OSH, Kyrgyzstan — In 2008, Muradyl was grievously injured in a car accident. “The drivers here are crazy,” he explains. He was left without the use of his legs, confined to a wheelchair. What could he do?
The disabled in Kyrgyzstan have a raw deal. There are no real city services that are handicap accessible. Their disability is about 1500 SOM a month, or around $30. It is difficult to find work, to support themselves. Most fall into a depression, being totally dependent on charity and a burden on their families.
Muradyl spent the first 18 months after his accident like that: wallowing at home, wondering what else fate would bring him. He was a lucky one: his family was well off enough that they could send him to Germany for surgery to ease the pain in his legs. They could afford an electric wheelchair for him. But what could he do at home? He lived on a farm, in a village 2 kilometers outside of Osh.
Then the June Events happened. Kyrgyz rioters moved along the road into town, tossing bricks through the windows of Muradyl’s father’s farmhouse. The closures meant they couldn’t leave their little area, couldn’t buy food, sell anything, communicate. The June Events were not just a massacre—not just people being beaten to death in the streets, trapped inside their homes as they burned. People were also maimed, beaten so badly the suffered permanent damage.
“We were saved by almighty God,” Muradyl told me on Tuesday. “So I wanted to make good use of that.”
Then Muradyl hit upon a brilliant idea. He decided to start hiring other disabled people in Osh to work at the farm. It’s not easy—the ground is unpaved and uneven, and the roads do not have sidewalks or ramps—but after 18 months 75% of his workforce at his business is disabled.
The result has been staggering: people from all over the region, as far away as the Alai mountains, Jalal-Abad, and Uzgen, all come to Muradyl’s farm to see if he can help them. Because traveling to Europe or Russia for rehabilitation is incredibly expensive, he is converting one of his buildings—the one trashed by rioting Kyrgyz last year—into Kyrgyzstan’s first rehabilitation center for the disabled.
Repeat: this disabled farmer is building Kyrgyzstan’s first rehabilitation center for the disabled. “Too many disabled people mope,” Muradyl says. “Why not give them jobs? A sense of purpose? We can still contribute to life.”
The rehabilitation center is being financed initially by grants from UNHCR and some other international donors. But Muradyl is financing its operations and maintenance by using one half of a som of every sale by his company. The trick is to convince people to buy food products made by a bunch of crippled people.
“This comes from the bottom of my heart,” Muradyl says, placing his right hand over his chest in a gesture familiar to anyone who travels to Central Asia. “So that’s what we’re calling our food: From the bottom of the heart.” A new processing plant, jointly financed by his own profits and UNHCR, is making local ketchup and mayonnaise to supplement the dairy products and bread his workers already make. Business is brisk, and they’ve expanded remarkably quickly over the last year.
Muradyl is lucky. Many Uzbeks in Osh face harassment and intimidation from Kyrgyz if they re-open or expand their businesses without paying a cut to the local mafia. He has been left alone, “but for the grace of almighty God.”
Several months ago, some Kyrgyz guards at the nearby pretrial detention center stopped by his compound, asking for blankets, or bedding for the detainees because it was getting cold. Muradyl wheeled out to the gate, “Look around, we can’t even walk! We need charity, not you people!”
The guards bowed their heads and left. Muradyl hasn’t been bothered since. He doesn’t know why he is free of harassment when so many other Uzbeks are not. When we were walking along the road back to a taxi stand, a Kyrgyz taxi driver stopped us. “Where’d you get that?”
The three of us glanced around. “What do you mean?”
“That chair.” Muradyl looked down. “My cousin can’t walk but we can’t find a wheelchair for him. Where did you get it?”
Muradyl said back, “I had to import it from Germany. It can be expensive.”
“Well,” the Kyrgyz man said. “Here is my number. Please let us be in touch so I can get one for my cousin as well.”
Muradyl nodded and put the number in his jacket. We kept walking. I asked him, Was that normal?
“Yes,” he responded. “It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is. Everyone wants hope.”