Charities Operating in KazakhstanHuman Rights Watch (HRW) calls attention to major issues affecting low-income families and disabled children in Kazakhstan. While it is access to state benefits for the former, the latter face barriers that exclude them from education. Child-focused charities continue playing a crucial role in alleviating these issues and addressing the needs of those affected. Here are five charities operating in Kazakhstan, acting as agents of change. 

5 Charities Operating in Kazakhstan

  1. Niyet: Niyet is a private nonprofit organization working to improve the living conditions of all children experiencing adversity, including orphans, children with disabilities and children from impoverished families. In 2018, Kazakhstan had about 26,000 orphans and children living without parental supervision. Meeting child support needs can play a significant role in helping to prevent family separations. Sourced from a comprehensive database of underprivileged children, the recipients receive donations from Niyet in the form of cashless support or personalized certificates. Two implemented programs, Food Basket and Road to School, offer these certificates in exchange for food and school supplies at partnered markets and shops. Magnum Cash & Carry is one of the accessible partnered retail stores, with more than 50 outlets in the Almaty region of Kazakhstan.
  2. ITeachMe: This is a public charity and development center based in Almaty that fights for the labor rights of disabled and vulnerable people. Created in March 2020, the organization teaches digital skills to boost the employability of its beneficiaries and help them better integrate into society. ITeachMe helps in placing young, disadvantaged people on the path to better economic opportunities. With multiple programs and 45 professional courses, the organization asserts that 90% of its graduates go on to secure employment. It delivers its free ITeachMe Program 6.0 in Russian, Kazakh and sign language. Under expert supervision, the educational course delves into programming, project management and more. The OrleTECH Program comprises more than 150 video tutorials and is available to individuals between the ages of 18 and 40 who are interested in learning how to design websites or test software. During the COVID-19 pandemic, ITeachMe provided emergency assistance. Through the support of the U.S. Urgent Action Fund, ITeachMe provided humanitarian aid to 80 underserved people living in cities and rural areas and supplied “life-saving medicines” to 26 people. ITeachMe also provided legal and psychological counsel through chatbots and instant messaging apps, which continue to function to this day.
  3. Botashym: Botashym is an organization with a focus on medical aid. Established in 2017, its goal is to raise funds to aid orphans, children with cerebral palsy, disadvantaged families and veterans. It provides its services both inside and outside Almaty. Children up to 13 years of age make up the priority demographic for rehabilitation. Whatever the disability, Botsashym informs parents of the latest clinics or treatment methods. Botashym helps to raise the treatment costs for selected children by creating individual profiles with targeted fundraising goals. In 2022, the nonprofit raised enough money to rehabilitate 16 children with different diseases of varying severity. The organization does not require the family of beneficiaries to bear any costs. Through treatment, children can improve both mobility and speech. Botashym is currently developing an Orphans Assistance program.
  4. Kasietti Zhol Foundation. This Astana-based nonprofit offers free rehabilitation services. Kasietti Zhol’s mission is to provide high-quality rehabilitation for children with cerebral palsy without requiring overseas travel. To accomplish this, the organization holds a worldwide School of Mentors initiative and organizes seminars aimed at educating and training professionals, social workers and parents on the latest rehabilitation methods. As part of its Healthy Children Project, more than 1,000 children received comprehensive rehabilitation at no cost in 2021. The #KazakhstanDoGood project brings awareness to the lack of rehabilitation for disabled children. In 2021, Kazakhstan had only 40 medical rehabilitation centers that were equipped to treat children with disabilities. More than 26,000 children are living with cerebral palsy in the country, yet only 20% manage to access rehabilitation. Families below the poverty line struggle to find treatment and usually have to wait for openings. In some cases, parents opt to leave their children in orphanages. For this reason, Kasietti Zhol opened rehabilitation centers in nine orphanages in Kazakhstan. Four children with special needs found adoptive families after treatment. The #KazakstanDoGood project aims to open 14 rehabilitation centers for children with cerebral palsy. Kasietti Zhol’s president, Gulmira Abeldinova, disclosed that from October 2022 to January 2023, the charity’s rehabilitation center took in 183 children for free rehabilitation. In 2023, it will concentrate on developing ways to address neuro-orthopedic disorders in children.
  5. Dara Foundation: Dosaeva Gulnar Yesengeldinovna established the Dara Foundation with the aim of enhancing the quality of life for underprivileged children through the creation of more efficient support systems. The foundation seeks to provide better assistance to those in need. The Mentors program offers three levels of mentoring: individual, corporate and coaching. At the corporate level, 34 organizations partner with Dara Foundation to introduce at-risk youth to various professions and offer workshops, internships and scholarships. Currently, there are 15 cities in Kazakhstan hosting the Mentors program and more than 200 orphans have partnered with mentors since 2014. Today, 138 children have finished internships and higher education courses through the Dara Foundation and more than 100 children have received individual coaching.

