Archive for July, 2011

Highlights from Kazakh Readers Comments (Part II)

These are comments over the past year that I cherish because they are written out by Kazakhs who read this blog.  I originally thought that it would be for westerners to gain insights into this difficult culture.  Apparently I have erudite, Kazakh readers who are very competent in English. How I wish there were more true, historical stories written for more westerners to know and understand Central Asia.

‘They DO have stories, just not in the written form!!!’

Wrong. A nasty stereotype that even many a Kazakh were led to believe… The problem is, and I mean a major problem, that the modern-day historians are either half-professional or not interested in researching the real history that IS available for those willing to dig deep enough.”

Another Kazakh woman who lives in Arizona wrote the following and I blogged about it earlier.  I value what she wrote and wish more Kazakhs who live in the U.S. Canada or U.K. would write more about their beloved country so we, as westerners, can understand what happened in the past.

“I’m pleased to find at least 1 article in whole web net from Kazakh person about Kazakh art and history through Kazakh rugs. I can’t believe how much Soviet law and specially dominating Russians forced Kazakhs to forget their own history, lifestyle, art. Yes, Soviet law& KGB prohibited any kind of private business in USSR. Kazakhstan was tiered apart between Russia and China. East Turkestan became colony of China and now has new colonial Han’ name SinZsyan. Best Antique Kazakh rugs were stolen by communists in USSR and China. Kazakhs couldn’t make money by weaving rugs anymore. Since all Turkic countries became a colonies of USSR or CPR(Chinese People Republic), and no westerns were allowed at our Silk Road markets; Turkey became a major market of all Turkic rugs, Kazaks, Yughurs, Uzbeks, Altaics, Turkmen, Azeri, Kirgiz, Gagauzs, and etc. Kazakhs were still weaving some of kilims, but no rugs anymore. Pakistan became major producer of Kazakh design rugs now. My grandfather weaved flat rug; Klem or Kilim. After taking part of World War 2 he tried to feed his big family in Kazakh village on Russian territory near Zhyaik (Ural) river. He had ships, horses, goats. He was hunting and selling fur skin. KGB put him to jail in 1982 where he starngely died in 2 days. He was 50 y.o., his youngest kid was 14 y.o. his widow had no job, raising 2 kids and still doesn’t speak Russian. We still keep kilim by my grandfather. We used it once: on his funeral.

Correction to my previous post: at the time my grandfather died, my grandmother was raising 4 underage kids and had 3 more students. She never worked, she was helping my granddad to wash shipskin, fox, rabbit furskin, weaving wool for kilims, sawing, knitting, making felted wool for “valenki”. In one word she made Kazakh hand crafts and tried to sell it sometimes. She stayed true Kazakh, spoke Kazakh, prayed to Allah, had big Koran at home, even though it was strictly prohibited by Russian Federation law. Unfortunately new generations, her kids never were encouraged to learn her skills, since they wouldn’t be able to live on this. I do remember a little, but can’t do even 100th part of what my grandparents did.”

Various and Sundry Comments

The other day I was volunteering with players from a major league football team at a construction site of an affordable housing project. Apparently they were sent by the club owners or something to do this ‘humane work’ as they didn’t show any desire to do real work. Those young footballers were as strong as one can be but they were unwilling to do any heavy physical labour. The site manager had a hard time convincing them to do roofing and framing instead of painting, which was assigned to volunteer ladies. The IQ of the players seemed to be, well, below average. I was also reading that the untreated brain injuries are pretty common as the team owners don’t like the players to be on hospital beds but out in the field playing and earning them $$$.

Bottomline: I will think twice before sending my sons to play (American) football.

Final comment from a Kazakh reader makes me wonder what books he has been reading.  There certainly are a lot of anti-American type books written by non-patriotic Americans themselves.  But then that is what “freedom of expression” was so hard fought for by our early founders of this nation of the U.S.:

“With all due respect, I only disagree with your statement “all the challenges that the U.S. has overcome to be where it is today”. I wouldn’t like at all for Kazakhstan to be where the U.S. is today. The economy is very close to total collapse. Moral degradation. Crime rate has gone through the roof. Censorships of all media. Military aggression for natural resources and political dominance. And the list goes on and on.”

