football" Rustam Mehmanov said.

"Recently we negotiated with the Paralympic Committee. We also came up with a proposal to open an Amputee Football Association in Uzbekistan, as well as with the need to open an Asian Association, since it still does not exist," Rustam Mehmanov adds.

According to him, the question of opening a branch at the Paralympic Committee, which will deal specifically with amputee footballers, is currently being resolved. And for the creating association, certain conditions and means are required.

"Therefore, we are waiting for someone who will solve our problem and finally determine our status," Rustam Mehmanov emphasizes.

According to the goalkeeper Zahid Tashkhodjaev, now the situation is beginning to change and football among amputees may soon enter the Paralympic Games.

"There was a time in 1997-98 when we competed in Moscow. The seventh president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, came there. He watched our game and after we finished, he came up to us, shook our hand and praised our game. Then he promised us that he would try to include amputee football in the Paralympic Games. We were delighted, of course. But after a couple of years, we received a refusal," Zahid Tashkhodjaev sadly added.

The refusal was justified by the statement that football among amputees is a dangerous sport since the players run on crutches and can hit each other.

"We were certainly surprised. There is football for the visually impaired, and at the same time, it is not considered dangerous, although they quite often bump against each other and fall but our football was recognized as dangerous," Zahid Tashkhodjaev says.

Due to some progress in this direction, football players do not lose hope that their sport will enter the Paralympic Games.

"Not tomorrow, of course, but maybe in 5 years it will happen. My main dream is to become the champion of the Paralympic Games. Even if I turn 80, I will still do it," the 61-year-old goalkeeper emphasizes.

Family

Zahid Tashkhodjaev is not only an excellent goalkeeper, but also a wonderful husband and caring father. And this, according to him, has always motivated him even more. The realization that they were waiting at home and cheering for him, rejoicing at every victory and empathizing with failures inspired even more strength and energy.

"When this accident happened to me, I was very confused. At that time I was not married. I was only 25 years old, and I was sure that the girls would definitely not look at me after that. And I already wanted my own family, and this, of course, also became the cause of my depression. But a little later I met a girl who perceived me as I am, she didn’t care that I had no hand. We fell in love, got married and have lived happily together for many years," the 61-year-old goalkeeper says.

A little later, they had a son, who is now 20 years old. And nothing inspires Zahid like the burning and happy eyes of his son when he meets him after winning the next major tournament.

"I am already retired, but it’s not for me to sit at home and do nothing, I want to travel to play. Physical fitness still allows me to play, despite the fact that I am 61 years old. But at the same time, I train young guys I am waiting for the opening of courses for trainers in order to receive an official document. But I already have a worthy replacement — our new star among goalkeepers is Kudrat. He is already a world champion he also stood at the goal at the world championship. And I am already proud of him as a coach," Zahid says.

The whole life of Zakhid Tashkhodjaev and football-playing amputees like him is overcoming. First there was trauma and its acceptance. Then the search for oneself and work, the lack of a barrier-free environment in the city for the movement of people with disabilities. And now, even after they seem to have found their calling, they have to look for new ways to solve emerging problems in the team. The lack of its own base and training field, uniforms, special crutches, which are not made in our country, and regular and sufficient funding for travel and team support. In the current conditions they have to count on the help of sponsors and benefactors appearing from time to time.

"We are great fighters, we have some limitations, and in fact, we always have to fight in order not to fall to the bottom, so… on the field we are not used to fighting," Zahid says.

A "Not Little" Swan Named Olga and Her Biggest Dream

by Viktoriya Abdurakhimova, Intermediate level EPMM graduate

 

The Tashkent artist Olga Dudkina dreamed of ballet since childhood. But for the first time she got up to the ballet barre at the age of 47. Now Olga is a student of the ballet school organized by Nadira Hamraeva, a prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theatre of Uzbekistan. Three times a week she puts on pointe shoes and dies like the Saint-Saens’s swan pierced by pain and fear in order to resurrect at the end of ballet class as the happiest woman in the world.

"Have you already decided what you want to order?" the waiter seemed to come out of the air and silently stretched out near our table.

She put down the menu, smiled, and a ripple fluttered in her transparent blue eyes.

"After class, you can eat one banana. Before class it is better not to eat at all. But it will be only tomorrow, we are already here, and I am a master at negotiating with my own conscience."

The waiter leaves for brownie and lemon tea. She sits opposite, graceful, thin-boned, like an angel who stepped from an Italian fresco to settle next to a vintage store and delight the world with her style. Her gaze is calm, her back is straight, her fingers are intertwined.

"I'm not sure that my story can be interesting to anyone. I didn't anything. I just fulfilled the dream of a little girl who has been in love with ballet since childhood."

My interlocutor is that very girl. Olga Dudkina, a Tashkent artist and director of a fashion boutique, is 49 years old. Two years ago, she first crossed the threshold of the Ballet School, which was opened by Nadira Khamraeva, the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater. In a group for adults, ballet is taught to those who are "late" by default. Somebody thinks so outside the school, but not in the dance hall. Olga recalls that when in the second lesson she got up to the ballet barre (long horizontal bars used as support for arms and legs during dance steps) and began to perform plie (squat on two legs), she felt on a physical level that the gestalt had finally closed.

"It happens that people dream of the unrealizable, but I didn’t even dream of ballet. It was so beautiful and far away."

"Far away" means on the TV, near which little Olga spent most of her time in childhood. When the ballet was broadcast, the girl sat at the screen, as if sewn on. She knew all the artists, and not only those who were heard. Olya was sure they are celestials who live only on TV, so she could not even imagine that it was possible to live and dance the same way.

