Archive for February, 2012

Astana, the Capital City and Ode to Hard Work

I know from one of my British friends that they have a hard time understanding Americans who refer to their place of origin as simply a “hometown.”  But if we were to tell others the name of our town, especially in the Midwest or anywhere in our vast country, no one would really know where it is. Big cities, yes, small towns, no. Unfortunately, some of the very small towns established by the great railroads in the Midwest have vanished off the map.  We have a de-populating problem in the rural areas because many moved from the small farms to the big cities for better job opportunities.

Without giving away the name of my hometown, I want to share the words of a march song in 2/4 time. The copyright of this ode dedicated to my hometown is 1927, so I believe it is in the public domain.  At least I’m glad I came across it since I plan to write an article about my hometown’s history in our local newspaper.  We have some proud traditions from the past but I’m sad to say that much of the energy has left. We are living in a town that does not have as many young people, the older people who worked hard to build the town’s reputation are either snowbirds (left for Arizona or Florida) or retired and living at a nearby lake home.

I will not share the FIRST verse since it doesn’t really apply to Astana.  But the chorus certainly relates to the hard work that is going into creating the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana.  As I alluded to in my piece yesterday, the new university is all about building and working hard for the cause of “world class university.”  Time will tell if that really happens.

CHORUS: We build, we build, we build,

We always build for the future of our town.

We work, we work, we work,

With a spirit that nothing can down.

So when strangers come in,

And ask how it is done,

We say: “We’re [Astanians],

And we make our work our fun.”

So we work, we work, we work,

And we build, build, build.

Verse 2

Let us all help to keep our town booming

We will never let it grow dead

We’ll carry on the labours

Of all those who have gone ahead

So when our childrens’ children

Shall pass along this way,

They will all be proud of [Astana]

And this is what they’ll say.


I appreciate the effort that so many Kazakhs are putting into their new capital and especially in the new university in Astana. What an unenviable position to be in if you are at the bottom end of the totem pole in the power structure.  Many of the young people who are wooed into going to cold Astana have hope, drive and vision to make their mark during this pivotal part of Kazakhstan’s history. I wish them well.

All I can say is that my hometown had the same determination to be the Queen City of the Northwest back 100 years ago.  U.S. President Taft came to visit my hometown. Do you think the current US president would ever visit a small town of 8,000 people? Not on your life. Currently I see that the passion is gone, the Old Timers are clinging to their memories of the way things used to be.  Certainly better. I wonder how people in old England see their big or small towns that have been around for 100s and 100s of years?

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Snow’s Purity Covers a Multitude of Lies

Almost a year ago I traveled by bus with about 35-40 work colleagues to Borovoye from Astana. For some time I had wanted to see this famous place among Kazakhs, a beautiful recreation area to drive away from artificial, glitzy Astana about 3-4 hours west.  I was amongst mostly Kazakh, about 15 Brits while I was the token American teacher on board. See my blog with photos that shows some of the sites.

What great memories of being in snowy Borovoye with very few tourists.  I was recently reminded of taking part in a x-country skiing competition, though I had NO intention of competing at first.  Not because I didn’t know how to x-country ski but because I had never competed and viewed skiing as a solitary form of recreation. The planners of this event had bought six pairs of skis ranging in sizes with the boots, ski poles and skis.  I finally consented to skiing on the marked off trail when no one else from our busload of people seemed interested.  One British guy had skied before, another Kazakh man was a downhill skier and clearly the other three had never, ever skied.  Turns out I won the first prize trophy much to the chagrin of the hotshot downhill skier.

Now that we have an adequate amount of snow, I’ve been x-country skiing a lot since back in Minnesota. The purity of the snow has almost covered over the fact that I had been lied to so many times while fulfilling my one-year commitment teaching at the “westernized” university in Astana. Almost.

