Miners in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyz have been able to learn from counterparts in Africa, Europe and North America via a distance-learning scheme using seminars and video conferencing
By Dr David Mikosz
In Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia
These video conferences took place in the World Bank offices in the capital city, Bishkek, through a grouping called the Global Development Learning Network (GDLN).
Many people did not know enough about the dangers of using chemicals
"In my village, 95% of people are unemployed, and 87% of them live in poverty," said Bakas Gaparov, one of the miners who survives by panning for gold.
"I have learnt many theoretical and practical things. When I'll go back home I'll share all knowledge and information gained here."
Small-scale mining is a vital part of many rural economies and, according to the UN and the World Bank, provides a source of livelihood for as many as 80 million people.
In Kyrgyz Republic, the number of small-scale miners has increased dramatically in recent years following the collapse of the economy.
During Soviet times, panning for gold was illegal. The local miners' lack of experience has meant inefficient gold collection as well as dangerous ways of chemically amalgamating the gold.
The Kyrgyz government is working on appropriate legislation in both the health and regulatory areas but both the miners and government were interested to learn more.
"Our village is high in the mountains. The climate is very harsh, and winter season lasts seven to eight months," said Nurlan Orozbaev, one of the small-scale miners.
"Under our climatic conditions even wheat doesn't grow, and there are no jobs in the village. About 70% of 170 households living in our village mine gold. This is the main income source."
Studies about Kyrgyz small-scale mining were conducted by the World Bank and the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.
They found that many people did not know enough about the perils of using dangerous chemicals such as nitric acid and mercury.
A series of training sessions were held in the field to raise awareness of these issues.
The World Bank then invited 12 small-scale miners came to Bishkek to participate in further discussions through video conferences.
Using the technology, they were able to share their experiences with fellow miners in Ghana, where small-scale mining has been going on for years.
Despite a challenge of translating from Kyrgyz to Russian to English, they told compelling stories about the need for more technical knowledge.
Other video conference sessions looked at safety and investment issues. In one conference, participants from the Kyrgyz Republic were able to quiz specialists from the IMF in Washington about certain regulatory issues.
Other series discussed technical ways of regulating investment and safety issues in the mining sector.
Partially as a result of the information learned from this series and as a result of other research, the World Bank has given the Kyrgyz government a development grant to improve the capacity of the authorities to gather and use geological information.
The GDLN is a worldwide network of more than more than 60 learning centres and public, private, and non-governmental organisations.
Video conferencing, internet chats and field based trainings are developing the capacities of the world's developing nations through partnerships such as the one for the small-scale miners.
Dr David Mikosz is operations officer for the World Bank in Central Asia.