When Ramil was six years old, his father was put in prison. Ramil's mother left the family several years earlier. Placed in the care of an aunt who abused alcohol, Ramil would frequently leave and fend for himself on the streets. Eventually, he ended up at a special school in Belovodsk village. Special schools are closed institutions for boys who break the law, for example, through vagrancy and refusing to go to school. Ramil lived and studied at the school—making several escapes—until the age of 16.

In 2012, when the time came for him to leave the school, Ramil was one of 11 youth invited to live in the Kairat—which means strength in Kyrgyz—a transit house supported by the Care Leavers Support component of Jasa.kg, a four-year program of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the International Youth Foundation.

Ramil, along with 80 other youth, participated in a range of activities for care leavers of residential institutions living in and around Bishkek. The youth center activities, carried out through Oasis, a local NGO and Jasa.kg implementing partner, included sporting events, cooking classes, evening cinema, and English courses.

“I learned to cook, clean, save money, look out for others, communicate better, and apply my skills,” says Ramil. He also received support in filling out official papers and thinking through his educational and employment goals.

If something went wrong, social workers would encourage Ramil to try again. The result? He started to believe in himself.

"Now I have my own opinion," he says. "Before, I just listened to others and did what they said. Now I have a clear vision of my own."

In August 2013, Ramil began studying social work at the Kyrgyz State Technical University. With his first year of study now complete, he is committed to learning what he needs to know to support other young people in the Kyrgyz Republic facing similar challenging situations.

*Name changed to protect identity.