Olga recalls that she had a chance to become a ballerina once. When the girl was in school, she attended a rhythmic gymnastics club after lessons. Once some people from a choreographic school came to class and asked which schoolchildren was flexible. The teachers pointed to Olya, said that she is sitting on a twine.

"People from the choreographic school grabbed me. Obviously, I was their 'patient.' I was a girl of asthenic type, had long arms and thin legs."

But also Olga was stubborn. She was a responsible child and could not give up classes and the coach who already have worked with her. People from the choreographic school left with nothing. Olga did not work out with gymnastics. It remained just a childhood hobby.

In adulthood, Olga tried to go in for sports. Fitness rooms with glands seemed uninteresting to her, yoga was also not impressed.

"The ballet was waiting for me, and I was waiting for it," Olga smiles.

Before meeting the dream, there was another 'stop' — classical Uzbek dances, which Olga also loved from childhood. By chance she knew that the famous Uzbek dancer Malika Akhmedova was teaching dances. Olga met a friend in a boutique with national clothes. The women started talking. Olga's acquaintance left the boutique with a dress for dancing, and Olga with a restless heart and thoughts.

"I was 45 years old. I lived at work like my beloved Steve Jobs. I sat up late, if I did not have time to do something, and considered it a payment for success."

Olga didn’t have time to dance. She sacrificed dancing for work until the day when she got to the seminar of Michael Bang, an American business coach. This was another accidental event that became a turning point in her life. Olga recalls that she was most struck by the words of Michael Bang: "You cannot devote all your time to work. There must be a hobby, something for the soul. You can't run long distances with just one leg."

"At that moment I very clearly realized that I want to dance for a long time. Will I have a second life for this? No. If so, then should I continue to just dreaming?"

On the same day, Olga signed up for dance lessons with Malika Akhmedova.

"It wasn’t easy. Our national dances are graphic, with a complex pattern, but I’ve learned. Sometimes at home I turn on my favorite 'Lazgi' and dance for the mood."

This happened two years before another accident brought Olga to the Nadira Khamraeva’s ballet school.

I catch myself thinking that there were a lot of accidents in Olga's life, but none of them was truly accidental. Each step led the little girl, whom Olga remained in her soul, to her big dream.

Olga listens to me with her head bowed. Her eyes sparkle softly. After a few minutes of silence, she admits that she also thought about it. The first time it was on the second lesson, when she first stood at the ballet barre. Olga says it was an amazing insight. She didn't look for a ballet school — she thought that there was no such school in Tashkent. Didn't follow the ballet. Olga put her dream, like pointe shoes that did not fit in size, into the closet long time ago. She would have forgotten about them if fate had not once again performed a dizzying pirouette.

Olga recalls that at the Christmas service in the Holy Dormition Cathedral, she unexpectedly saw in the crowd "an angel-like man two meters tall and with a familiar profile." That man was Andris Liepa, a famous Russian choreographer. Olga found out that he had come to Tashkent to stage "The Firebird" and "Scheherazade" ballets.

Everything that happened next looks like the plot of a Christmas tale. Olga found the artist on Instagram, subscribed to him. When she was looking through the feed, in one of the photographs she saw her old acquaintance Natalia ... in a real ballet hall.

"I was at a loss because I did not have her contacts. But literally a few days later Natalia came to my store," Olga says.

It turned out that Natalia opened a ballet school for children and adults. 47-years-old Olga went to her first lesson on the same day — Jan. 31, 2019.

"How did it go?"

"It seemed to me that I was dying!" Olga rolls her eyes funny, but her voice sounds completely serious.

She reaches across the table to me like a king cobra.

"I am an office person, manager and artist. By the time I was 47, I had a terrible back and an absent stretch. That day, for the first time in many years, I did a plank (a core exercise). Do you know what I said to myself? "Dudkina, this is the last experiment in your life!""

As Olga says, the life of "not small swans" in a ballet school is hard and unbearable. In the dance hall, you feel like "a recruit in an elite military unit, or just an incorrigible brake or an ordinary log."

"Ballet dancers say: ballet is from the word "pain" (there is a play on words in Russian: "ballet" is from the word "bol" which means "pain"). It's one thing to watch the artists dance, and another to do it yourself. Inhuman labor is hidden behind beauty and lightness."

Olga says that on the walls in the ballet hall there are posters of the coach who is prima ballerina Nadira Khamraeva. On the one of them she flies in a twine and smiles.

"I can't imagine how she can look so happy at this moment. And Nadira thinks it is impossible to let the audience know that the feet hurt in pointe shoes. She is ruthless to herself and wonderful at serving the theater."

For girls and women who attend ballet lessons, Nadira is a true leader and friend. Olga admits that she doesn’t know if she would have stayed at school if someone else had taught the class. One thing is certain: she certainly would not torture herself. And it's not just physical pain. According to Olga, it's possible to get used to pain, unlike the mismatch of characters.

"I remember how hard it was to study for the first time. But after training, I suddenly felt a powerful surge of joy. Something switched in the body in response to physical activity. I ran to the second lesson."

And she continues to run. But not because ballet is a childhood dream that has become a reality. The strongest motivation right now is results. Olga saw the first results three months after the start of classes. She began to slouch less, keep her back. Muscles are indicated.

"I stopped eating after six in the evening. Once I did a plank and felt that the cakes needed to be cut."

As she says this, Olga sighs and looks guiltily at the plate, in which a few crumbs of the brownie are left.

