December 8 marked a big “wheels down” party in Bishkek. Three countries—the United States, Kyrgyzstan, and the Russian Federation—provided quality wheelchairs to dozens of disabled children, helping them to be more mobile and independent.

The wheelchair project was started by former Kyrgyz President Rosa Otunbayeva at a meeting with the Russian Envoy to the Kyrgyz Republic and the Russian and U.S. ambassadors in the summer of 2010.  The Frank Foundation Child Assistance International, an American non-governmental organization, received funding from USAID to procure 90 wheelchairs. Two Russian private companies, Polyus Gold and Russneft, provided funding for an additional 90 wheelchairs.  The Russian government covered costs for air shipment between New York, Moscow, and Bishkek, and the Kyrgyz government arranged free customs clearance and covered some transportation costs.  Special Envoy of the Russian Federation President to the Kyrgyz Republic Vladimir Rushailo played a leading role on the Russian side, leveraging private sector donations as well as organizing the shipment of the wheelchairs.

The day presented a unique opportunity to showcase U.S.-Russian cooperation in Kyrgyzstan.  Former Kyrgyz President Otunbayeva, Special Envoy Rushailo, and U.S. Ambassador Pamela Spratlen stood together to present the 180 wheelchairs to disabled children.  The Russian Ambassador, USAID/Russia Mission Director Charles North, and USAID/Kyrgyzstan representative Carey Gordon also participated.

“A lot of people think these two countries argue.  I would say that here in Kyrgyzstan a lot of things are done together by these two countries.  Look at this wheelchair project!  The two countries united and a good deed was done,” said President Otunbayeva.

Twenty disabled children attended the event with their parents in Bishkek, and each took home a new wheelchair.  The remaining 160 wheelchairs will be distributed by the Kyrgyz Ministry of Social Protection.

This project is another sign of a growing U.S.-Russian partnership on development assistance.  Similar U.S.-Russian cooperation has already been demonstrated in Kyrgyzstan and the wider Central Asian region, for example, in combatting and preventing future polio outbreaks.

We hope this is just the beginning of many great partnerships between the United States, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan in years to come.