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Highlights from Kazakh Readers’ Comments on my blog

I started this Kazakhnomad blog almost four years ago when I returned to Kazakhstan after a gap of 15 years.  My intention was to inform a western readership about this amazing country…the good and the bad.  If you read the following articulate comments written by Kazakhs, you will see that my base of readers is perhaps not as western as I first thought.  I have had comments from Dutch, French, German, Spanish, British, etc.  When looking at my daily hits I can also tell that my blog readers are from Italy, China, Singapore, Japan, Korea, etc.  What I value most are the comments from the Kazakhs and Kazakhstanis who can inform me about their country.  See what you think and feel free to comment…

The following is from one of my former students, naturally she would be flattering.  Read tomorrow’s blog entry and there are some contrary comments:

“I like reading your blog. You write so many useful and educating things. My part of work is so easy, I just read what you have analyzed for hours so even days or years. You bring us a ready dish just to swallow. Reading your topics I even wonder: ”How do you find time and power for all of these?”
 Concerning the above given quotes I want to add that we also have this proverb “It is better to see once than hear 1000 times”. I think some of suchlike quotes are common for all Central Asian countries. Waiting for your next blog and anecdotes.”

Education

“Hopeful view, I’d really like to think in a similar way, but I don’t. A metaphor. If we see education as a house, there was an imperfect but a solid house built at the time Kazakhstan was part of Russia, then the USSR. Since the independence, education has never been on top 1000 list of priorities of the country’s leaders. Too bad so sad, they said. C’est la vie. Now the house is half-broken half-deserted only a pitiful reminder of the past glory, quality and strength. It’s leaking everywhere, the water, heating and sewage systems work sporadically if they do. Power comes on and off. Basically it’s rapidly deteriorating and is nearing a collapse. A complete rehaul is required. If it had been properly maintained, repaired, reinforced and added to, then it would be the same house or even better, but, alas, now it’s in a really, really bad shape comparing to what it used to be.

Yes, too bad they’re beautifying the tip of the iceberg whereas the bottom part is quickly melting away…”

“Glad to hear such praise about our younger generation. I was a bit pessimistic about the way they are, but you actually gave me some hope and a reason to be proud.”

 The following is from another commenter about education in Kazakhstan:

“Yes, teachers are low paid in KZ, it doesn’t matter university or school teachers. I don’t think that there are teachers who work unpaid, at least their salary is government based, so it is paid on time. But nowadays problem of downsizing, every government budget based organization are dismissing their employees, so the others who remain has to work twice. That means much stress, because I think most difficult part of being teacher or for ex: doctor not teach many students or observe many many patients, but the paperwork that has to be done. This takes more time then their direct job duties.”

Bribery and Corruption

“Interesting. Yes, even in the Kazakh army the high-ranking officers force soldiers to build their houses… It’s terrible. There wasn’t much of such shameful exploitation of the vulnerable in the USSR times… It would be something out of the ordinary if something like that happened. The educational system was way, way better at the time. Both of my parents are retired university professors. Many things that you can see happening these days are uniquely Kazakhstan or post-Soviet phenomena rather than rudiments of the socialist system.

And I agree that people in ex-USSR do not trust each other. In the West, the people tend to trust each other except when they see a reason not to. In ex-USSR, people tend not to trust each other except they have firmly proven their trustworthiness to you.”