Looking Ahead

Many Kazakh children and families still face hardships but ongoing efforts of charities operating in Kazakhstan and the government of Kazakhstan bode signs of better opportunities and progress for the young generation. The results so far are encouraging and paint a positive outlook for the future.

– Clare Calzada
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Kazakhstan
The Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan convicted 23 sex traffickers in 2021 out of the 49 trafficking cases that it prosecuted the same year. The government made notable efforts to deal with human trafficking in Kazakhstan that includes steady support to nonprofit organizations as they play a key role in conducting awareness campaigns, supporting the victims and taking care of their individual rights.

Sana Sezim is one such NGO that carries out anti-trafficking activities and supports the victims in every possible way. The mission of the organization is to build civil society and democracy through the promotion of women and children and the protection of their rights in society with the motive of preventing human trafficking in Kazakhstan.

Victims of Human Trafficking in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is a destination, origin and transit country for women and girls for sexual exploitation and for men, women and children for labor exploitation. Victims of domestic violence are at risk of trafficking because of their vulnerable situation.

Most of the victims come in search of employment and end up doing forced sex work and labor at construction sites, agriculture or another sector while children have to beg on the streets. The traffickers lure young girls and women with job opportunities like modeling, waitressing and nannying, and exploit them. Meanwhile, they forcefully push both adults and children into criminal activities. The traffickers prey on the migrant workers, mostly illegal migrants and threaten them to remain in the business, who in fear of punishment over illegal border crossing, do not report to the authorities. The women and children arriving with the migrant workers are also likely to become a target to the traffickers.

“Most (about 70%) of the victims who contacted the organization were citizens of other countries. For example, among the victims for 11 months of 2022, only 24 are citizens of Kazakhstan. As we are close to Uzbekistan, the majority of beneficiaries are citizens of Uzbekistan,” Shakhnoza Khassanova, Director of Sana Sezim, told The Borgen Project in an interview.

Anti-Trafficking Efforts

The Kazakhstan Government has made noteworthy improvements in law and order. The government amended Article 134 in 2021 which increased the obligatory imprisonment period of child traffickers to three to six years, according to the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Kazakhstan.

“Today, with the cooperation of the Government, law enforcement agencies and civil society, a lot of joint work on combating human trafficking in Kazakhstan is carried out,” said Khassanova.

The government has stretched enormous support and coordination with nonprofit organizations countering human trafficking in Kazakhstan. It has spent a generous amount of money on awareness campaigns, funded radio and TV programs and also distributed facemasks with an anti-human trafficking hotline number printed on them during the pandemic.

The Government and the NGOs

The government continues to publicize an NGO-operated hotline number and also provides training to its operators on victim identification and service assistance. Khassanova also explained that the Ministry of Internal Affairs established the Interdepartmental Commission on Combating Illegal Export, Import and Trafficking in Persons, which also includes all relevant government bodies and non-governmental organizations including Sana Sezim.

Nonprofit organizations also cooperate with the police in carrying out anti-trafficking operations. The government-funded and NGO-operated shelters provide all the basic facilities like food, clothing, medical and legal help to the victims of human trafficking in Kazakhstan.

“Working with victims of human trafficking is a holistic approach. This includes the work of several professionals, such as legal services, psychological services and social services.” Khassanova explained.

“The main work of our organization is to identify violations of the rights of migrant workers, assist them, assist the victim in applying to the law enforcement agencies to hold the exploiter accountable, assist in the restoration of documents, if necessary, organize the return of the victim to his family home, as well as represent their legal rights and interests in court.”

Looking Forward

“Sana Sezim is currently implementing a project covering eight regions of Kazakhstan with the support of the U.S. Department of State. This project carries out activity on counteraction to human trafficking in Kazakhstan according to the 4P approach (prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership) that Palermo Protocol specified,” Khassanova explained.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan also announced the government’s plan to form a draft law on human trafficking in April 2023.

– Aanchal Mishra
Photo: PxHere

Mental Health in Kazakhstan
Many countries, including Kazakhstan, struggle to accept mental well-being as part of a person’s overall health. Many often view mental health disorders with suspicion, and those suffering can become outcasts from their communities and society. Changing the view of mental health in Kazakhstan is difficult, but more important than ever.

