Archive for June, 2011

1930s photos from Central Asia

Rare to have any photos from the 1930s in Central Asia, rarer still to see what kind of Soviet education was going on in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  A Kazakh friend of mine (she has an interest in history as an economist) sent me these photos and an explanation about what these pictures of Central Asians were about.

“Rabochiy Fakultet (Workers’ Faculty) though was quite an important part of education policy of early Soviet Union.. According to Russian census in 1897 there were only about 5-6% of literate people in Central Asia. So this institution was supposed to bring the illiterate peasants and workers up to speed in a very short time to enter higher educational institutions. In spite of all the horrors of Stalin’s time, there were still something positive in educational sector (especially for Central Asia). “

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Human Trafficking (Part IV)

I’m glad I was an active member of the International Women’s Club in Astana as well as in Almaty because this is where it all started for me…my interest in human trafficking.  It IS an international problem.  What is completely vexing and baffling to us as expats in Kazakhstan is that so few Kazakh people see it as a problem in their own country. Maybe if they DO know, they don’t want to admit that human trafficking is a problem. Or maybe those who are victims are powerless to say anything that is why we as expats need to keep this as a front burner issue by blogging about it or writing e-mails home to people in our respective countries.

The following is an e-mail that was sent by a British person after a visit to one of the 20 shelters which are situated throughout Kazakhstan. Thankfully, some things ARE being done to take care of this problem.  However, MORE is needed to be done to make Kazakhs in the countryside aware of human trafficking.  If you don’t read on, please at least go to this website Not for Sale – Also, check out  But keep informed about what people are doing “on the ground” of Kazakhstan to help ease the burden, please read on…

“We visited a shelter for the victims of trafficking recently to see their work ‘in situ.’  It is a rented house in the countryside. Frankly, we probably could not find it again if we tried to return!  They are working on plans to buy and equip their own place, but, for the moment, will continue to pay rent.  The most notable thing about the outside is the number of ducklings they are currently feeding.

The house itself seems quite big and there are two main bedrooms that we saw with five beds in each. There was also a male resident, who we did not meet but who has a separate entrance.  There are currently eight residents though this changes regularly and, on our visit, they came from various places (Ukraine, Uzbekhistan, Tajikstan, but also Kazakhs)  The oldest was 46 (Ukrainian rescued from farm servitude) and the youngest 20 (a Kazakh who had been sexual trafficked).

On this occasion, in contrast to all I had read or been told, the majority were victims of sexual rather than labour trafficking, but this varies all the time, we were told the majority of the funding comes through the Ministry of Justice, who finance the house, utilities and salaries of those involved (currently five people)  They also fund the reception centre in the centre of the city where all those newly rescued are first taken, usually by the police though perhaps in response to tip-offs.

Because of the possibility of legal proceedings, as threats are regularly made, the location of the centre is not divulged  Currently, there is an on-going legal process involving one of the young women in which she will be a witness as well the ‘client’ who reported her being sexually trafficked!  Yes, I was surprised too, but soliciting is not a crime in Kazakhstan though prostitution is!   However, because of the difficulty of actually ‘proving’ trafficking the usual charge is kidnapping thus the need for the victim to be protected.

So, what happens when someone is rescued?  They will stay at the shelter for therapy by trying to come to terms with and work through their trauma by use of both one-to-one and group therapy  They are also encouraged to work out and/or externalize their anger through art (one of the girls seemed a very good draughtsperson) or use of models with the faces of their exploiter(s)  As a rough guide, people stay for about half the time of their period of servitude though this, of  course, varies according to the individual or their circumstances.

What happens when they have to leave the shelter at the end of their therapy?  This also varies according to circumstances, as you might expect!  Those who are non-Kazakh are eventually repatriated (imagine the bureaucracy!) with local contacts for the IOM (e.g. in Bishkek) which they are encouraged to use.  However, this is rather more problematic in Kazakhstan as the family may have been involved with the original trafficking or the victim may not (for reasons I leave you to imagine!)   In this case, (there is currently one young woman in the shelter in this situation), then alternative arrangements are made to assist re-settlement and re-integration into society.

So what can we do to help?  Well, continue to donate clothes as their budget does not cover this type of expenditure, and I will be sending another email at the end of the month as you all pack & de-clutter ready for the new season!  Btw what is the ‘in’ colour the autumn season? However, for some of you, that is a problem (you dress in a timeless fashion?). Also, they have requested any art materials: flipchart type paper as well as paints both oil- & water-based  I will get some costing done and contact you again shortly if you would like to donate.”

