The Invalid House is a home for men with disabilities outside Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan. It houses 262 men with mental and physical disabilities. A few years ago, the home had almost nothing for the men. There was one razor and one washcloth to share between all the men for two weeks. None of the beds had mattresses, blankets and very poor heating systems. The floors were all concrete and the ceilings leaked.
Four yeas ago a Canadian ministry group started sponsoring the men’s home. The dining room is now being remodeled and there is hot water in the kitchens and bathrooms. Every man has been given a mattress and blankets and a barber shop area was built with modern tools. Classrooms have been added and more projects are being started. But there is still a lot to be done.
Natasha and other poor and/or homeless people near Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan dig through the piles of garbage every day for hours to find glass bottles, metal wires or other items that can be sold. It is dirty, unsanitary, dangerous and competitive work that only earns the people about 100 to 150 som per day, about $2 to $3.
Natasha lost her husband very recently and now she works on her own in the dump everyday for hours.
Lida and Askar are nine years old and they are proud to tell others that they are boyfriend and girlfriend. They play and fight like any young couple. Neither of them can walk.
They live in the Belovodsk orphanage for children with disabilities in Belovodsk, Kyrgyzstan. To get around, Lida, Askar and about twelve other children who live there scoot around the cold hallways on their behinds.
The government-funded orphanage is home to more than 350 children with mental and physical disabilities. Many of the kids have parents, they cannot raise their child because of financial reasons or the responsibilities are just too much.
Despite their disability, Lida and Askar are both very active.
Askar uses his strong arm muscles to breakdance. He can spin on his head, balance on one arm and practices on a child-sized walker. He has even been recruited to join official breakdancing teams and clubs for when he is old enough.
Lida and Askar are almost always together. They eat together, play together and fight together.
Lida, Askar and the other children at Belovodsk will, most likely, move to disability homes for adults when they turn 18. They will be housed and taken care of by the government their entire lives.
But for now, Askar will continue to look out for Lida, and she will still be his number one fan.
Over winter break myself and nine other photojournalism students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, along with our professor, Bruce Thorson, and his assistant, traveled to Kyrgyzstan to produce photo documentary stories. Some of us focused on stories of homelessness, racial discrimination, coal mining, maternities and orphanages. I focused on orphanages for most of the three weeks and spent some time in homes with people with disabilities. Over the next few days I will post some of the photos from each small story I was able to work on. Today, I am posting some of the features from various orphanages we visited in our search for a story.