In partnership with international organizations, the government of Kazakhstan is fighting to make that change and ensure that mental health treatment is more easily available to everyone. Addressing mental health is critical to addressing poverty as each social crisis feeds and strengthens the other. An article that two psychologists published in the BJ Psych Bulletin emphasizes this connection. “We highlight how mental health problems are related directly to poverty, which in turn underlies wider health inequalities,” authors Lee Knifton and Greig Inglis say.

Imperialism and Mental Health Impacts

The way that some have addressed mental health historically is partly due to long-standing beliefs about mental health — some recognized mental health disorders as a problem in traditional religious practices, where people often attributed suffering to demons or evil spirits. There is also Kazakhstan’s experience with foreign rule. Both Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union actively worked to delegitimize traditional folk religions and healing practices, and import new forms of health care.

“The Kazakh shaman’s figure epitomized the wildness and backwardness of the native population. His healing methods were usually presented as ‘tricks’, ineffective and harmful,” one researcher, anthropologist Danuta Penkala-Gaweka, reported in the journal Central Asian Survey. These beliefs were central to Kazakh cultural identity. Ultimately, this suppression led to a backlash. Practices that some associated with former imperial powers were often regarded with suspicion. This included clinical mental health counseling and psychiatric services. In part due to the stigma, accessing services became increasingly difficult.

Difficulty in access, poorly trained practitioners and social stigma left many sufferers without treatment. Unfortunately, while it is difficult to quantify, the number of people needing support was growing. The Guardian reported the mental health impact of a falling economy, particularly on men. “Psychologists say the economic downturn has proven particularly traumatic for men who are under significant pressure to provide for their families in what is still a heavily patriarchal society,” according to the Guardian. One woman she interviewed said “Our men are embarrassed to talk about problems. While for a [Kazakh] woman the problem is avoiding being abandoned by her husband, for a man the problem is how to support his family.”

In an interview with the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Nikolay Negev, a mental health consultant with the organization, explains the real consequences of untreated mental health problems and stigma: “We had several cases where we weren’t allowed to assist or treat, and a patient would die by suicide.” Even those who wanted treatment had difficulty getting it. A report that the Mental Health Atlas 2020 published put the impact into real numbers. According to the United Nations, there are 18,551,428 people living in Kazakhstan. For every 100,000 citizens, there are only 24.13 mental health professionals available. Only 2.86 of those professionals specialized in treating children or adolescents. The numbers look dire, but recent developments point to a real cause for hope.

Overcoming Obstacles

Despite their low numbers, mental health professionals in Kazakhstan are working hard at overcoming the suspicion associated with treatment. After the government partnered with UNICEF and other international organizations to create the AMHSP, or Adolescent Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention Programme, there was a considerable drop in mental health problems among the youth the program reached. “[After the program was introduced, there was a] 36.1% decrease in suicidal ideation among young people, 80.6% decrease in anxiety, 56.1% decrease in depression and 65 per cent decrease in stress,” UNICEF reported in 2021.

The Kazakh government enthusiastically welcomed AMHSP’s success, which increased its funding by 25%. One report emphasized the vicious cycle here but also highlighted reasons for hope. “People are ashamed of going to a psychiatrist, counsellor [sic] or psychologist. But compared to the situation 20 years ago, we can see some changes. Most of the people who understand and want to change resort to them,” one therapist said. She did see room for continued growth, including better education for mental health professionals. “At the same time, I think, too many cases of schizophrenia are diagnosed. I meet patients with dementia regularly, and they have been diagnosed with schizophrenia.”

The fight for access to and treatment for mental health disorders is an ongoing and worldwide challenge. Kazakhstan’s success, however, is a bright light for advocates worldwide. Change can happen, and with continued support, it can flourish.

– Clara Martin
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in KazakhstanAccording to the 2021 U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report on Kazakhstan, the country currently has a tier two trafficking rating. However, the government has shown a fair amount of effort in combating domestic and international human trafficking in Kazakhstan, working alongside non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The Initial Abduction

All groups are at risk regardless of gender or age. Forced sex work, labor, coercion into criminal behavior and child adoption are the primary motivators for human trafficking in Kazakhstan, and the strategies these traffickers use are very organized. Strangers, acquaintances, friends, lovers, employers or family can be responsible for luring victims. Traffickers often lure victims in rural areas to large cities with promises of employment, only to deceive them once they reach their destination.

The offer of waitressing, modeling, or nanny work in the city for women and young girls is a ploy many sex traffickers will use before forcing them into commercial sexual exploitation.