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More than a discussion about Human Trafficking (Part III)

I have been invited to be a speaker at a service club in my community.  The following is what I will include in my ppt presentation.  This is the little bit that I know about human trafficking in Central Asia.  First though, I’ll give a background about how I fell into this tough topic that has been a slow burn for me for some years.

Back in the late 1990s when I lived in Kyiv, Ukraine, I knew about the dangers to my students about being trafficked for sex exploitation. Some were very beautiful girls, others dressed rather provocatively. There’s a good reason for dress codes in schools. Also, on the streets were homeless Ukrainian children who probably got snapped up by lying traffickers.  In the mid-2000s, I had heard a story about one particularly bright Ukrainian student who fell into something awful but was smart or fiesty enough to escape.  She wouldn’t talk about it once she returned to her friends at the university, but to this day I wonder how Ivana is doing.

When I went to Almaty, Kazakhstan fall of 2007, I had the book “Two Kyrgyz Women” that was just published the same year fall into my hands. I didn’t read it for another year or so. Thus, I can understand when I give Marinka’s book to someone and they don’t read it right away.  It can be so offputting because it is such a tragedy to read about slavery in Central Asia while living freely in our land of the American Dream.  Sadly, so many in the world live the opposite of the American Dream.

When I suggested that we read it as a book club group when we moved to Astana in January of 2010, the other women of the expat community eagerly agreed.  I had little indication that the hostess of the book club actually KNEW the author, Marinka Franulovic.  That is where I met Marinka and asked for 10 copies of the book so I could give to my Kazakh students who were teachers in the public schools.  After they read it, we invited Marinka to come and talk about this book asking what we could do to help.  When I left Kazakhstan, I was happy to leave about 5-6 big Chinese plastic bags full of my husband and my clothes for the shelters.

Turns out one of my former students DID go to a trafficking shelter recently to find out what it was like.  Here’s what she wrote:

“Since you left many things have happened. You know, I wasn`t sure I could be a change agent. Now I feel like I ought to be. A week ago I went to the shelter in Astana; our dearest Marinka has invited me. What I learnt during the trip was shocking, though I knew the problem.

Unfortunately, the issue of human trafficking is not primary in our country, it is not even discussed as a problem. People see in news that some group of illegal migrants were caught on some construction site, for example, and were sent out of country, but nobody thinks of these people as victims of human trafficking and victims at all. It`s very sad.

The shelter is one storage house in the village near the city, nearly 20 people can be located there. When we went, there were 9 women 20-40 year- olds, one of them was rescued from 15 years long slavery on a farm. The shelter has a psychologist, a doctor and some kind of manager.

Anna is guiding and organizing the whole activity at shelter. Today, I texted to Anna, she wants us to come again! May be I will bring some good movies, they need good films. Also, I am starting the English course for girls from the shelter next week. At least I could help these people continue education. Thank you for making me think about it and desire to change the situation.”

Of course I was happy to read that my former student took this initiative but I plied her with MORE questions.  I want her to be my eyes and ears about what is being done to help these poor people caught in a horrible trap.  Here is another quote that I found on the Not For Sale website:

“Modern-day traders in human property know their business inside out and respond to changes in the market with a speed unmatched by even the most competitive corporations. Their expertise and ability to exploit the market are surpassed only by their disregard for human life. Women are bought, sold and hired out like any other product. The bottom line is profit.”

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More than a discussion about Human Trafficking (Part II)

See yesterday’s account of what nine Minnesota women who came together after reading a book about “Two Kyrgyz Women” talked about.  Here is the continuation:

We sat in our living room feeling like abolitionist women from 150 years ago concerning this topic on slavery. This kind of slavery could be going on right in our own city and certainly long haul truckers are made aware of the problem where there are interstate hubs such as in Fargo, North Dakota with I-29 and I-94.  This website provides  information for those who are at truckstops. Truckers AGAINST Trafficking!