"Tomorrow we’ll have gymnastics of Andris Liepa in the dance hall. I'm definitely going to die, but not like a Saint-Saens’s swan."

In the adult group, Liepa's gymnastics is called "tough stuff." Olga explains that the choreographer brought that complex of exercises from New York, where he had worked in the Baryshnikov’s troupe.

"Exercise warms up and strengthens all types of muscles. Even those that we don't even know exist."

Olga says this in such a tone that I want to call the rescue service which will take her away from the ballet barre.

"Why do you suffer so much?"

"Many people ask this. I am not suffering. Ballet for me is love. Every time I die in class, I feel like the happiest girl in the world."

How People Cope and Survive During the Pandemic

by Dilafruz Radjabova, Advanced level EPMM graduate

 

2020 was a difficult year for many people. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on all aspects of people`s lives all over the world, including labor market. The situation in Uzbekistan is not an exception. The people who worked in areas such as the service industry, event management and other businesses across the country had let go from their jobs because services were shut down.

As the world struggles with the enormous effect of the pandemic and people around the world suffer the tragic loss of loved ones and financial difficulties have arisen for families who have struggled to provide food and basic necessities for the family, individuals have had to be creative and diligent in finding ways to keep the families fed and well cared for. Below, the reader will see some examples of how some individuals have found ways to keep the family cared for in this worldwide pandemic. Even in the darkest room there can be slivers of light that shine through the seeming black world.

Being the one and only breadwinner in the family, Bakhrom Radjabov was hired to his additional job opportunity as an adjunct professor at the Webster University. This job helped his family to be in a better financial condition during the COVID-19 lockdown. Working from home online made possible people like Bakhrom to work in several jobs at the same time.

"I work as a national coordinator at German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ). During the pandemic I could join Webster University. Because the studies were conducted online, I was hired to teach on Saturdays. This would be impossible if not for COVID-19, because classes at the university arearranged from Monday to Friday on campus," said Bakhrom.

For the workers of some organizations, the pandemic lockdown was not the valid reason to work from home. Even during the COVID-19, they had to work offline in order not to lose their jobs. For example, Etibor Kadirova, an archivist at the National Archive of the Republic of Uzbekistan, found herself in such a situation. She mentioned that despite the fact that she continued to work even during the lockdown, her organization created adjusted working conditions for its employees, such as "a free work schedule."

"The working day was reduced from eight hours to six hours. As during the lockdown there was no means of transportation, yet I had to go to work on foot. So, my work gave me the opportunity both to earn and to do kind of walking exercise as I have never walked to work before," Etibor said.

During the pandemic, the salary rate of some people who worked either online or offline was partly reduced. The financial crisis that happened due to the COVID-19 lockdown made people more proactive and innovative in finding solutions to their problems. Etibor Kadirova also did not give up and tried to find a way from the financial distress of her family as a single parent of two children.

Etibor stated that if she continued to work only one job, her family would definitely be in a difficult financial situation. This motivated her to launch a business that she ran during the lockdown.

"Wearing a mask during the pandemic is obligatory. People around the country could be wearing face masks for several years. This gave me an idea of producing medical masks 'CleanAF.' I got a loan of 680 million soums from a bank for two years. As our machines were fully automatic, we hired only three persons. The price for the mask was 1500-2000 soums. As masks were sold in good price, we managed to pay our debt to the bank in four months, not in two years. Today we are selling our masks for 800-1000 soums," Etibor, the owner of Afrasiyob Famous, said.

COVID-19 also gave a chance for a housewife to begin her professional career after several years of break, looking after her kids and her family. In most families the role of breadwinner has changed. When the husband became unemployed, the wife got a job and vice versa. A woman who preferred to remain anonymous said that she had to work during the lockdown as a nurse at a private clinic near her house, as it was the only source of income.

"During this tough situation of the pandemic, I was paid 15 million soums per month as I worked with COVID positive people. Now my salary is 10 million soums as the C0VID-19 cases slightly decreased," the nurse said.

Based on the official statistics of the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations the unemployment rate in Uzbekistan amounted to 13.2% among the economically active population in January-July 2020.[1]

People are getting unemployed during the pandemic and the lockdown; however, this is not the case for all. In fact, people are getting hired as well since the COVID-19 creates new job vacancies, gives a person a chance to start a new chapter in the life. The nurse of the private clinic shared some of her advice with the people who stayed in a tight spot, without motivation.

"Never lose hope! Miracles happen! We lived in a one-room apartment for about 20 years with two children. And it was really tough. But the situation with the pandemic changed my life. I could earn enough money for our family, we could save money and could manage to buy two-room apartment. As I began to work, and add my contribution to the family budget, it helped me to boost my self-confidence and make people around me happy," the nurse said.

 

[1] See "Unemployment rate in Uzbekistan reaches 13.2%" Kun.uz Aug. 03 2020,

https://kun.uz/en/news/2020/08/03/unemployment-rate-in-uzbekistan-reaches-132

The National House of Yunusali-ota Gaziev

by Nargiza Vakhabova, Intermediate level EPMM graduate

 

Andijan region — the birthplace of great Jigits (brave fellows), the Babur — great descendant of Tamerlane, the smallest in area, and at the same time the most densely populated region of Uzbekistan. Every part of the region smells great history, the history of great Uzbek men, who pass their love for the homeland from generation to generation.

More than 400 tourist sites are located in the Andijan region. These are museums and parks, archaeological and historical monuments, places of pilgrimage for Muslims, as well as picturesque recreation areas with excellent climate conditions.

