UNICEF and Kazakhstan’s Youth

UNICEF and Kazakhstan’s youth:  This morning I heard an amazing speaker at the Astana Intl. Women’s club meeting which meets monthly at the Radisson hotel.  She emphatically stated that she LOVES the organization of UNICEF, I think her name was Hannah. She related an account of where she was in some African country where she witnessed a reuniting of a young girl with her mother after civil war that tore many families apart. She first showed a film about all the different things that UNICEF does for the sake of children around the world.  Immunizations, water, nutrition, education, other health issues, orphanages, rights of children, juvenile delinquency…she touched on many topics.  I wish I had taken notes because she also had a lot of statistics that she quoted related to Kazakhstan in particular.

Of course, as a teacher, what I was most interested in what she said about Kazakhstan’s young people relating to education.  She claimed that after Russia, Kazakhstan has the highest suicide rate.  She didn’t elaborate whether that was in the rural areas of this country or among the privileged.  Those students I am used to seeing are in westernized schools in Almaty and Astana.  The young people I work with know English, have traveled, come from good families and have hope.  Hannah said after Russia and Kazakhstan there is a big drop in the statistics and again I was curious what other countries she was referring to, did that mean C.I.S. countries only or in the whole world?  Certainly there is much poverty in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kygyzstan, etc.  Why would Russia and Kazakhstan be so ranked with high suicide rates among the youth?

Once back at work, I talked to a young woman who majors in physics at a local university in Astana.  I asked her what she knew about suicide among youth in Kazakhstan.  She said she had heard of an instance recently where a young girl committed suicide when she found out the results of her qualifying exam to get into university did not make the grade.  You hear of these instances happening perhaps in China where the competition is very tight and there are few vacancies for letting students into their university system.  Here in Kazakhstan, I don’t know.  I need to explore that issue about depression, societal stresses and suicide of the Kazakh youth.  I know in the school system there is much pressure for them to succeed in learning in three languages (Kazakh, Russian and English).

The UNICEF speaker also went on to explain that immunizations for polio and also for tuberculosis need to be re-instated.  There has been an outbreak (I think in the Chymkent area?) of that where it was thought to have been eradicated since 1988.  Also, people who might have contracted HIV/AIDS are too ashamed to seek help.  One woman who had been infected by her husband would not take the medication that could have saved her life. She did not want to be stigmatized with having AIDS.  To her, that was worse than death, if her family learned of her AIDS, she would have been considered a social outcast.

The most shocking was about how there is still the hold-over of Soviet thinking among the doctors in Kazakhstan.  Their one and only definition of a live birth is if the baby is breathing air on its own. However, according to international standards of what is considered “live births,” set up by the organization WHO, there are 14-16 different ways to see if a baby, once born, is alive by checking palpitation of heart or other vital signs.  All those signs are ignored due to the old Soviet training of doctors that still exists in hospitals.  When I talked to a foreign doctor who is western trained, she said that perhaps if those babies who are birthed with complications, they might have defects or disabilities that families would not be able to take care of due to the expense.

One other thing mentioned was that many children who end up in orphanages in Kazakhstan are not actually orphans (defined by a child without father or mother) but they are castoff children and do indeed have a parent still living.  Our speaker said this concept of children being taken over by the government is another carry-over from the Soviet period where this was actually encouraged so as to train up the children according to the State-controlled regimen.  Hannah ended with a answer to a question among the group of about 40 women that the Kazakhs need to return to their own tradition of taking care of their OWN family and not giving up children to orphanages because many times if they have been institutionalized, they are without good job skills to enter the work force at age 18 when they are turned out to fend for themselves.

One foreign woman said that she and other expats had worked on a charity to improve the conditions of the orphanages because the toilets and showers were deplorable.  Our speaker said that this was a very delicate issue because if there is not better social networking to adopt these children into Kazakh families and have that working, it only encourages more people to “throw away” these young children into the orphanages that might have better conditions than what they are currently living in. She said it was more important for children, even living in poverty, to grow up in their own families or be adopted by relatives (just like what used to be done before the Soviet period) than to institutionalize children in orphanages.  She said it was important for charities to work and improve the conditions of the places where children currently are kept but better to NOT have so many “social orphans” in Kazakhstan.  If orphanages look better than a home in poverty, more and more children would be dumped.

Our speaker representing UNICEF had to rush off to another engagement so I didn’t have a chance to ask her my main question about depression and suicide among Kazakh youth.  She obviously has strong emotions about what she does for a living, obviously she LOVES children.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: