Foreign aid is an important aspect in understanding human development in aid-dependent societies. Original assessments of aid are generally based on the viewpoints of aid agencies, while the opinions of aid recipients often remain ignored. This perpetuates inconsistencies in understanding foreign aid, leaving a knowledge gap. In-depth analysis of aid efforts and recipients’ perceptions can shed light on the advantages/limitations of such aid, and enable appropriate development-oriented strategies. This article brings new empirics to bear on the foreign aid debate. It builds on ‘The Listening Project’ (LP), which has explored the ideas and insights of those on the receiving end of foreign aid. Inspired by “listening to people” approach, this article demonstrates the central importance of explicating empirical data and including such findings in the debate on foreign aid and development. Presenting empirical evidence on aid reception in the village of Jerge-Tal, Kyrgyzstan, the author examines whether and how feedback from aid recipients is in line with the patterns and recommendations of the LP. Both these studies add to the growing literature on foreign aid for development by virtue of “listening to aid recipients” in donor–recipient relations. The conducted benchmark analysis reveals that the characteristics of aid provisions in Jerge-Tal village comply with the patterns and common assessments discovered by ‘The Listening Project’. Key findings relate to greater opportunities for public participation, ownership and coordination of the aid programs and development projects. Aid recipients of LP stress the issues of appropriate knowledge on aid-recipient societies; of aid as “business model” with irrational allocation of budget and recruitment of recipients that creates “project societies” instead of the intended civil societies. The study of aid recipients in Jerge-Tal village brings an example of aid-recipient empowerment and participation in development achieved through cooperation with international and local aid agencies together with the Kyrgyz state. Potential policy implications refer to the fostering of collaborative activities between aid agencies, aid recipients and state institutions as a condition for effective aid management and coordination.