The rich family traditions keep all the nation of this land altogether and combined with a lot of hard work and craft that brings many profit to the people.

National house of Yunusali-ota Gaziev, one of those people who brings joy and admiration to people with his craft, and devotes his life to folk art, has truly become one of the favorite places for tourists to visit. An old Uzbek house in the national style, turned into a modern holiday home, attracts and fascinates guests from all over the world, with bright performances of darboz masters — ropewalkers, and magnificent samples of handmade products.

"Everything we do, we do with love for nature, and at the same time we do it for people, no matter tourists, our neighbors or relatives. They all our guests. We are always open to new ideas, but at the same time we try to preserve our old customs and traditions. This is the main uniqueness of our art."

Everyday the yard of Yunus-ota house is full of guests who admired not only a perfect craft but also the atmosphere created by this friendly family.

In the courtyard of this respected house, located in the Marhamat district of Andijan region, a small river flows. The variety of fish that live in the river pleases the eyes of every visitor.

Every guest from anywhere in the world can enjoy the wonderful atmosphere created by the hands of Yunusali-ata himself, relaxing on the topchans, comfortably placed in the courtyard of this unique house.

By entering to the house, you will be struck by the uniqueness of the courtyard, seats crowned with ivy, a suspended bed — Topchan set on a huge mulberry tree, a children's playground-on a old apple tree, a small garden surrounded by rose bushes, a small topchan for 8 people, for a chess game — on a fragrant apple tree.

In a word, all conditions are created here for tourists and vacationers, but above the earth.

Just now, the team of darboz masters "Andijan Samosi" under the leadership of Yunusali-ota arranges various performances for guests. In the center of the courtyard there is a high dor (rope). And for children, bright and colorful circus shows are organized here.

All these opportunities become a great art school for novice tightrope walkers.

According to Yunusali-ota, this school reveals the main secrets of the skills to youth, novice tightrope walkers.

These are such skill that causes admiration, respect and recognition not only in the family circle, the village, but also in the entire Andijan region.

To our question "How could you manage to preserve such old traditions of unique Uzbek art and sport?" Yunusali-ota responded: "Only love for people and our great traditions and opened heart can help us to do it. Can you imagine me by another job, we do in same way, with the great love and opened heart."

Tightrope walking in Uzbekistan is a recognized art. The masters here are called "dorboz." They teach this craft from childhood, while there is still no fear of heights. Each performance begins with the sound of karnay. The national musical instrument invites the audience to the show with oriental sounds.

Artists perform tricks at a height of 15 meters above the ground. They walk, run, dance, perform complex tricks.

"It's not scary to show tricks. We are taught this from childhood. This art of dorboz is passed down from generation to generation." — tells the grandson of Yunusali-ota Olimjon Gaziyev. — "Our family has been performing for almost 100 years. But we do not perform under the dome of the circus, we perform in the open air, mostly in this yard of our guest-house. And we love people, especially valuable when a grateful audience gives us their applause."

Podcast: nterview with Utkirbek Khahhorov by Ikhtiyor Rakhman

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UNICEF, ILO and UNDP Report on their Joint Efforts to Support the National Social Protection System

by Dariya Nabisheva, Advanced level EPMM graduate

 

Nov. 27, 2020, Tashkent, Uzbekistan — The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) gathered together government agencies and international organizations to discuss what challenges national social protection system faces. The UN agencies proposed several actions on how to make the system accessible for every citizen of Uzbekistan in their presentation of the Joint Program on Strengthening Social Protection in Uzbekistan (Joint Program), implemented with the government.

The Joint Program works to create national social protection strategy, and a single government body which will coordinate key social protection programs. The new strategy aims to make it possible for low-income families, people with disabilities, unemployed, older persons and any person, to come to the government body and get social protection of any type easily and fast. The Joint Program was launched in January 2020.

The government sees the Joint Programme as one of the solutions to the challenges caused by COVID-19 crisis.

"Together with the international community, we seek to build a social protection system which will be resilient to the pandemic and other disasters, and support people in any circumstances. The UN Joint Program is one of such tools we are using on our way." — said Deputy Minister of Finance Jamshid Abruev, co-chairing the meeting.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 60% of the population worked in informal sector and could not access other, non-contributory programmes since they did not meet strict poverty targeted criteria. Furthermore, 75% of families eligible for child allowance do not receive them. And 46% of children and people of working age with severe disabilities receive a pension or disability allowance.

UN Resident Coordinator in Uzbekistan Helena Fraser called the Joint Program a "fantastic opportunity to reduce fragmentation in the social protection system of Uzbekistan." At the moment, the functions of social protection system are scattered among at least seven government agencies.

"Spending on social protection should be seen as an investment into achieving the national sustainable development priorities, as well as a help to ensure that no one is left behind." — she added.

Munir Mammadzade, Representative of UNICEF in Uzbekistan explained why it is important to build a strong coordinating government body in the system.

"A strong social protection system is able to reduce the life-long irreversible impact of poverty on children," — highlighted Mammadzade.

Other UN agencies representatives told more about the achievements of the Joint Programme. Olga Koulaeva, Director of the ILO Office in Moscow highlighted the "drafting the concept of national social protection strategy, under the coordination of the Ministry of Finance."

"The national strategy will ensure that people enjoy income security and have effective access to health and other social services and are empowered to take advantage of economic opportunities. These polices will play a key role in fostering inclusive and sustainable growth which is fundamental to realising the human right to social security for all." — said Koulaeva.

