The Rampa Fund: Promoting culture in Kyrgyzstan

by Alexander Balbekin.

Social life in Kyrgyzstan today is very difficult. There is much poverty, apathy, despair and lack of trust, and little cultural activity.

Against this difficult background, the Rampa Fund seeks to encourage people and bring an appreciation of the varied culture of Kyrgyzstan. We provide an interactive street theatre programme to poor people living in remote places.

We use the Kyrgyz language and our national instruments – the komuz and temir komuz – and include national ceremonies and dances in our performances. As our performers are professional musicians and artists, they attract much attention in bleak village landscapes!

We perform stories from the Bible – such as David and Goliath, and Jonah – and use an inflatable stage. Trampolines in the street have been accepted with delight in poor residential areas! People’s trust in us has grown with our reputation. In addition to sharing Bible stories and cultural performances, more recently we have begun to use our programmes to challenge attitudes in society.

We use interactive methods of theatre to educate people about their democratic rights and freedom and the need to reduce poverty. We use theatre to encourage audience participation on topics such as alcoholism, family and ethnic conflicts. People have become more confident and interested in developing their own culture and national traditions through contact with our plays. We use games with children and teenagers to teach them about other cultures.

Both Muslims and Christians have appreciated and supported our theatre programme. We have found people are hungry for spiritual teaching. Our cultural and educational programmes have brought many people to faith and this brings us great joy!

During our trips to remote regions of Kyrgyzstan, we have found that our performances are often the first time in ten years when people have been able to enjoy and celebrate their traditional culture. This has brought people great pleasure and joy. We have found that cultural activity changes, and can even transform, the attitude of poor people in positive ways. It can encourage people who feel lost and marginalised (such as the homeless or alcoholics) and give them new purpose and direction in life.

After a recent visit to a remote region, one letter commented: ‘We want to thank the Rampa Fund for the pleasure and spiritual food which you have brought through your theatre training for adults and performances for children. We impatiently await your return…’ We receive many such favourable comments.

For those who organise the visits, our cultural and educational activity helps them look at the problems of poor people in their area. They are encouraged to consider long-term opportunities to overcome poverty.

We would like this kind of activity to continue, and encourage a planned approach to combining culture with education on different themes. We would recommend opening a Cultural Centre to help tackle poverty in Kyrgyzstan. Through our use of cultural programmes, we have seen people change and become more involved in life issues. These changes are fundamental – not only to tackling poverty, but to building society as a whole.

Alexander Balbekin is the director of the Rampa Fund based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.