Traffickers often coerce vulnerable men and women into labor and export them to countries like Russia and Brazil. Additionally, some adults and children perform criminal activities for their traffickers. At-risk children who do not end up in forced labor or sex work beg on the streets or are “sold” for adoption in other countries.

Amendments to Increase Criminal Penalties

An essential first step to combating human trafficking in Kazakhstan was the rescindment of article 68 of the criminal code which “allowed defendants to pursue settlements by paying monetary compensation to the victim in exchange for having the criminal case withdrawn.” In addition, laws at this time did not see aggravated circumstances such as force, fraud or coercion as significant elements in human trafficking.

With the implementation of six new articles to the penal code that criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, human trafficking offenders now face more severe penalties. Human traffickers can face four to seven years in prison for adult trafficking, five to nine for child trafficking and five to seven years for related crimes. These penalties could increase to 18 years in prison, depending on the aggravated circumstances.

Improved Case Investigations

According to the U.S. Department of State, police in Kazakhstan evaluated 72 cases of human trafficking and continued to investigate 23 open cases in 2020. The government prosecuted 45 investigated cases in 2020, convicting 11 traffickers. There has been a lack of labor trafficking convictions, but the Kazakhstani government held three traffickers responsible for their labor crimes for the first time in three years. Overall, this represents progress in addressing human trafficking compared to 2019 when police investigated 45 human trafficking cases.

The Kazakhstani police have recently examined the organized crime activity of a transnational trafficking organization. Working with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, police forensics were able to link eight individuals who may be responsible for the trafficking of a group of Kazakhstani women to Bahrain. Additionally, police implemented “Stop Trafficking” operations to investigate human trafficking and close down commercial sex businesses and organizations such as brothels or pimps over a few days.

Developed Victim Identification Guidelines and Training

The Kazakhstani government has worked to strengthen their teams with guidelines and victim identification training. The Ministry of Internal Affairs Trafficking in Persons Training Center worked with 168 police officers regarding the investigation approaches to human trafficking cases in 2020. Police officers, judges, prosecutors and labor inspectors received training to identify and effectively persecute labor trafficking cases. Attorneys received training on proper legal protocol when assisting human trafficking victims. Labor inspectors’ responsibilities extended to include mandated reporting of identified victims of human trafficking to law enforcement. The government funded this training, whereas NGOs partially funded previous years’ training programs. The government administered training online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NGOs’ Contribution

NGOs working to stop human trafficking in Kazakhstan believe the government must address the problem within the system. There are rarely investigations into government officials or police officers suspected of collusion with human traffickers. NGOs reported that traffickers would bribe officials to avoid persecution for their crimes, and some officials would facilitate labor and trafficking organizations.

NGOs play an essential role in the fight against human trafficking in Kazakhstan as they work to increase awareness of the issue. Organizations, such as the Sana Sezim Center, provide shelter, food and transportation for those who have escaped trafficking situations. The Sana Sezim Center has helped 208 victims of human trafficking find legal counsel through its “Safe Migration in Central Asia” program. Another NGO, Zhan Zholdas, offers psychological and medical help and safe sex education. Zabota, the Legal Center of Women’s Initiatives and Megapolise are a few other NGOs fighting human trafficking in Kazakhstan.

Looking Ahead

In July 2022, the Kazakhstani Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that a draft anti-trafficking law would be in development in April 2023. The government revisits and updates anti-trafficking prevention and response procedures every three years in an effort to be more proactive when it comes to tackling human trafficking in Kazakhstan.

– Mikada Green
Photo: Unsplash

kazakhstan-adopts-ai-into-health-careIn this modern world, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is having a positive impact on people’s lives in Kazakhstan, bringing the efficient technology that today’s health care systems increasingly need. More specifically, the country launched an AI health care device called PneumoNet to provide early diagnosis for the most infectious lung diseases.

Health Care in Kazakhstan

Here are a few key facts about health care in Kazakhstan:

  • Life expectancy at birth at 73.2 years in line with the global average.
  • The doctor-to-patient ratio stood at four doctors for every 1,000 people in 2014, exceeding the regional average of 3.3 and the global average of 1.8.
  • Lung disease is the third leading cause of death in Kazakhstan. Large cities and urban areas contributed to poor air quality, exacerbating lung diseases.
  • With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, an already overworked medical team faced more pressure to assess data and recommend therapies as the number of patients receiving computed tomography (CT) scans rose from an estimated 60 to 100 per day, the World Bank reports.