UNDP Resident Representative in Uzbekistan Matilda Dimovska contributed to the idea of ensuring the right to social protection for every person by emphasizing on the rights of people with disabilities, which the agency works on as a part of the Joint Program.

"Working in close collaboration with Organizations of Persons with Disabilities, we aim to re-examine the disability assessment and determination process in Uzbekistan to provide better access to services for persons with disabilities." — said Dimovska. "We continue supporting the government of Uzbekistan in the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities."

2018 UNICEF study revealed that Only 55% of the population is covered by some kind of social support program. UN agencies work closely with the government to reduce this number and leave no one behind.

Russia Expands Cooperation with Uzbekistan in Education

by Gulandom Yusupova, Intermediate level EPMM graduate

 

Tashkent ― On October 6, the Russian Ministry of Education dispatched 32 Russian teachers to Uzbekistan to test the quality of teaching Russian in Uzbek schools and give recommendations for foreign colleagues. It is planned that in 2021, 100 Russian specialists will visit Uzbekistan.

They will teach Russian in schools across the country, share new methods with local teachers and give master classes. The number of specialists sent in country will increase by 100 people every year. As a result of the program, about 30,000 Uzbek teachers will be able to improve their knowledge.

On October 11, a memorandum between the Russian Ministry of Education, the Uzbek Ministry of Public Education and the Art Science and Sport charity foundation was signed in Tashkent.

"According to memorandum Russian teachers will make a monitoring to find out the level of proficiency in Russian language testing teachers and students in various regions of the country. The project will be financed by the federal budget of Russia and funds from the Uzbek side, as well as the sponsorship of Alisher Usmanov," Spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Maria Zakharova said.

The sponsor Alisher Usmanov helps to improve education in his homeland, he provides great financial assistance to the project.

"I myself graduated from a Russian-language school, so I am especially pleased to support such a long-term and strategic initiative of the governments of two countries. I am sure that this is not just a support for education but also support for our common traditions and talents. This initiative will be successful and will be in demand among the entire population of Uzbekistan, so I wish her a great success," Alisher Usmanov said.

This project is very relevant because, as some of the local teachers say, the quality of teaching Russian in Uzbek schools is getting worse every year.

"This is due to the fact that experienced teachers have retired or left abroad, and young specialists do not have enough knowledge and experience. We hope that this project will help our teachers to learn the new and effective language teaching methods. As a result, our students will receive more knowledge," Fatima Batkayeva, Russian teacher of the school #71 in Tashkent said.

At the first stage of the program Russian specialists will test their Uzbek colleagues and schoolchildren. Then according to the results, they will conduct the advanced training courses in 14 regions of the country.

"We would like to participate in master classes and open lessons to receive the additional teaching materials that help us to give more knowledge to the children and increase the quality of teaching Russian," added Fatima Batkayeva.

The organizers hope that the program will help to improve the level of Russian language proficiency in Uzbekistan and will expand humanitarian cooperation between the two countries.

Representatives of the Ministry of Public Education say that project will create favorable conditions for teaching the Russian language at a high level in the country's schools and will also contribute to develop of education quality.

"Our main goal is to have our graduates be competitive in the global market. This, of course, requires a high-quality teaching of foreign languages that are widely used in the world and in particular, necessary for communication with neighbor countries," the Minister of Public Education of Uzbekistan Sherzod Shermatov said.

The project is a continuation of the global humanitarian program in which Russian teachers helping a number of foreign countries to develop the quality of teaching Russian and promoting the development of education quality.

Previously, another 50 Russian teachers taught Russian, mathematics, geography, chemistry and other subjects in Russian the local schoolchildren in Tajikistan, 29 teachers taught the schoolchildren in Kyrgyzstan, and since March five teachers began to work in a distance format in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The geography of the project is constantly expanding.

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Children with Special Needs: Is there any hope for inclusion?

by Yuliya Olkhovskaya, Advanced level EPMM graduate

 

On Aug. 7, the Uzbek Parliament passed a new education law that sought to comply with international standards, experts agree that it might not effectively work out for inclusive education.

Lawmakers put on the table a new education law that for the first time in Uzbekistan’s history used the term "inclusive education". Despite the law has been passed already, experts agree that there are no solid initiatives that will be put forward to address the question of "inclusive education." In particular, experts mention the lack of specialists and strong educational foundation as the major obstacles in establishing truly inclusive experience in Uzbekistan.

Vasila Alimova, the Director of the Center of Rehabilitation of Children with Special Needs, stated that their center conducts extensive scientific work in the field of inclusive education. Based on their experience, there are not enough specialists in Uzbekistan who would be able to work with such children.

"Our education system mostly prepares speech therapists and specialists on mental defects and physical handicaps. Regular teachers are not trained to work with children with special needs. Therefore, it is important to solve the problem with an absence of specialists before we even start thinking about the law."

Senior official from the Ministry of Public Education (MoPE) who is in charge of implementation of inclusive education law within the Ministry and who wished to remain anonymous, shared the same sentiment and pointed out that the lack of specialists is not the only obstacle that impedes the integration of inclusive education in Uzbekistan.

"Parents oftentimes fear that "regular" children will harm their child and wouldn’t accept him or her. A child with special needs requires more attention and care."

She also elaborated that this is the reason why many parents prefer to send their child to a special institution, although the level of teaching is completely different there and children have fewer opportunities to get proper education, which might affect the child’s future prospects.

Among parents, there is no unity of perception towards inclusive education. Experts agree that awareness-building work should be done among parents. But some parents, on the other hand, perceive the idea of inclusive education quite positively, since it opens more opportunities for their children.