Since I took on my job of teaching ten young Kazakh teachers, I had developed the Professional Development Program (PDP) coursework from the ground up.  At the beginning I had been promised my own computer for my office. That never happened.  I had also been promised a computer lab for my ten students. Again that never materialized as I watched hundreds of computers go to new office workers who were managers or consultants for the many departments that were springing up everywhere. The BIG, new university itself had just been built from nothing to hopefully being considered a “world class university.” (Buildings can be built overnight, reputations take much longer to boast about)

As on any university campus, people were vying for office and classroom space so I felt fortunate in having that eventually, but not without a struggle. My Kazakh students made me smile one day when they sat in their new classroom where the computers were supposedly to be stationed. They were typing away on imaginary keyboards.

Thankfully I was friends with the Kazakh librarians, so I was allowed to take my class to the library’s computer lab once or twice a week to accomplish assignments on Moodle, do blogs and other coursework that needed to happen with the high speed Internet. Fortunately for me, I had my own projector so that I could project lessons or Powerpoint presentations on our classroom wall.  So devoid was I of anything technology related when the main thrust of my coursework was to get these Kazakh teachers up to speed with the 21st century technology.

Here’s where the rub happened and I’m not sure if it was a planned attack from administration on high or if it was the hotshot downhill skier getting even with me for beating him in the x-country competition.  Based on all the other things that had happened with my contract and all other promises that were broken, I think it was the former, a bureaucratic breakdown. Maybe intentional so they wouldn’t have to pay me my last paycheck when I left the university and Kazakhstan for good.

When I had about a week left in Kazakhstan, according to my expiring visa and my plane ticket with Lufthansa, I was getting signed off from the different departments my last day at work.  I went to the library, computer tech, payroll, admissions, maybe about ten other departments whose top administrator would sign me off.  However, it wasn’t until I got to the one BIG office where the hot shot skier was in control of  office hardware like desks, chairs, tables, etc.  According to him, I had not returned my university computer to the university.  He was NOT going to sign my paper until I coughed up a piece of equipment that had never been issued to me.  I was incredulous.

By this time, I was a wreck. I felt like he and his minion office workers were adding insult to injury. At first I thought it was a joke but he did NOT smile and was clearly all business.  I got it, they were going to hold up my paperwork for clearance from the university on purpose so that I would be accused of stealing a university computer. I could not believe this was happening to me after all that I had sacrificed in trying to run a pilot graduate-level program without ANY computers.

Finally, this guy relented because he simply did not have any paperwork that proved I had been given a computer in the first place.  The computer tech guys, who were my friends, would have backed me up because I had been something of a pest about asking for computers from the very start. Where was my signature signing off on office equipment I didn’t have?

I still to this day do not know whether he was answering to someone over him, my Kazakh boss or if in fact it was his own petty way of paying me back for beating him at the x-country competition from several weeks before.  Whatever, I’m far away from the office politics and I think I’ll go out to ski on our fresh, pure Minnesota snow.  Somehow that covers the multitude of lies that were told against me.

Now maybe my blog readers will understand why I continue to write about human trafficking and slavery in Kazakhstan. I felt in a small way after teaching 3 ½ years in Kazakhstan that I was a victim of the slavery mentality.  I’m glad I am free of all that. Now I REALLY must go skiing!

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From a Discouraged Abolitionist in Kazakhstan

I asked a former Kazakh student of mine to tell me about the trip she recently took to visit two shelters for victims of human trafficking.  She went with bundles of clothes and toys and good intentions.  I am sure she went through a range of emotions seeing the victims in the shelters along with the administrators.  I did not expect to read the following update, but then again, Aigerim is a practical realist.

Dear Friend, I was gone for two days but it felt like a whole week, so much happened on our road trip. I know you asked me what I learnt and felt from my visit to the human trafficking shelters in Kazakhstan.

Yes, I can retell the whole journey with all the details, describing the heads of shelters and ways they run the business as well as adding more happy and sad stories. It looks like human trafficking and anti-trafficking campaigns are well-established, interdependent profitable businesses. One employs the victim, the other rescues. Both earn money. For me, hearing stories and retelling them to other people becomes a daily routine, a useless one.

Sorry, but you wanted to know what I felt. I felt tired and fed up with the way things work here in KZ, the way one promotes projects and finances it. For instance, some people used to help migrants from neighboring countries to return back home since 1997. Later they started a NGO and looked for investment to open the shelter and become partners with different international organizations, win democracy grants and write projects to justify their activity. To survive, the NGO works in several directions.