(to be continued )

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A Kazakh’s View of Human Trafficking in Kazakhstan

You never know where curiosity may take you. Just today I was asked why I have taken on this terrible topic of human trafficking and slavery.  I guess I’m interested in peoples’ freedom of expression, especially in Kazakhstan.  I’m glad I have Kazakh friends back in Kazakhstan who have the same passion to eradicate this crime against humanity.  The following piece is written by a Kazakh woman who has seen with her own eyes a shelter for victims caught in slavery.  Thankfully they escaped but there are thousands of others still trapped. I think Nadia articulates the problem very well:

“I hope that those responsible for human rights protection will hear about situation in Kazakhstan. The world media cries about human rights in different countries, even neighboring Uzbekistan is under the pressure of world organizations. Only Kazakhstan is quiet as a steppe around Astana. I don`t blame world NGOs or the government, the society is guilty for severe human rights abuse in Kazakhstan. I`m a part of this culture and I know where the roots lie.

As you wrote in an earlier blog, there is a girl who was sold for slavery by her mother. This case shows the vicious circle of ignorance and indifference in which Kazakh society will be drawn.

Natasha used to live with her mother, alcohol addicted, who constantly brought strange men to their home. Those men hit the poor girl and then slept with her. Natasha did not attend school as she is mentally slow. The girl has some psychological disease. One day her mother sold her to some men for some bottles of vodka. These men kept Natasha for eight months and forced her into prostitution, then let her go or just threw her away. Natasha was caught by other businessmen, but this time she was rescued. By chance there was another girl kept in the same flat, she refused to work for masters and started to cry from a window when bosses went away.

As the psychologist explained, Natasha due to her illness and constant abuse at home, she lost her protective instinct. People like this keep obeying and get used to being forced.

Now there is a question who is to blame for the ruined life of a young woman? Her mother? Poor life conditions? In my opinion, people who witnessed mother`s attitude toward her daughter and did nothing: neighbors, teachers at school and local authorities are responsible for Natasha`s life. There`s no law to charge them, but there is a social rule of humanity which is now forgotten.”

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Shelters for Victims of Human Trafficking in Kazakhstan (Part II)

Here is the continuation of a westerner’s experience at a shelter for victims of human trafficking in Kazakhstan.  Quite revealing about a vicious cycle that needs to be broken.  Awareness and education in the rural areas is the key to make the traffickers and exploiters go away from this great land.

“A concrete example might be of interest at this juncture: Natasha, who I have met, was ‘sold’ by her mother, an alcoholic, to buy drink after years of neglect and abuse, both physical and psychological.  Her school attendance was extremely poor and, when she was there, could not understand what was being taught with the consequences you can imagine.  Both neighbours and teachers must have been aware of the situation, but did nothing to help; an attitude that is not exactly unknown in our own countries!  Natasha was ‘sold’ and brought to Astana to be a sex worker before finally escaping She hopes to start some kind of vocational training in September (paid for by the Ministry of Justice)  Her one talent seems to be in art – she was the young woman I mentioned previously as having a talent for drawing and entirely self-taught; so at least one happy ending in sight one hopes!

Not all are so fortunate; the Ukranian woman I had also previously mentioned had, apparently, been in bonded labour/servitude since Soviet times – she did not even know what a tenge was!  As you may imagine, readjustment for her has been very difficult as her ‘certainties’ in life have been removed and she is much older so it is hard to see what she might do – even back in her own country  I was told that the age profile for bonded labour/trafficking is generally older as younger people cannot physically withstand the nature of the work hence women tend to be late 20s or early 30s though men may be slightly younger

I should tell a little about the centre I mentioned earlier.  The money collected earlier in the term went to buy art material & also sports equipment for the young people who have to go there  It is also funded by the Ministry of Justice and is quite separate from the shelter.  Its purpose is for the re-education of young people who have got into trouble
or ‘bad company’ (to use a translated phrase) so includes some from orphanages, juvenile delinquents, behavioural problems as well as the local equivalent of ASBOs.  Attendance is obligatory though for its duration varies; Aigerim teaches an English class there, but we are talking about young people who do not have particularly good study habits or motivation.  There are full-time staff but also volunteers who are university students.

