An American friend has allowed me to reprint an e-mail she sent to her friends back in the U.S. She might as well be a Peace Corps Volunteer based on the experience she describes which could be “Anywhere, Kazakhstan.” What she witnessed is in direct contradiction to what western tourists would see if they only traveled to Almaty or Astana. Tourist be aware! The glitz of these Kazakh cities with their suburbs full of saunas, serve really as brothels. These seamy places house some of the young Kazakh or Kyrgyz people from rural areas who have been trafficked into the city with a promise of a better job.
If you see the poor education the Kazakh children have gotten out in the village schools, they don’t have a chance to improve their lot in life with the high unemployment in their communities. The Ministry of Education needs to reward good, hard working teachers with much higher pay instead of punishing those who know the latest in technology and putting them out in the “sticks.”
During the Soviet Union times, Soviet teachers were given better privileges and their mission was to indoctrinate the young Kazakh students to excel in learning what Moscow dictated. Now, as far as I know, the Kazakh government doesn’t have that in place (yet) and instead there are poorly trained, Kazakh teachers in the village schools doing the best they can with the little they have. The teachers are under paid and overworked knowing they are working with the future of their country. BUT, what is the future of Kazakhstan if the views of village schools continue as they did from the 1950s? Please read on…
“To get to the village, the road was full of potholes and there were a couple of trucks and workers that seemed to be filling the holes. I wondered why the heater for the hot tar was being fuelled with old rubber tires. Then as I looked out over the vast expanse of the steppes, I realized that there was not a tree in sight.
The village has about 5,000 people but only two restaurants. The buildings are old and there is much evidence of Soviet times with old concrete structures that have been stripped and are only a standing shell. Fences and farm equipment are rusted out and most men are unemployed. The roads are dried, rutted mud and difficult to maneuver.
Once we reached the school, I climbed three flights of stairs to teach English to about thirteen 8-15 year olds. Of course I needed to use the “toilet”. It was a large open room with knee to ceiling windows at one end. There were four toilets or I should say “squatty pottys”. Here you must step up about 8 inches and then straddle an oval hole with a drain in it. Two of the 4 were covered with yellow tape so they must have been out of order. One of the toilets flushed, the other one must be flushed with a bucket of water that the cleaning lady has to get from the pump outside the back of the school.
The school is old but clean. The floors are wooden planks that are uneven and have been painted over for many years. The walls are freshly painted over years of cement repairs so they are uneven and crude looking. The windows are hip to ceiling and open to the right or left. The wood has been painted as many times as the floor and it is rough and unsightly though they would hardly notice as they know nothing different.
Old green chalkboards are on one wall, there is no clock or decorations, just some plants on the windowsil. One student took a piece of chalk from her backpack and let me use it as there was none in the room. The board is erased with a wet rag. The next day I had only a piece of chalk the size of a small pea but made it last the whole lesson.
None of the children knew the parts of the body so that was my project for the 3 days I was there. We did body bingo and I gave them a sticker or a napkin with a $100 imprinted on it. They were thrilled and out of
control playing games. Once an administrater checked the class, surely wondering what all the noise was about.
After an hour and half lesson we drove to one of the cafe’s where there were two choices on the menu (rice with meat, carrots and onions or noodles with meat, carrots and onions), The other cafe sells only dumplings. At 1:00 the second class started at another school. Here the students wear uniforms, stood beside their chairs when I entered the room and likewise stood to answer my questions. They were polite and controlled, the complete opposite of the first class. These children also didn’t know the parts of the body in English so it was easy to play games again and give prizes they cherished.
The same green chalkboard, uneven walls, heavily painted window frames and floors graced the place. As I was again looking for chalk, one young girl gave me a small bag full of white rocks which were used as chalk. The second day she had a real piece of chalk for me.
I asked these children what their hobbies were and many said they played the dombre, a national Kazakh instrument much like a guitar. Two boys took crude wooden boxes with some strings with them and I was aware that their dombres were homemade out of wood scraps.
All of the children seemed to live with parents and grandparents and siblings in one dwelling. I kept thinking what a shock it would be for them to visit my town or my country. Their lives are so simple and uncluttered. They don’t have after school dance and sports. They go home to help the family survive. Their lifestyle is a good example to me of being content with whatever they have. We Americans always want MORE and still aren’t satisfied.
Sometimes I struggle with having so much and then watching these children enjoy their lives without the toys and games we think we need. How warped is our perspective and how shallow is our contentment. What a privilege it is to witness another side of life…”