"I would certainly send my son to inclusive class if there would be such a chance because it would open more perspectives for him," says the mom of a child with autistic disorder who is actively lobbying for inclusive education in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan has inherited Soviet educational system and seems to be rather conservative toward inclusive education. The transition is lagging on both institutional level and family level.

According to Israeli occupational therapist who has volunteered for several years in different Uzbek local entities pointed out that the approach is far from effective.

"Kindergartens and schools should reconsider the approach to special education. As of right now, they are more focused on entertaining children rather than teaching them basic skills, such as tying shoelaces or washing hands."

MoPE reports that during 2019–2020 school year, only 21,153 children attended special needs schools, but situation might change for the better in the near future.

Sex Education in Uzbekistan: Taboo or not?

by Natalya Silkina, Advanced level EPMM graduate

 

Tanzila Narbayeva, the Chairperson of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis and the Head of the Gender Equality Commission, stated in mid-November that the subject of gender equality and sex education should not be taboo and should be taught from childhood.

Her statement sparked a heated debate between supporters and opponents of sexual education for children.

However, Narbayeva later decided to "soften" her words, saying that "journalists and bloggers had misunderstood the initiative to introduce sex education" in Uzbekistan.

"There are stereotypes that girls shouldn't be examined by a gynecologist. The issue of sex education is considered a closed topic for us. No one has the right to talk about it. In many families, parents do not even tell their children about it. This is not right. We believe that sex education should be taught from a young age, from childhood. Even if not directly, the mother should talk about it with her daughter, and the father with his son," Narbayeva said during a press conference on gender equality, held in Tashkent on Nov. 12. (Quotation: Gazeta.uz).

In her view, it is essential to develop curricula very sensitively and intelligently in order to give boys and girls the necessary knowledge on sexuality education.

"In pre-school education — in accordance with their age, in their community, and in high schools and universities, we should provide girls and boys with public information about preparation for the family, reproductive health, childbirth, protection, kinship marriage and other issues," Narbayeva said. (Quotation: Gazeta.uz).

Immediately after her words, there was a heated discussion on the internet about the initiative of the Uzbek Senate chairperson. Some users agreed with what Narbayeva said about the necessity of sex education.

"It's about time!"

"Without sex education in schools, there will always be a high rate of 1) unplanned pregnancies, 2) abortions, 3) sexually transmitted diseases (STD), 4) domestic and sexual violence."

However, there were quite a few who opposed discussing sex education topics with children.

"Now, also incomprehensible people without proper education will be telling children about sensitive topics. You want to introduce the subject, first train the staff, and then provide the curriculum," a social media commenter said.

"I have a 5-year-old child. He does not speak very well yet. And now he's getting lessons in sex education?!? What are you thinking about," another social media commenter said.

Psychologist Kamila Babadzhanova believes that sex education helps young people, and girls in particular, to establish the boundaries concerning their bodies.

"First of all, it is important to understand one thing: sex education is about respecting personal integrity," expert says. "It does not force early sexual intercourse but only provides information on the consequences of unprotected intercourse on reproductive health and on how important it is to protect one's body from being touched by strangers, and at any age," Babadzhanova explains.

The psychologist cites examples from developed countries where neither the state nor the public has discouraged the introduction of sex education, resulting in low rates of teenage pregnancy, HIV and STD.

"Sex education is necessary for the young generation to make informed decisions in a world where HIV and AIDS, STD, unwanted pregnancies and gender-based violence remain serious threats to the well-being of young people," Babadjanova said.

Railya Sagdullina, a Tashkent secondary school teacher, also sees the benefits of introducing sex education in schools.

"Such classes are necessary. The subject is very complicated. It requires the selection of qualified specialists: a psychologist, a gynecologist, an art historian and a teacher of literature," she said.

Tanzila Narbayeva suggested that the theme be addressed as part of the new subject "Tarbiya" ("Upbringing"), which was introduced at the start of the 2020–2021 academic year for grades 1-9.

The Ministry of Public Education noted that the topic of sex education will be addressed through informing children about healthy lifestyles and physiological features of boys and girls. This has always been the case, usually during biology classes, and now there are plans to raise the issues of healthy lifestyles, personal hygiene and reproductive health as part of the new subject "Tarbiya".

However, according to a teacher at another Tashkent secondary school, who chose to remain anonymous, the subject "Tarbiya" is not actually being taught.

"We are all still waiting. It is not clear who should teach this class and how they should teach it. It is most likely the class teachers."

Elmira Basitkhanova, the Deputy Minister of Health, commented on the initiative of sex education in educational institutions. She noted that the Ministry of Health is responsible for improving medical culture as part of extracurricular classes and talks in schools.

"There are "Orasta kizlar" ("Diligent Girls") clubs in schools. There we raise girls' awareness about medical issues. The topics to be discussed are selected in accordance with the age of the pupils," she said. "We need to talk about health more often. In our mentality, it is not common to say 'sex education'. If we often talk about health, about diseases, about taking care of yourself, then we can move on to these conversations as well. So that there is no resistance," she said.

Later at a meeting of the National Commission against Human Trafficking and Forced Labour on Dec. 4, Tanzila Narbayeva commented on her proposal to introduce sex education in all educational institutions in Uzbekistan which sparked a public discussion in the media and social media. She noted that journalists and bloggers had misunderstood the initiative to introduce sex education in Uzbekistan.

"When I was talking about sex education, our bloggers and journalists misunderstood me. What I meant was that young girls should be examined by gynecologists and boys by urologists to prevent diseases at an early stage," Narbayeva clarified.

