With fresh snowfall and freezing temperatures outside, representatives from the Transit Center at Manas, U.S. Embassy Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic Ministry of Education and local Kyrgyz officials gathered with students and staff at the Stepnoe Secondary school to celebrate the completion of recent renovations aimed at improving the school's heating capability, Dec. 13.
The humanitarian assistance project, facilitated by the Transit Center's Theater Security Cooperation division, included installation of new doors, windows and boiler, as well as a security fence and roof to secure coal reserves, for a total value of $66,000.
While the project took just four months to complete, the renovations were long-needed. Stepnoe Secondary School, which educates children from the first to 11th grade, was built in 1993. The school was still operating on the original coal furnace, which had become worn out and inefficient, said the school principal, Gubatulina Yana Anverovna.
Upon her arrival at the school three years ago, Anverovna attempted to contact various non-governmental organizations and aid agencies, asking for assistance in renovating the school. It wasn't until she heard about heating renovations completed by the Transit Center at a nearby school that she met with success. Transit Center representatives were able to coordinate with the U.S. Embassy Bishkek and the Kyrgyz Republic MoE to develop the renovation plan and make it a reality.
"Since opening, our employees have tried to make the school better," Anverovna said. "The staff tried hard to make improvements but there was not a lot of funding, so they could only do what they could with their hands - decorate, create a fun lesson. We were happy when the Transit Center said the renovation project would be carried out."
The children at Stepnoe Secondary School are fortunate to have such a caring staff of teachers and administrators, said Army Maj. Joel Kleehammer, U.S. Embassy Bishkek Office of Military Cooperation chief.
"As a result of their initiative, this renovation project will help the staff to provide a quality education in a more comfortable learning environment," Kleehammer said.
Amankulov Marat Sharshenovich is a physical education teacher at the school and can attest to the benefits of a partnership between the Transit Center and the Kyrgyz Republic MoE.
"The aid given is crucial because people here don't have the time and resources to always help," he said. "The Transit Center helps not one, but many schools in the region. We value their work - I know how important this work is and how much effort was put into it."
Personally, Sharshenovich says the renovations will help him keep his students accountable to the standards. Last winter, he could not ask his students to wear the sports uniform, especially in the gym, because it was too cold for them.
"Last winter it was dark and cold, now it is warm and bright," Sharshenovich said. "Now I can actually have my students wear the proper uniform and hold them to the standards."
The relationship between the Transit Center and Stepnoe School goes beyond the renovations. Members of the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron and the students and administrators of Stepnoe have enjoyed a particularly close relationship, said Lt. Col. Russell Davis, 22 EARS commander. The squadron has become a community partner with the school, dedicating time and resources to improve the quality of life for the students, while at the same time, making lasting friendships.
"We have spent valuable time getting to know each other," Davis said. "We understand the importance of educating our children and seek ways to make our homes, both temporary and permanent, better.
"Education is a noble profession and educators have chosen to make a difference," Davis told those educators in attendance at the renovation ceremony. "Because of you, the future of Kyrgyzstan is secure. You are developing the next generation of Kyrgyz leaders, and that brings security."
Following the renovation ceremony, guests were given a tour of the coal storage area and boiler room, and then treated to performances by local students.