I went again on a Saturday with Connie and her daughter, Sandy, at Aigerim’s invitation to show the class some pictures of Brighton, Edinburgh and other parts of the UK. It should be said the kids were rather intimidated in class, but we went outside to play with the sports equipment we had bought: volleyball with the boys at first, but the girls rather liked the hula hoops and skipping ropes (great suggestions from Sandy).   In the end, we all played a sort of ‘piggy in the middle’ volleyball together which was fun.

So  a worthwhile couple of visits where I learned a lot and gained an insight into the difficulties of rehabilitation for those unfortunate enough to have been victims of trafficking  I hope that this has been worthwhile for you too and I also attach a report from the US Government on the scale of trafficking in Kazakhstan, which you might find of interest.  Should you wish to learn more or help more directly, you might like to look at the website  www.free2work.org which rates companies on their attitudes to labour trafficking or child labour (eg Gap) which might inform your next shopping spree!

Many thanks are due to Aigerim for the terrific work she did as a translator/interpreter (if you have ever done any you know how tiring it can be). Any questions please do not hesitate to contact me & I hope to enlist your support again in the new academic year.”

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Shelters for Victims of Human Trafficking in Kazakhstan

The following is written by a British person I know who has the courage to help where the need is so great in Kazakhstan.  If you read my blog written by the same person, you will see this person is impassioned to DO something on a practical level to help alleviate the pain that victims go through in trying to have a “normal” life again.

“I mentioned before that I was going to meet the staff at the centre concerned with the actual ‘treatment’ of trafficking victims and the process of re-integration into society (Kz or other) which I did a few weeks ago.

Before writing about that, I would like to give you some more background as context. There are shelters throughout Kazakhstan that are all funded differently and are independent. ‘Ours’ is funded by the Ministry of Justice, which also funds the centre we met in. Another place was a feminist women’s shelter which has become a shelter for trafficking victims and is currently run by the IOM with Swedish & Dutch NGO funding and Almaty is funded by the Almaty City government.  Therefore there is no national ‘chain’ though they work quite closely together.

At the centre I met Aliya, the director (not sure of her exact title) of the shelter, and Zoya, their psychologist, who has been working there for nearly 5 years as well as Aigerim, an English teacher, who very kindly translated for us.  I asked about the process of rehabilitation & re-integration of their different residents.  The whole talk lasted about two hours so this is, of necessity, a shortened version. I hope it is a fair summary of what I was told.

According to Aliya, there are different ‘seasons’ for different residents: labour trafficked victims usually come in Autumn after crops have been gathered in (relaxation on the part of the exploiter?) whereas sex trafficked women seem to come in Winter (presumably the cold deters a chase), the summer is, it seems, a quiet time for new victims
Furthermore, Aliya told me later, in response to a question about the changing profile of victim, that there seemed to be a trend towards more Kazakh young women being sex trafficked in Astana in the three years she has been there. She did not know if this applied to the other shelters; I had also been told this by the IOM as the growth of Astana as a meeting, conference and business centre stimulated demand in the hotel sector and the attendant ‘service’ sector.

So, what happens to a new ‘entrant’?  When someone is admitted to the centre, there is a social worker assessment to identify his/her needs before Zoya becomes involved.  She stressed the absolute priority is to build up trust and confidence between her, the social worker and the new ‘client’ (the term they use) in order to progress  Consequently, she could not give an ‘average’ time for this process as it was individual – it varied enormously and the shortest time was around six weeks but that was exceptional.  I had been told by IOM that a guideline was half the period of slavery/servitude (eg 1 year in servitude roughly equalled 6 months rehabilitation)

Once trust had been established, they then started to work on the areas identified by the initial assessment.  These very often involved what we might term ‘life skills’ at a very basic level such as personal hygiene (eg the correct way to wash your own hair) moving onto such things as learning to wash clothes or perform other domestic tasks before trying to inculcate social skills such as are needed when living in a group environment (the girls share a 5-bed room)  All of which could frequently be difficult with the residents with the background they had and the difficulty in forming any new relationship (especially with males.)

