When mountains crumble, women stand strong | Mission East

When mountains crumble, women stand strong

Last year's landslide destroyed several houses in the village.
Mission East has posted signs here which warns of the risk of mudflows.

During the season when most disasters happen in Tajikistan, many men are abroad, leaving women to take action themselves. 40-year old Gulya points away from her house and past the harvest of apricots that are drying on the hard stone ground in the backyard. This is the escape route for her and her children if another mudslide hits the village of Puthrin.


By Barbara James, former Mission East Country Director in Tajikistan 


Last year this village in the Zerafshan Valley in Tajikistan was hit by the worst mudslide in 80 years. Huge masses of mud and rocks came crashing down the mountain, killing one woman when she tried to save her most valuable possession: her only cow. Inside the house, Gulya has hung a plastic bag about two metres above the ground. It is her emergency bag, and contains, among other things, the family’s important documents. Through activities in the field of disaster risk reduction, mainly being set out in rural areas and having been largely funded by the European Commission, Mission East has taught her and others to be prepared.


Once the mud starts coming in, there’s no time to get things out of drawers and cupboards. For now everything is quiet. But Gulya feels the pressure. It is her responsibility to save herself, her mother-in-law and her four children when a disaster hits the village.


A village without men
Every spring, the village of Puthrin turns into a village of women and children, when nine out of ten men travel to Russia to find work and don’t return home until the winter is near. Meanwhile the snow is melting in the mountains, leaving wives and mothers with a constant fear of floods and landslides. Like her neighbours, Gulya is also alone with her children. In the past it was only the village leaders who knew how to react to a disaster.
Today the women have been trained by Mission East and have been taught to go to the meeting place, calm each other down and follow the evacuation routes that have been planned amongst the villagers.


“I would prefer to have my husband here. It is a big responsibility to manage alone. But when he is gone I have to do all I can for my family,” Gulya says.


And in an area which is extremely vulnerable to natural disaster she now feels better equipped to save her own life and the lives of others.