Right, there is nothing wrong with it, but I just realized that opening shelters and fundraising for them will not solve the problem of human trafficking. People who are lucky to be rescued from slavery, in most cases, get into trouble again and again increasing the statistics. The real action needed is to prevent slavery in the first place.

The head of international organization made a presentation about human trafficking and migration for University students and teachers, where he remarked that the solution is education and migration law reform.

For me, spreading a word about human trafficking is not enough; there must be a big change in mentality and thinking of ordinary people. We should struggle with the economic reasons that force people into slavery. Until then all the actions are in vain.

Yours Truly,

Aigerim, a Discouraged Abolitionist

I recognize that my student is probably suffering battle fatigue but it is true, I have heard this before. Those who are victims have so many complications trying to get back to the normal life, no matter how rotten that was. Sadly, they can slide back in the pit they were rescued from.  Some are drug addicts, alcoholic or were so in need of money that now they don’t know anything else but to be sex slaves.

As a Christian abolitionist, I know the only way these victims can be helped to conquer their problems is to know the forgiveness of Christ and to claim that forgiveness for those who put them through hell.  I’m sure there is much anger and rage about their physical condition and economic situation once freed.  Certainly those who are in charge of the shelters and are a part of the Kazakh mentality and society cannot break free from their own financial difficulties.

If I read between the lines of what Aigerim wrote, there is corruption she may have witnessed when they visited these shelters. I hope I’m wrong about that, but I’m not surprised given the climate of the economy in Kazakhstan.  I agree with Aigerim also that the mentality about slavery must be abolished in the land of Kazakhstan. Sadly, it starts in every traditional Kazakh home where there is a mother-in-law lording it over a young daughter-in-law who is learning how to function in her new household, to please the men.  If this is true in the home on a micro level, what should be reflected in the Kazakh society as a whole?  Slavery mentality continues to those who have the power above you.

Aigerim, do not be discouraged! Education is certainly the key but also knowing about grace and forgiveness because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross is the other crucial key to breaking this evil in the beautiful land of Kazakhstan. His blood covers a multitude of sins.  I’m reminded of what Paul wrote to the Roman citizens in 12:21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Keep at it Aigerim, do NOT give up!!! Do not lose heart!  Whatever you write will hopefully impact others into action, this is part of the education of making people aware of the problem.  Solutions will follow…


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The Future of Freed Slaves in Kazakhstan

The following is an e-mail I just got from a British teaching colleague in Astana, Kazakhstan.  Hopeful, but what will the future of these freed slaves in Kazakhstan be?  Stay tuned…

Some of you are aware that I was invited by IOM (International Organization for Migration) to visit some of the Human trafficking shelters in Kazakhstan to bring our clothes collections to them. I went to two places at the end of last week.  Lest you think it was a jaunt we drove over 1000kms (about 500 miles) in 47 hours. Yes, a bit wearing and I was not even driving!  Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it got warmer as we left Astana.

The first place we went is the oldest centre and has been in operation since 1997. First developed from a shelter for victims of domestic violence. There are 10 beds and they currently have six residents PLUS a baby about 8 months old. The international dimension was graphically illustrated – 6 people with 5 nationalities represented: Kazakhstan, Russian, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolian!  Two were in hospital: the Kyrgyzstan woman was having a leg amputation (don’t know the details) and the Mongolian man is being treated for torture burns (he had a large burn on his inner thigh – about the size and shape of a domestic iron – and an even bigger one on his outer thigh with blackened skin; you do NOT want to see the photos!)

Luba has developed close links with the police and prosecutor’s office and cases are followed through to success with one recent case resulting in a 15 year sentence (sadly not the case in Astana where a lot of cases fail due to ‘lack of evidence’ aka political will)

We next set out for the second shelter on Friday morning 7 a.m. We knew we had changed oblasts instantly with an awful road to navigate on.  However, we were made very welcome in the shelter office and I presented money that had been collected from individual donations here at our university as well the proceeds from the concert we attended and a contribution from the Christmas Holiday Fair at the Radisson Hotel in December 2011.