While all this was happening there could also be the legal process involved in either a court case here in Kazakhstan or obtaining new documents to enable repatriation for non Kazakhs (often Uzbeks I was told) Documentation could also be a problem for Kazakh citizens if they had lost or been robbed of their own documents, especially if they were to be reunited with their families (assuming they were not involved in the original trafficking)  Relocation would not be the end for a client as they would have a local phone number for continued support as well as being able to call the shelter here to talk to Aliya who said she puts a strict limit on how long that may last

Zoya is of the ‘nurture’ school as she heavily emphasized the role of early childhood in the life path that a client ends up on (“choice “not really being an appropriate word).  She felt from her 5-year experience that very early childhood experience in the form of affection/love (or more likely, lack of either) formed the person and it was very difficult to change that (at least in Kazakhstan).  Aliya added from her experience prior to the shelter when she worked in a refuge for victims of domestic violence (a big problem in Kazakhstan) that a cycle of abuse and/or neglect was often
created and became generational. This is without the sort of bond that might be created between exploiter and exploited of which they gave me some instances…”

(to be continued)

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U.S. report on human trafficking in Kazakhstan

Tomorrow I will share with you a person’s first hand report about some of the shelters for trafficking victims in Kazakhstan but it isn’t enough.  Understandably more is needed to be done. So much trafficking activity is happening and it goes in seasons.  The following is a report written by someone in the U.S. about human trafficking in Kazakhstan.  I am not sure of the source but the author has done their homework revealing what the laws are and what is being done to stop the traffickers.  I know this blog is being watched by the exploiters because I am getting a lot of “traffic” on my spam catcher.  Too bad, truth will prevail!  Freedom reigns!!!

Trafficking in Persons Report 2011: Kazakhstan (TIER 2)

Kazakhstan is a destination and to a lesser extent, source and transit country for women and girls subjected to sex trafficking and for men, women, and children subjected to conditions of forced labor. Kazakhstani women and children are subjected to sex trafficking in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Russia, China, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Greece, Indonesia, and Israel. Women and girls from Uzbekistan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Moldova, and Ukraine are subjected to sex trafficking in Kazakhstan. Women and girls from rural Kazakhstan are subjected to sex trafficking in urban areas of the country. Kazakhstani men, women, and children as well as men from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, and Nigeria are subjected to conditions of forced labor in domestic service, cattle breeding and pasturing and also in the harvest of tobacco and cotton in Kazakhstan.

The Government of Kazakhstan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government significantly decreased the use of forced child labor in the cotton harvest, increased law enforcement efforts against human trafficking, passed a law strengthening penalties for convicted child sex trafficking offenders, and increased victim identification. However, it failed to effectively screen migrants for potential victims of trafficking and only identified two foreign victims of labor trafficking, despite being a significant destination country for foreign victims of forced labor.

Recommendations for Kazakhstan: Increase efforts to identify foreign victims of both forced prostitution and forced labor, including through expanded training of police officers and government officials in victim identification and assistance; work to ensure that foreign victims of trafficking receive assistance; increase efforts to identify labor trafficking victims, including by ensuring that authorities screen for potential victims of forced labor among those detained during immigration raids and refer those identified as victims for assistance; investigate and prosecute government officials suspected of being complicit in trafficking and convict and punish any complicit officials; continue efforts to prevent the use of forced labor during the cotton and tobacco harvests; continue to increase the number of victims who receive government-funded assistance by increasing funding to anti-trafficking NGOs; conduct trafficking awareness campaigns aimed at reducing the demand for both labor trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation; and continue to strengthen the capacity of police, prosecutors and judges to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate trafficking cases.

