Altyn Oimok, Kyrgyzstan
Bokonbaevo is a ghost of a town. It is a wide, vast, quadratic series of dusty streets, about 5 km south of the blue shores of Lake Issyk Kul. It is a dot on the cracked and pot-holed highway leading around the lake and onward to Bishkek. Here the economic crisis is palpable and real. No factories, no industry. No work. The only light in town comes from sunlight bouncing off the new mosque’s metallic cupola and minaret – a gift from Turkey. Contrasting the first dreariness of Bokonbaevo’s sad streets is the abrupt beauty of the Tian Shan, whose peaks rise just beyond the town – but even the mountain’s proud shadows seem to want to hide the degradation of the shamble town. Bokonbaevo seems a scar in the exquisite natural scenery. It is here that Janyl has created her Altyn Oimok (Golden Thimble) – a burst of color and texture.
The story of Altyn Oimok starts in 1996. The collapse of the Soviet Union has seeped deep into the population of Bokonbaevo, the economic crisis sinking into the population’s bones like the chills of a humid winter. The women in Bokonbaevo are united in hardship. So many of their men – husbands, sons, and brothers - have succumbed to the depression of chronic irremediable unemployment, many drowning their sorrows in vodka. The once tight-knit threads of family structure are being stretched thin.
It’s about this time that three of the town’s women decided to unite together to fight unemployment and revive the pride and strength of their communities These three women had talked to Aid to Artisans and Dinara Chochunbaeva – and were convinced by what they had discussed: women’s traditional handicrafts could be an income-generating activity.
By 2007 Altyn Oimok has been busy making handicrafts for 12 years. They had 16 full-time staff in their office and workshop, and 35 women who work with them from their homes. Their market has been focused on the tourists who come to enjoy the blue of of Lake Issyk Kul, but in 2004 with the help of CACSA they exported their first products to Canada. Their products include both traditional felt handiwork such as Shyrdaks and Ala Kiyiz, as well as new products designed for the tourist and foreign markets such as felt slippers, necklaces and small souvenirs. This success is not a surprise when you meet Janyl. There’s just something in the light of her eyes. a cool reassuring calm. a determination. Janyl, wearing a colorful scarf on her head, is a woman of clear stature. She is gentle and speaks calmly but firmly. She is deeply invested in her community.
Hers is Social Entrepreneurship
Altyn Oimok has worked with the most vulnerable women in Bokonbaevo, gathering, training and employing single mothers, women from poor families, women who have been physically abused. Janyl says that many unemployed women who feel powerless or lost come to find work with her organization. “They become empowered and strong here,” Janyl says. “We give them a chance to develop their skills, to gain financial autonomy and respect within their families and the community.” Altyn Oimok’s business is clearly engaged in community building and in bringing positive social change.
This is Janyl’s clear and simple passion: to return the respect of daily life and beauty to her community. She is a social warrior. simply. resolutely.
Janyl says, “In our village, making handicrafts is the only income-generating activity that can be done while also staying at home and taking care of our families.” Janyl takes us inside the homes of some of the women who work with her – she is welcomed as an old friend. a partner. There is clear respect. Working with Altyn Oimok has not only helped the women contribute to their family’s income, but has created a clearly united group of women. a community.
After a receiving a grant in 2010, jointly implemented by the the UN Women Program and the Kumtor Operating Company, the shop was able to increase its output and hire more staff members from the local community.
In 2016 Altyn Oimok made plans to attend a wholesale show in California to introduce their products to more marketplaces. The proceeds from the order placed by Global Village Nanaimo in 2016 were used to fund the travel for this trip.