Kindergarten Children Go Hungry in Turkmenistan

Rotting vegetables, semolina porridge made with water that even alley cats refuse to touch… No, this isn’t a correctional colony but an ordinary municipal kindergarten in a town in western Turkmenistan’s Balkan region. We are not naming the town in question in order to protect our sources, but one source said that the situation is more or less the same in almost all the region’s pre-school facilities. Two and a half years ago wrote about the lamentable state of kindergartens and it seemed then that things couldn’t get any worse. But anything is possible in the Epoch of Might and Happiness: sources report that the situation has badly deteriorated over the past year.

Onions and potatoes in one of the kindergartens in Balkan region of Turkmenistan

Keep the best for the children

“The vegetables are always rotting, there’s no milk, they make semolina with water,” the mother of one of the kindergarten children said. “They don’t make their own fruit drink, because even the dried fruit is moldy. And the in the past few months the children had juice just once at New Year. They cook without vegetable oil and there’s no butter to spread on the bread. In the summer eggplants were pretty much the only vegetable and they had them in soup and for the main course. It’s not a vegetable that suits every stomach. The children had diarrhea all the time.”

The photo above shows a recent delivery of potatoes and onions. Angry that their children come home hungry and often complain of stomach pains, parents decided to check for themselves what went in to their lunches. The potatoes are rotten, fit only for cattle feed but they are given to the children. The onions have all sprouted and are soft inside.

The parents are especially critical of the quality of the meat that occasionally appears on the children’s plates. Neither the parents nor the kindergarten staff know what kind of meat it is. The boxes of the Paraguayan firm Frigomerc contain either frozen buffalo meat or frozen beef. But whatever it is, neither the children nor the alley cats will touch it.

“It’s just gristle, and there’s no telling what kind of animal it’s from,” one parent says. “And it smells bad. It’s no surprise that even children who aren’t fussy eaters more often than not refuse to eat it. Once I was given leftover meat from the kindergarten and tried to feed it to the stray cats in the yard, but they refused even to touch it, though they’re usually ready to eat anything they find in the garbage.”

The sources are sure that the kindergarten principal and administrative manager are stealing. They have both been caught several times on food delivery days picking out the good produce, putting it in their cars under cover of darkness, and taking it to sell to private traders. They left all the rotten food for the children. When the parents threatened to report them to the prosecutor’s office, the principal said: Complain where you like. They won’t touch me! knows the full names of the principal and administrative manager but is not publishing them in order to protect its sources. The law-enforcement agencies will respond by targeting the people who sent the photos and information to the media, not the light-fingered principals.

When the parents made their unannounced visit to the kindergarten kitchen, they found not only the rotten potatoes and onions, and blocks of frozen meat, but the lowest quality vermicelli, pearl barley, and green tea. There was nothing else at the kindergarten. The cooks themselves brought what they could: a few tomatoes or bell peppers, a little vegetable oil.

The parents said that up to 2018 when they paid eight manats a month for the kindergarten, the children rarely went without butter and milk. Now they pay 80 manats, i.e. a kindergarten with 180 children receives 14,400 manats every month. That’s around $515 according to the market exchange rate or more than $4,000 according to the state rate. But the children do not get decent food.

It’s especially difficult for families with several children, and there are many such families in the town in question. They complain that half their salaries go on paying the kindergarten fees, but the children come home hungry. This is probably bad for the children’s health, but many parents have no choice. If they don’t send their children to kindergarten, then mothers and grandmothers are left without paid work.

Things are no better with utilities. One of the town kindergartens is located in an old building where there is no water supply. The caregivers have to carry water from outside. When they complain to the management about the tough working conditions, they are told to pay for the pipes and pump out of their own pockets. The teachers have been buying cleaning materials with their own money for a long time now. And it’s the parents who have to buy gas stoves to heat the kindergarten.

“Not all the parents agree to contribute,” one mother says. “Some don’t care that their children will get cold. There are quite a few people like that. But even when they have the stoves, it’s already cold just a meter away. The building needs refurbishing as there are drafts everywhere.”

Another town kindergarten was recently refurbished, but it is already full. There are no more places available.

The increase in kindergarten fees was part of the “transition to market relations”, which the official media regularly report as a success. Sources told that in 2018 kindergarten principals persuaded parents that conditions in the kindergartens would get much better as a result of the increased fees. And right after the reforms, children in several kindergartens did receive yoghurts, fresh fruit, and pastries. But later this all disappeared and conditions deteriorated.

Most of all parents are angry now that the actions of a specific principal go unpunished. The supervisory bodies and education authority in Balkan region do nothing, even though everyone in the town, even the higher authorities, know what this principal is doing. Parents say that across the region and the country every state official or prosecutor is only interested in lining their own pockets, even when it concerns the health and wellbeing of children.