In addition, the extraordinary scope of the pandemic brought attention to the health care system’s need for creative and economical approaches to the quick and precise identification and treatment of lung disorders.

Implementing AI

Incorporating AI into the health care system has several advantages. The first is greater efficiency. An automated system allows medical professionals to analyze patient data faster in order to deliver better health care more quickly. This can reduce the stress of the doctors that may already be overwhelmed.

Overall, PneumoNet allows Kazakhstan to effectively diagnose 17 of the most contagious lung diseases using AI techniques. These include pneumonia, tuberculosis, cancer and COVID-19. The Kazakh Research Institute of Oncology and Radiology (KRIOR) and the firm Forus Data partnered to develop and implement the technology.

“In the early days of the pandemic, frontline medical staff were introduced to working with the PneumoNet system. By May 2020, the system was used by three frontline hospitals in Almaty and Nur-Sultan, allowing radiologists to do their work in half the time and expediting the triaging of patients based on need for critical care and hospitalization. In addition, the system complemented the PCR diagnoses as the number of COVID-19 cases increased,” Dauren Baibazarov, the executive director of Forus Data told the World Bank.

A Better Future

Kazakhstan continues to prioritize the implementation of technology in health care in order to benefit patients. This is needed more than ever as the “wear and tear of medical equipment is at the level of 49.6%.” PM Smailov has made the decision to centralize medical equipment purchases in order to help remedy this.

Kazakhstan’s health care system and general state of health should advance with time and stable expansion. The continual development of medical technology is making it easier to identify illnesses and prepare to treat them when they are still in their early stages. This lessens the strain on people who live in larger cities and cannot afford quality health care.

Frema Mensah
Photo: Unsplash

Cold Harms Those in Poverty
It may be easy to guess that during the colder months, those in poverty have a much more difficult time surviving than in warmer times. All around the world, people are struggling to stay warm – many in poverty must decide whether it is more important to have “heat or eat.” One cannot underestimate the reality of how the cold harms those in poverty globally.

Why the Cold is So Difficult for Those in Poverty

For many, cold weather signifies the dreaded winter season. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), families who are poor are four to five times more likely to live in cold homes and more than 30% of houses that are lower-income cannot keep their houses warm globally. Especially during the pandemic, families who have lost jobs are struggling now more than ever to keep their households at a decent temperature. Fuel poverty was a term that first emerged after the 1973 oil crisis to mean a period marked by increased prices in fuel which disproportionately affects low-income families. In essence, it is the inability to afford heating for one’s house at a reasonable cost.

Fuel poverty becomes all the more alarming when one considers the ramifications of living in cold homes during the winter. It is unimaginably uncomfortable and the Institute of Health Equity also reports that cold homes lead to higher mortality and morbidity rates. Lancet Planetary Health found that five million people die a year simply from the inability to adjust to temperature changes. Colder temperatures have links to more deaths of those in poverty and the stress of not being able to afford fuel can come in the form of both physical and mental illnesses. Those in poverty sometimes cannot afford the extra expense of fuel and heating for their homes. If they do, the population must sacrifice other aspects of their spending, such as basic nutrition. Thus, it is clear that the cold harms those in poverty much more than the average-income family.

Examples of the Effects of the Cold in Lebanon

Several regions around the world are struggling because of cold, winter weather. Studies have not shown that colder nations are more subject to poverty. However, more people are struggling to pay fuel costs as a result of rising costs due to the pandemic and inflation. Thus, during times of economic peril, low-income families struggle immensely in the cold. Most recently, Storm Hiba has left Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees in desperate circumstances.

Lebanon’s recent currency crisis has left many families in poverty, thus unable to afford the resources necessary to protect against the cold. Many are burning old clothes and plastic goods to keep warm, while others are simply relying on blankets. Since 90% of the Syrian refugees who live in Lebanon are in poverty, it is clear that the cold is disproportionately targeting them. Costs of wood are five times the minimum wage, while costs of diesel are 10 times what they were in 2019. Thus, those in poverty cannot afford to stay warm.

How Cold Harms Those in Poverty in Kazakhstan and Other Parts of Europe

Several other countries are victims of the cold weather’s effects on those in poverty. Kazakhstan, one of the coldest nations in the world, is deeply reliant on coal for heating. According to a study by Nazarbayez University, 28% of families in Kazakhstan have to spend more than 10% of their income simply on fuel for heating in the winter. This is a major problem for families who are in poverty, especially as energy prices rise.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 6.9 million children have experienced displacement from their homes are at high risk for severe winter weather. The children come from numerous countries, such as Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Already, they are trying to keep warm in plastic containers and deaths have occurred as well. Even wealthier nations experience severe cold weather plights due to fuel poverty. National Energy Action found that 9,700 people die in the U.K. from living in cold homes.