As American women, we feel privileged living in a dream world that so many yearn for, their day-to-day reality is defeatism and hopelessness. We asked ourselves, “What can WE do to help?”  Certainly raise awareness and find out more from the website “Not for Sale.”  Two of my friends had already looked it over and were finding out what companies use child labor in the production of their products.  There’s a report card for 100s of companies, some come off good but most others get a D+. Check out

We all agreed that we needed to educate ourselves about this so that we can bring awareness to others. Also, we know that education is the KEY for those young people in developing nations who do not have the skills to keep up with the 21st century.  I mentioned that the money is not being funneled out to the rural areas of Kazakhstan sadly because resources meant for schools usually end up in the pockets of those school administrators.  Greed continues among educators as well as police officers.  Both service industries meant to protect and educate their own population.

After all these dismal thoughts in our discussion it was very good to be reminded of the promises from Isaiah 58.

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:

To loose the bonds of wickedness;

To undo the heavy burdens,

To let the oppressed go free,

And that you break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;

When you see the naked, that you cover him,

And not hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then your light shall break forth like the morning,

Your healing shall spring forth speedily,

And your righteousness shall go before you;

The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”

Also, all of us ladies do want “pure and undefiled religion” not a sit on your hands kind of faith.  According to James, that means to visit orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world.  I think “fasting” from material things and giving to those who are in need is a good start after being aware of this tragic problem about victims who are trafficked.

Back to my dream the other morning with those men who wanted my dad’s highly prized snowmobile.  I think we will always have evil in this world. Men (and women) will bully and try to strike fear into others because they want more of something they can’t have.  We may hope in our neighbors help or that the law will be on our side but ultimately we need to pray that God protects us and that our loved ones do not fall into such a trap. The snowmobile tracks are visible in the pure, white snow of these villains.  The lives of victims who escape from slavery are like those unsightly tracks but they need hope and the promise of a future without fear, torture and cruelty.  Each number in the awful statistics about trafficking is a human soul crying out for freedom. We shall see what we, as nine ladies, can do to make a difference for good, to set the captives free…

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More than a discussion about Slave Trafficking in Minnesota

This morning I woke up with a strange dream about bullying and intimidation.  Apparently we had a snow mobile that had been sold to my Dad by a famous snowmobiler in our area.  A Polaris, as I recall, (sorry Arctic Cat.) Three guys roared into our front yard and were taunting and yelling at my dad and the rest of the family.  I stayed inside trying to decide whether to call our neighbor one mile away or call the cops.  My Mom finally came in and said that there are worse things going on in the world, that this was merely a distraction.  I guess the answer was, no, don’t call the police.  I never did hear them roar off but they did leave their tracks all over our snow.  An analogy can be made of this dream with our talk about human slavery in the world, which is still going on for about 30 million unfortunate people caught in a trap.

Last night eight Minnesota women gathered at our home to discuss human trafficking.  Nine of us are very fortunate ladies with loving husbands and a roof over our heads. Yes, thankfully my husband busied himself grilling shashlik (Kazakh version of shish-ka-bob) outside. Once we ate, our discussion took different turns and each contributed from their own experience about what they had read or knew on the topic concerning other cultures.  Mostly they wanted to find out more about what is happening in Central Asia after having read the book “Two Kyrgyz Women” by Marinka Franulovic.

According to Marinka’s book, many women are deemed as nothing in the Kyrgyz culture. Also, the males in the book appeared spineless, the mother-in-law didn’t come off too well either for the second Kyrgyz woman.  If her father had not died, the second woman’s life may have turned out quite differently. He had wanted her to at least get an education, which served to help her use her wits later to escape from her awful situation in Dubai.

We all agreed there was a generational thing going on where the mother-in-law is considered the queen bee. She expects her new daughter-in-law to be broken in as the family servant.  Also, the husbands in this book were rascals and did not take their responsibilities as fathers or husbands seriously.  The two women unwittingly got into trafficking simply because their children needed to be fed, they had no money for food. Both husbands lost money to alcohol or foolish, big dreams.

The question was initially asked, “Why does no one DO anything about this problem of trafficking?” One answer was that there are no good role models to show depth of love or compassion within the family.  Since the Kyrgyz mother-in-law was a “slave” in her husband’s family, she is eager for her son to provide her, in the form of his wife, a new slave to carry the burden of household chores.  With the emergence of yet another change of lifestyle from Soviet times, as of 20 years ago, materialism has set in.  Once nomads of the steppes, now the amassing of things seems to rule over the Central Asian people. Girls and women are further devalued.