Here again it was a women’s rights group (are you seeing a pattern here?) that had developed the shelter, which is a small flat that has been very well refurbished (in contrast to the exterior) and could accommodate six though it would be a squeeze! The victims are usually a result of police tipoffs and currently they have two Russian women (AND another baby) who were rescued from a rural ‘sauna’!  We returned to Astana on Saturday morning through a very unpleasant snow storm and poor visibility and much lower temps again in Astana!

In sum, it was a very informative and inspiring trip seeing the great work being done and also re-emphasized the necessity of continual education through seminars in schools/colleges but also other groups (I saw photos of police & army classes) and following one seminar there was a tipoff that led to the rescue of 11 Kazakh sex trafficking victims!  Thanks are due to Luba and her team and Vera and her team at the second shelter.  Thanks also to IOM for the invite and to Ivan (the driver) for getting us there and back safely in awful conditions.

There will be another clothes collection near the end of spring term and other events (eg film evenings) are in the offing but I will let you know about them when they have been arranged  The most vivid memory? The hotel in the first city we visited which is best summed up by the Beatles – Back in the USSR!


your fellow abolitionist

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The Future of a “Slave Free Earth”

Will we ever know a world that is free from slavery?  Not in our lifetime on this earth, not while evil is present.  How can faux academicians in “Freedom From Religion Foundation” (FFRF)  transfix about God being the problem instead of the solution is beyond me.  Unfortunately, we are saddled with the son of the great President Ronald Reagan who is in this FFRF organization along with Richard Dawkins and other elite agnostics and atheists. The younger Ron Reagan thumbs his nose to Christians and claims he will be happy to burn in hell.  What unabashed, brazen arrogance.  I wonder what atheists and agnostics are doing to help the plight of those living in a present day hell…slavery here on this earth?

Recently I met up with the founders of “Slave Free Earth” at a forum they sponsored in Grand Forks, North Dakota. BTW, they happen to be Christian.  It was interesting to hear what the mostly Christian audience had to say from their own perspective about sexual slavery.  I knew of Will and Cathy Henderson when we attended the same international fellowship in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Small world when they are currently living in southeastern Montana, close to the boom towns with oil in western North Dakota.  That has created its own kind of problem.  Please read what a writer named Lisa wrote on the Slave Free Earth blog “When Sex Trafficking Became More than just a cause.”

Lisa’s story reminds me of what I heard from a college student who has also gotten involved in raising awareness about slavery.  Let’s call her Rita. I’ll share with you what Rita witnessed several years ago. It still haunts her today. Rita and her dad were taking in the sites of Duluth as tourists.  She  noticed an older man walking along the pier of Lake Superior without the requisite camera or clothes tourists normally wear in the damp cold.  A young, attractive girl was walking a pace or so behind this man.  He strutted as if he were proudly walking a dog, while she was sullen in demeanor and not dressed warm enough for the weather.  That struck Rita as odd and she pointed this scene out to her dad.  He too thought something was not normal about this pair.

Here’s what they could have done and here is what you can do if something like this happens to you to help identify a possible trafficked victim.  Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center:  1-888-3737-888.  That should be easy to remember with all those eights, just remember 3737 in the middle.  Wow, more people need to know about this, right?  We trust our American laws to be in place to back up the law enforcement officers when they respond to calls where there are suspicious activities happening.  Think “Courageous.”

If you have a chance to question the potential trafficked victim, here is what you might ask. Affirmative to just a few of these queries would be enough to know you are probably talking to a slave.

1) What type of work do you do?

2) Are you being paid?

3) Can you leave your job if you want to?

4) Can you come and go as you please?

5) Have you or your family been threatened?

6) What are your working and living conditions like?

7) Where do you sleep and eat?

8) Do you have to ask permission to eat/sleep/go to the bathroom?

9) Are there locks on the doors/windows so you cannot get out?

10) Has your identification or documentation been taken from you?

Let’s make the future of a “Slave Free Earth” possible.  Do your part to be more knowledgeable, to make others aware that this is a problem not only in some far off country like Kazakhstan but also in our backyard of Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana.  With the Super Bowl this weekend, there are sure to be many reluctant prostitutes in the area for men who are not really men but “Johns.”

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