Welcome to Crossroads Central Asia
Crossroads Central Asia is located in Shymkent, Kazakhstan. We believe that, in a broken world that sees too much suffering, we should do all we can to link those who are in need with those who can provide help. So we provide a crossroads to bring both together on the Silk Road. We are a branch office of Crossroads Foundation.
At this time, we have special news regarding our work in Central Asia. Andrew and Sarah Starr have decided to step down from their roles as leaders there. With their departure, we believe the work has come to a point where, after their years of nurture and growth, it is able to continue independently. It will do so under the name Salem Union, the locally registered Kazakh charity which currently owns the site and runs the English School. Being a local NGO, like Salem, rather than an international one, such as Crossroads, brings a number of advantages in the Central Asian context.
Crossroads will nonetheless be delighted to continue supporting the team over there with humanitarian aid shipments, as in the past.
We are deeply indebted to Andrew and Sarah and the team for their hard work and dedication in this part of the world as they have helped many thousands of Central Asians in need. It has been a joy and privilege to walk the journey with them.
Nuclear devastation and the intangible of hope
“The land, the water: it’s all radioactive,” a resident in the Kazakhstani city of Semey, located 150 km from the former nuclear test facility, explains. “The oncological hospitals are all full to overflowing.”
Under Soviet rule, 436 nuclear tests were conducted in an area called The Polygon in northeast Kazakhstan. 116 of those tests were atmospheric.
In 1947, Lavrentiy Beria, political head of the Soviet atomic bomb project claimed the vast 18,000 km² steppe was "uninhabited". The tests have long since stopped but their impact upon those that live near this notorious region is still being felt daily, decades on. It is estimated that the health of 200,000 local residents has been directly impacted.
With the radiation has come a devastating local myth:
“People believe that if you drink vodka it saves you from the radiation.” The result is rampant alcoholism which takes it’s very real toll on the lives of very real people, people like Alfiya.
Alfiya grew up in an orphanage in Semey. She has four kids. Two are special needs. She was an alcoholic trying to survive with her kids. This, in a city whose winters drop below -40 degrees Celsius.
“Nearly all the money she did receive went on medicines, paying utilities, coal, fire wood. They never had enough,” recounts the director of the Semey charity.
She was a “non-person” in the society’s eyes.
The charity’s volunteers saw her differently. They helped out with feeding and clothing the family but they also brought the intangible that changed everything. They brought hope and a new start for Alfiya as she got freed from her addiction.
The charity’s director remarked to us, “Of course, we have many, many people like her and we cannot help them all. However, we do what we can so that these people do not lose hope that in this world there are people who are not indifferent to their plight and that those people can help.”
At our Shymkent warehouse, Crossroads is preparing to ship a container of goods that will equip this wonderful organization to better care for the “non-persons” of the “uninhabited” steppe.
Tolik, tractors and the stupendous power of love
Crossroads ships to seven NGOs in Kyrgyzstan who are bringing lives, like Tolik's back from the brink
The funeral is on Dmitry’s mind. His eyes are clear but his brow is furrowed as he talks. It was last week, he explains. A 15 year old girl. She had died of a drug overdose, future unrealised, somewhere in this village in which we stand. In the grey faces of those who had gathered, Dmitry had seen his past.
We are talking in the courtyard of an orphanage in a village of about 5,000 near the shores of Kyrgyzstan’s wildly beautiful Lake Issyk KyI. Dmitry is a carer here. Kids are playing as the day cools, laughing at clouds.
Dmitry is 34. He knows too well it could have been, maybe should have been him. Dmitry was an alcoholic. He started drinking when he was 14 and stopped when he was 24. Ten years. His father had left when he was young. He used to drink with his mother and beat her.
In rural Kyrgyzstan, I learn, such lives are not uncommon.
I look at Dmitry again. I see this man who is pouring his life into caring for orphans in a village no one knows. I do not see the man that he is describing. I see peace, grace, even. Where had that other man gone? Dmitry tells me of a family who loved him and his family unconditionally… Was love powerful enough to change a life, though?
Around 5 pm we gather in the dining hall for tea, strong and black, boulichki and home-made strawberry jam. The more responsible girls, perhaps 8 or 9 years old, are giggling and working through some maths problems down the end of the long laminate table. The man they call Papa, meanwhile, is telling stories about the different kids and farming. Tolik sits to his right. This year they are planting wheat. They rent 3 ha of land from the government for around 150 dollars a year. Tolik drives the tractor and Tolik negotiates the tricky business of securing irrigation for their fields. As Papa talks, two things are clear to me: Tolik is loved and Tolik, 15, is being initiated into manhood in a way Halo 3 simply does not.