Save the Children and the Community Action on Fuel Poverty (CAFP)

Many organizations are trying to help victims of the cold. Save the Children is a U.K.-based organization that seeks to provide aid to children in poverty globally. The organization has continuously been searching for better accommodations for children in severe temperatures and has provided blankets, hygiene baskets and warm clothing to those in desperate need. The Community Action on Fuel Poverty (CAFP) is an organization that seeks to spread awareness of poverty through outreach to everyday people. It hosts workshops and sessions, training and energy-efficient campaigns to promote knowledge about the fuel poverty crisis in different communities in England specifically.

Learning about different benefits to lower the cost of fuel prices and information on legislation affecting fuel costs are what work the CAFP promotes. Also, people can call upon local and international governments to increase awareness of thermal discomfort, especially for poor families during the lockdown. Governments need to make long-term plans for sourcing heat for all families during the winter.

The European Union’s Plans to Address Fuel Poverty

The European Union has developed a program to address fuel poverty, recognizing the budget to prevent fuel poverty has decreased greatly. Its plan “Energy Efficiency in Household Buildings” offers incentives to citizens who meet income criteria to maintain energy-efficient heating and cooling. The “Better Energy Warmer Homes” plan provides energy efficiency measures to low-income households specifically. Similar programs should begin in nations with fuel poverty crises currently as there is a lack of similar government initiatives in countries ranging from Lebanon to Kazakhstan.

While the cold harms those in poverty, there are ways in which poor families can find relief and comfort. Calling on governments to do more and donating to organizations similar to Save the Children can greatly benefit those in the cold.

Rachel Reardon
Photo: Flickr

Inclusive Education Programs
UNICEF is working alongside NGO Zhan, a software development company and a youth center to help children in Kazakhstan who have visual impairments gain more out of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program teaches children with visual impairments how to access useful learning resources and maximize the benefits of technology. Inclusive education programs are particularly valuable in developing countries where many often stigmatize disabilities and those with disabilities do not receive accommodation from schools. The COVID-19 pandemic has made inclusive education even more essential due to an expansive surge in digital learning, which is rarely accessible to children with disabilities.

UNICEF’s Approach

UNICEF and NGO Zhan program taught children how to navigate smartphones, computers, web resources and messenger and navigation apps. The children also learned the basics of programming and became familiar with several software programs, as UNICEF reported.

Children who participated in the program ended up with heightened abilities to communicate with their teachers, peers and families, both inside and outside of school. Children with visual impairments who learn technological skills like computer programming have better chances of finding stable jobs later in life. Inclusive education programs like UNICEF’s help provide opportunities to children with disabilities who may otherwise lack access to education altogether, especially in developing countries.

Educational Benefits

Children with disabilities are often marginalized within educational systems, which makes it difficult to find career opportunities as adults. Children with disabilities face disproportionate amounts of exclusion in low-income areas, according to the World Bank. Educational programs that provide learning resources for children with disabilities help put them on level playing fields with their classmates.

Teachers in developing countries often lack the training and resources to assist children with disabilities, so outside organizations like UNICEF can help make schools more inclusive. According to the World Bank, inclusive education programs may involve teacher training, removing physical barriers for students and obtaining accessible learning materials. These resources allow children with disabilities the opportunity to learn the same material as their classmates without falling behind in school or missing out on job opportunities in the future.

Socioeconomic Benefits

Around the world, 57 million children lack access to primary education. While many children with disabilities struggle to keep up in school without accommodations, others lack access to education altogether. Educational disparities in low-income areas are particularly common among young girls.

Inclusive education programs and policies can improve child literacy, gender equality and educational opportunities at large for children with disabilities. When more children have access to positive educational experiences, more children can enter the workforce and contribute to their local and national economies.

UNICEF’s program for children with visual impairments is a prime example of how inclusive education can benefit children’s education and social lives. Inclusive education accepts and embraces all children, allowing them to succeed in school and pursue their ambitions for the future.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Unsplash

Kazakhstan COVID-19 vaccine
Kazakhstan’s struggle to motivate its citizens to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is leading to increased COVID-19 cases. In April 2021, 137,000 Kazakh citizens out of a population of 19 million received the first dose of the vaccine and less than half of those had received the second dose. Pressure from Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has helped increase the number of fully vaccinated citizens, but as of August 2021, only about 22% of the population is fully vaccinated.