Someone commented that the devaluing of life goes on in our country as well.  But we don’t talk much about it when materialism and convenience override whether a woman chooses to extend the life of her baby to full term. (I won’t use the “a” word). Another said that in Central Asian culture they are brought up to expect bad, so bad things follow them. No hope like we in America enjoy.  We were reminded that we grew up believing in the American Dream or having grandparents or great grandparents who had an optimistic attitude. Not so in Central Asia where unemployment in the rural area is very bad. (I’m not sure of the correct statistics).  I DO know 61% of the internal migration are males who are caught in slavery within Kazakhstan. They do heavy manual labor in mines, cotton or tobacco fields or construction labor in the big cities of Almaty or Astana.

Someone pointed out that evil in each men’s heart needs to be purged. What father or mother would sell their daughter? Obviously there’s a market for the sex slave trade simply because men need to have these addictions for their warped appetites filled.  Alcohol, gambling, sex, eating…all the vices are there that preys on those who have next to nothing. The only thing victims have are their bodies for hard labor or for sex or both!

Back to the question of “Who can they turn to for help once caught in the trafficker’s deceitful web?” They need better law enforcement!  In many cases in other countries, not just in Central Asia, but in Mexico or South America you have police who are “in” on this crime. They have no backbone to save those girls or children who are distressed, who are crying out for help. The police, because of low salaries, are driven by greed. They pocket some of the money when they don’t arrest and are paid off by the traffickers.  Someone else mentioned the movie “Taken” with Liam Neeson. That is an intense thriller when a father goes after the traffickers to try to save his daughter when she is off on a trip to Europe.  Check that movie out for a dose of reality.

(to be continued)

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Even more photos from Astana

I’ve taken a break from logging in with words this past week and this will be my last for awhile of photos from Kazakhstan.  Tomorrow, I’ll be back to blogging with words. 8) As I recall, these frames stand about 15 feet tall (bigger than life) and are close to the Agricultural university in the old part of the city of Astana, Kazakhstan.  I don’t know what any of the context of this is of about ten panels. They are out of order too.  We needed an interpreter to explain what the artist meant by this record of history done during the Soviet era.  Any help out there in my blog reading audience?

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Photos of old part of Astana, Kazakhstan

To be fair, I need to show photos from the old part of the city of Astana.  Whenever I went to that part of town (across the river), I felt like the buildings were so much closer and the trees were older and more mature. Sometimes the architecture made me feel like I was back in Kyiv, Ukraine. But only a momentary flashback. More photos show people in the old part of the city where it seemed more comfortable with itself even though the streets were confusing and no one knew where any street was because of all the name changes (from old Russian names to new Kazakh ones).

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More photos of Astana’s new buildings

Astana begs to have its pictures taken of, it is glitzy and brand new. The buildings go up quickly all around the new part of town and is a showcase for the rest of the world to see. Meant to be seen and Kazakhstan wants to be heard from. What better way than promoting its good side because more often than not, it is too cold to take photos or it is covered with snow.  Check out all these buildings and then you might wonder how much these builders were actually paid for their services. You have to have a sense of humor to work on these places. I call what looks like “toothpaste tubes” the Wobbly Buildings.  Creative names for every building in this funky city.

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Buddy Bears in New Astana, Kazakhstan (Part II)

No, the Buddy Bears are NOT back in Kazakhstan. Who knows where they are on this globe. Buddy Bears were a GREAT tourist sensation in the new part of Astana a year ago. I’m showing MORE unpublished photos I took at the time but for some reason didn’t blog about them. Here’s the second time around, reliving the past. The little girl in pink wanted me to take photos of her next to each bear. I complied with about 3 or 4 photos.  Her father and his friend were laughing (maybe out of embarrassment for this little pixie had no inhibitions in front of other people’s cameras). Clearly she got it, people enjoyed taking photos next to these statues representing different countries. I wonder where they are now?

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Photos around the new part of Astana, Kazakhstan

I’ve written enough for a while, I need to let my blog readers catch up.  Also, I am plowing through Anne Applebaum’s book “Gulag: A History.” No easy task, I can assure you.  I have such fond memories of the different places my husband and I saw a year ago at this time. The photo is taken at  the apartment complex called Highvill (no “E” at the end which bugs just about every foreigner who lives in Astana). You can see the President’s palace from their vantage point, it is THAT close. 

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