Prosecution

The government of Kazakhstan demonstrated modest progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Kazakhstan prohibits trafficking in persons for both labor and sexual exploitation through Articles 128, 133, 125(3)(b), 126(3)(b), 270, and 132-1 of its penal code, which prescribe penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment – penalties sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Kazakhstan amended its penal code in 2010, adding Article 132-1 which strengthens punishments for child sex trafficking offenders. Police investigated 88 trafficking cases in 2010, a significant increase from 49 investigations in 2009. Authorities prosecuted 48 cases in 2010, compared with 35 prosecutions in 2009. A total of 32 trafficking offenders were convicted in 2010, an increase from 24 such convictions in 2009.  The government convicted 29 offenders for sex trafficking offences in 2010, an increase from 21 sex trafficking convictions in 2009, and convicted three offenders for forced labor offences in 2010, the same number as in 2009. Five convicted traffickers received parole and served no time in prison. Twenty-seven convicted offenders received sentences ranging from two to 14 years’ imprisonment. The Kazakhstani police, in cooperation with foreign donors, provided training in trafficking investigation techniques and victim identification procedures for 79 migration and criminal police officers and provided training for Kazakhstani law enforcement officers in Mongolia, Russia, Qatar, Turkey, Austria, the UAE, Belarus, and Armenia. It also provided in-kind assistance for NGO trainings for government officials. Police jointly investigated two trafficking cases with Russia and one with the UAE. Despite anecdotal reports of individual police officers complicit in trafficking and with close associations with traffickers, the government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking.

The government demonstrated efforts to address the allegations of forced child labor in the 2010 TIP Report. The South Kazakhstan oblast government – the region in Kazakhstan where the majority of cotton is grown – issued several directives that explicitly prohibited the use of child labor (including forced child labor) during the 2010 fall cotton harvest. The Department of Education also inspected local schools to ensure they were not closed by local officials during the cotton harvest. Labor inspectors conducted inspection checks of cotton and tobacco fields and found no evidence of forced labor. NGOs in the region reported that the use of forced child and forced adult labor decreased significantly from the previous year. There were no reports of government officials complicit in forced labor in the cotton or tobacco harvests in 2010; however, the government did not pursue any prosecutions or convictions of government officials complicit in forced labor in the cotton or tobacco harvests of 2009.

Protection

The Government of Kazakhstan made some progress in identifying and protecting trafficking victims in 2010; however, the government identified only one foreign labor trafficking victim, despite being a recognized destination for foreign victims of forced labor. Although migration police reported screening illegal migrants detained during immigration raids, these efforts did not result in the identification of any trafficking victims. In 2010, thousands of migrants were deported without being screened for potential victims of trafficking. In 2010, the government identified 82 victims of trafficking, including 13 victims of forced labor, compared with 59 victims of trafficking, including 12 labor trafficking victims, identified in 2009. Of those identified, nine were foreign victims, including two victims of forced labor, an increase from three foreign victims identified in 2009. The government provided funding in the amount of  70,000 for the provision of food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and other services for all identified victims; this was a decrease from the $84,000 in funding the government provided for the same purposes in 2009. In total, 134 trafficking victims, including 49 victims of forced labor, were assisted by IOM, privately funded NGOs, and government-funded programs in 2010. The government fully funds one NGO-run shelter for trafficking victims, which assisted 40 victims, including nine foreign victims, in 2010. The local government of Almaty partially funds another NGO-run shelter, which assisted 33 trafficking victims, including 18 foreign trafficking victims. Shelters are open to all trafficking victims and provide legal, psychological, and medical assistance; however, some foreign victims of trafficking are unable to access medical assistance due to a lack of health insurance or temporary residency permits. Adult trafficking victims were permitted to freely enter and leave the shelters. Some child trafficking victims were held in juvenile detention centers until they were cleared of charges. In 2010, the government adopted a measure that permitted victims of serious crimes, including trafficking victims, to receive government compensation. The government encouraged victims to participate in trafficking investigations and prosecutions. Foreign victims who agreed to cooperate with law enforcement were permitted to remain in Kazakhstan for the duration of the criminal investigation; this temporary residency status did not permit trafficking victims to work during the investigation. The government did not report how many foreign victims received temporary residence permits in 2010. The government did not offer victims longer-term residency; all victims were forcibly repatriated, either after a short recuperation period or after their service as a prosecution witness was completed. Although some victims cooperated with authorities during the initial investigation, some victims refused to testify in court for fear of retribution from traffickers. There were no reports of victims punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; however, unidentified victims may have been deported or prosecuted for immigration or other violations. Authorities provided one victim with repatriation assistance in 2010, a result of a joint investigation with law enforcement officials in the UAE.