The Kazakh President

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev expressed his outrage over the slow pace of vaccination. He warned both the health minister and his government, saying, “In April, you must turn the tide, otherwise a personnel decision that is going to be very disappointing for you will follow.”

Reasons for the Hesitancy

The country began administering QazVac, Kazakhstan’s domestically produced COVID-19 vaccine, before the completion of clinical trials. The Research Institute for Biological Safety Problems, a state-backed research center, assured the public that the vaccine is safe. However, many Kazakhs fear that the vaccine has not yet gone through enough testing. The QazVac vaccine finished trials in July 2021. However, some experts remain skeptical because these trials only included 3,000 people as test subjects, compared with approximately 43,000 Pfizer trial participants.

The Impact of Vaccine Hesitancy in Kazakstan

Kazakhstan’s recent struggle has included its largest economic shock since the late 1990s. The COVID-19 pandemic decreased economic activity worldwide, causing the price of oil to drop. As oil is Kazakhstan’s main export, the price drop caused its economy to contract by 2.5% in 2020. As a result, the poverty rate increased from 6% in 2016 to 12-14% in 2020, curtailing years’ worth of progress.

The pandemic has increased urban unemployment by halting travel and social outings, limiting jobs in retail, hospitality, wholesale and transport. According to the World Bank, these four main industries account for 30% of urban employment in Kazakhstan.

While poverty has surged in cities, the pandemic has hit rural areas even harder. World Bank Country Manager for Kazakhstan Jean-Francois Marteau has expressed that to combat this disparity, Kazakhstan needs to implement reforms focused on inclusive economic recovery and productivity. Long-term reforms will be necessary to alleviate Kazakhstan’s struggle as the pandemic’s economic impact will last two to three years.

Economic Recovery

Kazakhstan’s economic recovery is largely dependent on the world’s economic recovery. As COVID-19 cases decrease and countries lift restrictions, allowing travel and day-to-day activities to resume, oil prices will recover. Additionally, as more people become vaccinated and vaccines become more readily available and trusted, the spread of COVID-19 should slow. Retailers, restaurants and the hospitality industry will begin to reopen and managers will be able to rehire employees they had to let go due to lockdowns.

As this recovery takes place, predictions determine that Kazakhstan’s economy could grow by 2.5% in 2021 and 3.5% in 2022, providing hope to the nation.

Lily Vassalo
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid in Central Asia
Central Asia comprises Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. The combined population of these countries is about 72 million. Promising foreign aid efforts in Central Asia are working to combat a variety of issues in these countries.

Food Distribution

One critical area for foreign aid in Central Asia has been food security. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been leading a program to provide food to impoverished children in Tajikistan. This program has given vegetable oil and flour to more than 22,000 households in Tajikistan.

This has been part of a more significant effort by the WFP School Feeding Programme to ensure student food security in Tajikistan. The School Feeding Programme has helped more than 600,000 students across the country.

Russia is a critical contributor to these aid programs. Since 2012, Russia has given more than $28 million to the School Feeding Programme to facilitate food distribution and the modernization of food infrastructure for schools.

The World Food Programme and Russia are not the only sources of food aid in Central Asia. The United Arab Emirate’s 100 Million Meals campaign has distributed more than 600,000 meals to Central Asia as of June 2021.

The organization gave out food baskets with enough food to feed an entire family for a month. It assists families in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The campaign coordinated with other charity organizations within these three countries, and the campaign target has already increased from 100 million meals to more than 200 million meals.

Electrical and Water Supply

Another critical area for foreign aid in Central Asia is the development of electrical infrastructure and water management. The U.S. recently started an effort via USAID to develop a sustainable and reliable electricity market in the region. An October 2020 agreement between USAID, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan planned to create an electrical market with “expected economic benefits from regional trade and… reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

USAID also recently started the Water and Vulnerable Environment project, which will help all five Central Asian countries. The project aims to “promote regional cooperation to improve natural resources (water) management that sustains both growths, promote[s] healthy ecosystems, and prevent[s] conflict.” This is the second water management project USAID has supported in the region in recent years, as it recently completed the Smart Waters project.

The Smart Waters project successfully ensured that dozens of citizens received degrees in water management or received additional training in the field. The project also trained almost 3,000 people in “water resources management, water diplomacy, water-saving technologies, and international water law through 100 capacity building events.”

Medical Assistance

USAID partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2021 to help Uzbekistan address the management of drug-resistant tuberculosis. The project’s goal is to better manage the disease by providing assistance to Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Health. The program conducted 35 training sessions throughout Uzbekistan, which resulted in more than 600 specialists receiving certification to prevent, identify and treat drug-resistant tuberculosis.