The boy had been taken from his abusive domestic situation by the police that night. They had brought him to the orphanage as a stop gap around midnight. They had taken him to the doctor the following day. He stayed longer than expected.
Sitting around the evening meal tonight we're all here. 20 odd kids. 3 or 4 adult carers and us. Family. Orphans, half orphans, kids from abusive homes, kids on their way home...
The orphanage has no regular sponsors. As I watch, the kids devour the pasta, the bread, the salad, the tea, the jam. The teenage boys go for seconds and some. It's been operating hand to mouth for the last 7 years. The latest grant that has covered food costs ends tomorrow. It's not clear where the money will come from. “But you know,” smiles Lena, the director, “In all that time, we've never gone cold.”
After the meal Dmitry and I head outside again. A car pulls up. A rather stiff looking fellow, by my appraisal, gets out and requests Lena. Dmitry ducks inside to find her. I go in search of my fellow traveler, Phil, who is clambering around a 1956 Bedford bus. (It was driven to Kyrgyzstan as a result of a bet over a pint of beer in London apparently!)
I return a couple of minutes later. Who was that guy? I ask Dmitry. He doesn't know but he just brought a couple of bags of food. Lucky.
Following this visit, this month Crossroads shipped a container of goods – bunk beds, clothes, toys, computers, furniture, sewing machines - to this wonderful home for kids and to 7 other grass-roots organizations working with Kyrgyzstan’s poor.
Crossroads’ Community Care department seeks to serve those isolated and in need within Shymkent. As we reach out, it’s not simply the lives of those we’re serving that are being changed.
Nina means, I’m told, “little girl”.
Before meeting Nina we were given a brief description of her. We sat in the Community Care office, me and three Australian visitors, and listened. An elderly woman. 78 years old. Living alone. No family to speak of, save a broken relationship with a daughter. One day, when cleaning windows, she had fallen. She badly injured her back. She could not leave her apartment. In 2003, she began to lose her sight. Three years later, she was almost completely blind. Her case had been referred to Community Care by Social Welfare. “I’m so lonely – sometimes I forgot my Russian words,” she had told Dina when Community Care had first contacted her.
A month ago her second floor neighbour’s pipes had burst. The water had flooded her kitchen damaging the cupboards.
As I sat listening to her story, I expected her to be bitter and despairing. Usually people with such hard stories are like that.
But how wonderfully wrong I was!
Baba Nina is amazing. I hear her before I see her. We are bringing her a new cupboard up the stairs and though she can’t see us she can hear us. She stands, bent, both hands upon a short, wooden four-legged stool for support. Her coat is a tattered brown, her hair silver. She has come to the door to make us as welcome as she possibly can.
Spirit is a mysterious thing. I find it in people’s eyes. Nina’s are so bright.
We put the laminate cupboard in the kitchen. We stand back and Baba Nina begins her inspection. She stops a moment. She puts her head on the bench top and smiles.
“I could fall over with joy,” she says. And as we watch, we don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Our Community Care team have been visiting Baba Nina once a week for several months. In the years before she lost her sight, Nina loved to cook. So when Dina visits, they cook dishes Nina has not tasted for many, many years.
For us visitors, she serves tea. “First a little water in the pot, then the tea,” she says. “It must be leaf-tea for you. Leaf-tea!”
“I’m a passionate person,” Baba Nina explains. “I love books and music. And I loved to dance.” Her shelves are full of books and records, especially Strauss.
Only once I see a shadow. Sipping tea, I ask her what she did under the Soviet Union. She stills, her eyes distant and silent. I wait, uncomfortably aware of my question. “Beate has not talked much today,” she says finally.
So we talk about her cat. She tells us how the cat came as a kitten and ate all the mice. She tells how her cat was lost once in the very cold. And how when she had lost all hope the cat had appeared at her feet. How the cat had collapsed beside her upon her couch and had slept a day and night. A cat that was lost had come home and found a place to rest.
“You must come again for New Year. I have a spare room. Stay as long as you’d like.”
“What would my wife say?” One of our Australian guests asks.
“Tell her it’s a business trip,” Baba Nina twinkles.
Crossroads ships to a rehabilitation centre in Northern Kazakhstan which is seeing lives decimated by addiction transformed
A Tajik story
"A forty foot container to Tajikistan puts invaluable tools in the hands of those caring for victims of abuse..."
Last year a charity in Tajikistan contacted us asking for help. We shipped a forty foot container of goods to the centre in Dushanbe.
A big help in anyone's language
Years before the global financial crisis, there was one in southern Kyrgyzstan. In an area of over 20% unemployment and deeply underrated salaries, one organisation that Crossroads shipped to recently, is turning those figures around... read more
Crossroads Annual Report
Please click here to download the 2009 annual report.