Article 13 of the Republic of Uzbekistan Law on Reproductive Health states that education, teaching and information for minors on reproductive health issues and their preparation for family life shall be provided respectively in the family, educational and healthcare institutions. Reproductive health education, including sex education, should take place according to programs developed jointly with educational and healthcare authorities, taking into account the age and psychological and physical characteristics of minors, in cooperation with their families. Professionals with medical qualifications may be involved in the education.

The UNESCO’s International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education, based on facts and research, notes: "National policies and curricula may use different terms to refer to Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). These include: prevention education, relationship and sexuality education, family-life education, HIV education, life-skills education, healthy lifestyles and basic life safety."

According to the authors of the guidelines, "regardless of the term used, ‘comprehensive’ refers to the development of learners’ knowledge, skills and attitudes for positive sexuality and good sexual and reproductive health. Core elements of CSE programs share certain similarities such as a firm grounding in human rights and a recognition of the broad concept of sexuality as a natural part of human development."

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Early Marriages in Uzbekistan: Causes and effects

by Gulandom Yusupova, Intermediate level EPMM graduate

 

Elzoda's story

Her story began like a fairy tale: a luxurious wedding, a bunch of gifts, a house that resembles a palace. However, there was no happy ending: her story ended in the same way as the stories of thousands of young girls in Uzbekistan married by their parents at such an early age.

A young girl who tries to smile, but her eyes are incredibly sad and her voice trembles as she tells her story. She is stumped, confused and depressed, but most of all she worries not for herself, but for her little daughter: a copy of her father who now wants to take her away from her mother.

Elzoda's parents married her at 18-years-old. The 21-years-old bridegroom was from a wealthy family with all of the expected status symbols: a huge house, a prestigious car, everything that in a typical Uzbek family is considered a guarantee of a successful marriage. In addition, he was the son of her mother's friend, and the girl's parents after consulting decided that they would not find a better candidate for their daughter. They were not embarrassed by the young age of the girl ("While young, it will be easier to get used to a new family!") and the fact that she just graduated from high school and entered the university.

Elzoda has become one more victim of early marriages in Uzbekistan. The traditional way of life, poverty and lack of education reducing the role of women in Uzbek society to one goal: marriage and raising children. The lack of life experience of both boys and girls, in turn, leads to numerous divorces and moral and physical violence in families.

"Before the wedding, I saw my future husband three times: we walked in the park, went to a cafe and cinema. He seemed quite nice to me, he gave flowers and gifts," the girl says with tears in her eyes.

However, after the wedding it became clear that this "cute" bridegroom was just a "mama's boy" who could not independently solve any problem and even protect his wife from the attacks of a harsh mother.

Old problem with new aspects

Elzoda's story is a typical story of many young girls in Uzbekistan who are early married at the behest of their parents. Recently, such marriages have become more and more popular in Uzbekistan. There are many reasons for this. One of them is the poor financial situation of families, where a successful marriage of a daughter will make it possible to "get rid" of one extra mouth in the family. In traditional Uzbek families it is preferred the birth of a boy, the successor of the clan. He will stay in the family and having married he will bring to the house his wife who will help his mother with the housework. The birth of girls in such families is considered "unprofitable:" sooner or later she will be given in marriage, it will be necessary to give her a rich dowry and then, when she has children, her parents have to prepare a dowry for them and gifts for their daughter’s husband and his direct relatives.

Many parents believe that there is no point in spending money for the education of their daughters (for many families in Uzbekistan it is very expensive to pay for the university) because she will still have to be "given" to someone else's family and, most likely, will become a housewife.

Increasingly, young unmarried women are restricted in their right to work, motivated by the imaginary norms of Islam, allegedly ordering a Muslim woman to stay at home and take care of the household and children.

However, Islam does not say that a Muslim married woman is not allowed to work, but they prefer not to mention this. From early childhood, girls are instilled with the idea that the main goal in life is a successful marriage, birthing children and obedience to her husband and mother-in-law.

"Early marriages seem to be approved behind the scenes by the religious clergy. Because no marriage in an Uzbek family can exist without a nikah. Although our country is secular and civil marriage is considered legal, but early marriages exist due to the fact that the ministers of the religious cult enter into these early marriages," Marufa Tokhtakhadzhaeva who was the Chairman of the Women's Resource Center for ten years says. She organized trainings, wrote articles, wrote several books that are dedicated to the situation of women in Uzbekistan in the post-Soviet era. In her opinion, the spread of early marriages is the result of the return of old family traditions and the establishment of religious norms in Uzbek society.

Expectation VS reality

"I really enjoyed studying at the University, I enjoyed going to classes and talking with my friends. I dreamed of getting an education and finding a good job to help my parents and thank them for everything they have done for me. But my mother said that a successful marriage is a lucky ticket, which not everyone gets. Therefore, it is foolish to refuse such a chance to become part of such a wealthy and respected family," Elzoda says.

But a happy ending did not happen: turning from a bride to a wife, the young girl received numerous household responsibilities, a wayward mother-in-law and an infantile husband who had no opinion of his own.

Girls often have no idea what their life will be like after the wedding. Usually, they paint themselves colorful pictures of an ideal family life, which have nothing to do with what they have to face in reality.

Unlucky to be born a woman

"The determining factor in early marriages is the fact that most girls with their economic dependence, minimal level of independence or support, and due to the pressure of social norms feel that they had no other choice but to submit to the will of their parents. In a number of countries, including Uzbekistan, discriminatory gender norms and traditions, according to which a girl lives with her husband's family, while a boy stays with her parents and financially supports them, contribute to the fact that daughters are perceived as an economic burden, and sons — as a promising investment," states in the Human Rights Watch World Report on early marriage.