In recent years, foreign aid in Central Asia has resulted in food distribution, medical assistance, efforts to develop an electrical grid and assistance in water management. The U.S., Russia and the United Arab Emirates have contributed to these efforts alongside various international and local organizations.

– Coulter Layden
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in KazakhstanIn 2018, a migrant named E.Sh.M. lost his documents while trying to cross the border into Kazakhstan. Upon arrival at the nearest market, human traffickers kidnapped him and sold him into forced labor on a farm. There, he was illegally detained and subjected to inhumane working conditions where his employer would regularly abuse him. On one extreme occasion, E.Sh.M.’s legs were beaten with an ax, and his finger was cut off. E.Sh.M. serves as just one example of the treatment that migrants who become victims of human trafficking in Kazakhstan endure.

The Influx of Foreign Migrants

Kazakhstan used to be a land of emigration and transit to Russia. However, this changed at the start of the new millennium when the country’s economy improved. The influx of migrants increased even more after the Russian financial crisis in 2014 as Kazakhstan became more financially accessible to citizens from Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, who now make up the bulk of the migrant population. In 2015, the U.N. estimated that 20% of Kazakhstan’s population were migrants.

What Leads to Migrant Vulnerability

The case of E.Sh.M. is not an anomaly. Rather, it is emblematic of the larger issue of human trafficking in Kazakhstan, which has registered more than 1,100 crimes in the last three years. Labor exploitation, especially of male migrants coming from Central Asia, is just as dominant as sexual exploitation in the country. Trafficked migrants are forced into construction and agricultural work. They are lured with the promise of a high income. Instead, they are illegally detained and forced into labor. Therefore, the poor economic conditions of the migrant’s native country combined with the common recruitment tactic of a deceptive income are factors responsible for the exacerbation of human trafficking in Kazakhstan.

Although E.Sh.M. lost his documents, a more sinister approach for human traffickers in Kazakhstan is forcefully taking away documents and leveling violent threats against migrants. Rodnik is an NGO that helps survivors of human trafficking in Kazakhstan. Diana Bakyt, a lawyer who works for Rodnik, reiterated this point in an interview with The Borgen Project. Bakyt stated, “the main risk factor for getting into a situation of human trafficking is the lack of identity documents.” If a migrant emigrates for work without proper documentation stating their relationship with their employer, they risk trafficking.

The Impact of COVID-19

With borders closing at the beginning of the pandemic, hundreds of Central Asian migrants were left stranded at the Russian-Kazakh border. However, as restrictions eased, the plight of the migrants did not. Migrants lost income during the lockdown, and they were also subjected to a migrant phobia media onslaught. Rhetoric, such as “hotbeds for infections” and “breeding grounds for the virus,” has stigmatized migrants. Migrants stranded at the border became “congestions.” These notions further worsen the vulnerability of migrants and increase the risk of human trafficking.

Rodnik has Solutions

Nina Balabayeva founded Kazakhstan’s first shelter, Rodnik, in 2006. The nongovernmental organization has since become the leading mitigator of human trafficking in the country and has provided assistance to more than 16,000 people.

Taking on the plight of the migrants, Diana Bakyt stated that Rodnik has assisted with documentation, securing of legal fees and the return of trafficked migrants to their homeland. The organization is also responsible for combating the migrant phobia supplied by the media and is working to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure to migrants. E.Sh.M.’s story could only have a platform today because Rodnik assisted in his return back to Kyrgyzstan in 2021.

Based in Almaty, Rodnik lies in a pivotal location. Almaty is the primary destination for migrant workers in Kazakhstan. In collaboration with USAID, UNICEF, Winrock International and the Eurasia Foundation, Rodnik has successfully implemented several campaigns and projects, including multiple information drives. During one of these drives, migrant workers on the streets of Almaty received booklets. In a single day, more than 500 people learned about the risks of the human trafficking of migrants in Kazakhstan.

Owing to their founder’s degree in psychology, Bakyt stated that the organization also prioritizes providing psychological help to victims. Other institutions that Rodnik works with include governments, schools, healthcare institutions, militaries, social workers, migration officers and law enforcement.

What Lies Ahead for Kazakhstan

While stories about migrants like E.Sh.M. are heartbreaking, his fight inspires others to stand against human trafficking. Kazakhstan has recently seen an increase of new migrants as a byproduct of the pandemic. However, the tireless efforts of organizations like Rodnik show that trafficking can be overcome.

– Iris Anne Lobo
Photo: Flickr