Prevention

The government increased its prevention efforts during the reporting period, including an awareness campaign by local officials targeted at employers in the cotton or tobacco harvests. The government supported a number of anti-trafficking efforts, including at least 191 newspaper articles and 73 videos on human trafficking. The government ran anti-trafficking campaigns on passenger trains and a hotline for trafficking victims. NGOs received $64,200 from the national government and $11,800 from local governments for trafficking prevention activities, including a second trafficking hotline. This represents an overall increase from $63,000 provided to NGOs for prevention activities in 2009. The government provided in-kind contributions for a program designed to reduce demand for sex trafficking. 

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“Of GODS and MEN” and Kazakhstan

Last night my husband and I watched a French movie titled “Of Gods and Men” with English subtitles.  We learned many of the Catholic rituals that were followed by eight monks in the two hours of viewing.  They were living in Algeria back in the mid 1990s. Before what the rest of the world now knows after 9/11 about Muslim extremists and terrorists.  These priests made the tough decision to stay on for the benefit of the villagers who they cared for rather than leave to save their own skins.

Earlier we saw how the Croatians at a work site were slashed in their throats by the extremists.  The warning on imdb.com was that “Of Gods and Men” was a volatile, extremely violent movie.  I was ready for the end to see all eight monks slashed to death because we knew that they would be martyred for their Christian faith.  Didn’t happen quite the way we thought but I don’t want this to be a spoiler for those who have NOT seen this slow-moving but good movie.  I recommend it highly.

How does it relate to Kazakhstan? I think you have foreign people who have gained the trust of the Kazakhs and Kazakhstanis by learning the language (Kazakh and Russian). They live in Almaty or Astana sacrificing what could be an easier, “better” life in U.K. or the U.S. or other western countries. (Not many I know of are actually living in the countryside beside Peace Corps volunteers) However, people I know are following a higher calling. That is what keeps them living beside those who are struggling to make ends meet, those who are chaffing under tyrannical laws that make no sense whatsoever.

BUT, for all the complaining there might be about the Kazakh haves and the have-nots, the standard of living being so high in the cities while Kazakh people suffer in the rural areas due to high unemployment or alcoholism, they still have their freedom.  As we saw in the movie, women were brutalized for not wearing the full garments covering all of their body. Women were not able to have an education.  They were twisted up in fear about whether their children would survive because the Muslims terrorists who ruled the area wanted them to be afraid, very afraid.  The ongoing battle was against the corrupt, government armed forces against the terrorists.  The armed forces wanted the priests to join sides with them in their brutality against the terrorists.  They would have none of it.  So, the Christians were caught in the middle wanting peace. Turns out that the French people LOVED this movie because they are all about freedom.

That brings me to another movie we watched during the 4th of July weekend.  “The Patriot” starring Mel Gibson. What is it about Mel and violence and blood?  I had to cover my eyes more than once because it was so brutal and terribly bloody.  Of course, war is all of that but Gibson took it to the next extreme level with some good principles in place. The French helped the early American settlers to gain their freedom from the British imperialists.  French are all about liberty, as are Americans!

Maybe that is what Kazakhstan needs to sort out. Who will really help them get out from under the former Communist past and to stay ahead or away from the terrorist element that would LOVE to come in to strike fear in the people.  Not to mention the other threat to the east, a very big country that is burgeoning with many young males who are a product of the “One Child” policy.  Kazakhstan is the country to watch to see how they can stay afloat in wanting peace.  That is what the eight priests in “Of Gods and Men” wanted but they were martyred for their faith.  What is Kazakhstan’s faith?  Is it in themselves and their past? Is it really Muslim? Is it materialism and a reaction against communism?  Time will tell…

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