State bodies in Uzbekistan do not prevent early marriages, considering it a personal matter of the family. Statistics on marriages with minors are not kept, a clear position of the state on this issue has not been developed or declared.

"It is extremely difficult to keep statistics on early marriages since 15- or 16-year-old brides are not registered in the registry office (the laws of Uzbekistan allow to marry only from the age of 18), and the clergy takes over the wedding ceremony. And only when a child appears in the family and it is necessary to issue a certificate of his birth, young parents come to the registry office," the Head of the Andijan city Registry Office Dilzoda Mutalova says.

Finding herself at such a young age in an unfamiliar family and with a numerous of household responsibilities, Elzoda suffers from huge physical and mental stress: she got up as befits Uzbek brides at nearly 4:00 a.m., swept a big yard and street near the house (a traditional ceremony for brides), cleaned the house, cooked breakfast for the whole family and then saw off her husband and mother-in-law to work and run to study herself.

Elzoda endured the antics of her wayward mother-in-law for a long time who was always unhappy with her housework and the fact that she needed to go to the university instead of doing chores like an exemplary bride. The young husband, as it turned out, could not contradict his mother since he did not really work anywhere and was completely dependent on his mother financially. When it became clear that Elzoda was expecting a child, the situation became even worse: the housework did not decrease, and it became more and more difficult to do it because of her poor health.

As Elzoda said, sometimes even there wasn’t time to eat, which made her dizzy and did not have the strength to work around the house.

"I tried to complain to my husband, I told him that it was very hard for me and I was very tired. But he could not contradict his mother as he was afraid of her. Furthermore, as a punishment she could take away the car from him which she herself had bought for him," says the girl with tears in her eyes. She was very thin with an unhealthy complexion and prominent cheekbones. Dark shadows appeared under the eyes from constant fatigue and lack of sleep.

Conflicts in the family arose more and more often, because of which Elzoda's husband began to stay for a long time "at work" and come home in the morning, he often smelled of alcohol.

In the end, the body and psyche of the young girl could not stand it: she was hospitalized with the threat of premature birth. This was the last drop — after she stayed in the hospital for 10 days and recovered a little, her parents took her home.

Elzoda's mother also graduated from university and did not work a single day, became a housewife, raised three children and devoted herself to the family. Of course, she felt sorry for her daughter, but she had another one, to whom matchmakers also began to come, and the news that the eldest pregnant daughter had returned to the family could have a bad effect on the family's reputation. According to her, it was a very difficult situation: on the one hand, her own daughter, whom she wanted to protect, on the other, the image of her family, gossip and condemning views of neighbors.

"Her father and I tried to find a compromise — we talked to her mother-in-law and tried to settle the situation. The daughter returned to her husband, a granddaughter was born and everything was fine for a while. But it turned out to be "the calm before the storm"," Elzoda’s mother, the simply dressed woman says sighing nervously crumpling the hem of her dress.

A baby took up a huge share of a young girl's time and energy, not allowing her to carry out her household duties as her wayward mother-in-law demanded. Another scandal on domestic grounds put an end to the history of Elzoda's family life.

"I'm not going to give up"

Now she faces a long divorce process (in Uzbekistan officials do their best not to divorce young couples, so as not to spoil the official statistics). The situation is complicated by the fact that the husband's family threatens to take away the daughter and deprive the mother of parental rights hinting that he has enough "necessary connections" and finances for this.

"I'm not going to give up, I will fight for my child to the end. He will not be able to take away my only joy in this life," Elzoda says with a tremor in her voice.

Now her family has found a lawyer who will do everything possible to keep her daughter with her mother. Her family helping her to find a job, as it will not only gives her to have the means to live, but will also be one of the decisive factors in the court's decision about who the child will stay with after the divorce.

"It is necessary to change attitude towards the daughter in the family"

As Irina Matvienko the founder of the independent information project against violence in Uzbekistan "Don't be silent" («Не молчи») notised, "such stories are quite common in our society. Despite all the progress we have made, family and marriage remain largely an area dominated by the historical norms and rules of the typical Uzbek family, which often run counter to human rights. Although today women have made great strides in realizing their rights and opportunities, the fate of many of them depends on their parents and their decisions, which they must obey without question. Isolated and with limited freedom, married girls often feel disempowered. They are deprived of their fundamental rights to health, education and safety."

"Child brides are neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers. They face more risks of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth and suffering domestic violence. With little access to education and economic opportunities, they and their families are more likely to live in poverty."

Early marriages violate human rights, cause negative consequences for health both physically and mentally, and deepen social inequality for women. According to the official statistic every year 12 million girls are married before the age of 18. That is 23 girls every minute — married off too soon, their personal development and wellbeing put at risk. Child marriage is a human rights violation that we must end to achieve a better future for all.

Psychologist Liana Natroshvili believes that the role of society in understanding the place of women is one of the most important.

"In the current situation, the issue based on both traditions and stereotypes that have been passed from generation to generation. And it is necessary to change the idea of society about how everything should be. It is necessary to change this in all layers, for example, the attitude towards the daughter in the family — she should not be a labor force, "cut off from a chunk" who will get married and will no longer be involved in the family. All this needs to be discussed, explained in schools, kindergartens, at work, institutes and other organizations. It is important to form a new public opinion," psychologist Liana Natroshvili says.