In Kazakhstan “Creativity NEEDS freedom!”

I was chatting with my former Kazakh student and I wrote: “Creativity needs freedom. Independence of mind breeds wholesome thought.” I had just learned from her that a second year male student jumped to his death from the 9th floor window of his dormitory before the spring semester started.  This tragedy happened at the GREAT university in Astana where so much money has been poured into the building complexes, into these students and their high paid teachers from London.

What is even more tragic was that it was never reported in the local or national news in Kazakhstan. Somehow it was “smoothed” over as Aigerim put it. He was a good student but he could not take the pressure any longer. These students at my former Kazakh university are under such intense demands to perform.  Some have been ill equipped from their studies elsewhere in the country by teachers who are using old style Soviet methods.  My former student who was a teacher for some of the best and brightest students in Astana fears for her students lives, those who have been accepted in this great university that is meant to produce geniuses. They need a counselor in residence who can help these young defenseless students out, a place where they can vent or have a shoulder to cry on.

I believe these Kazakh students have such demands on them as if there is a gun pointed to the back of their head and they are told by their captors, “Be creative!”  I know Kazakhstan has a very high suicide rate (exceeds Russia) among their youth but it is regrettable that even among the most gifted, they feel desperate enough to end their lives.  These bright students are supposedly the hope of the future of Kazakhstan.  Perhaps they are the future slaves of their country. All 1,000 students are on full-ride scholarships. What does that tell you when some students want to end their lives in such a tragic way?

The following is what Aigerim wrote to me to give me an update on activities:

“How great you have been my teacher and I hope I learned something from you. The main thing I liked about your classes was the way you taught us to think beyond the context deep into the roots. Hope my classmates could manage teaching critical thinking at school using this up-to-date context. Your blog is a good source of “food for thought.” Perhaps, someone from the establishment will happen upon it someday, feel ashamed and start acting in the proper direction.

Your last Moodle assignment was on change management. I remember skipping this last task. No, I wasn’t stubborn or lazy. I just have no such a habit to reflect on what I do not know and have never done. Now, as I made some attempts it is possible to dwell on changes and ways of making change in Kazakhstani context. What if to entitle this post “Critical Thinking in Kazakhstan”?

There are not the only four centers for victims of human trafficking in our country. In my hometown Aktobe there is a crisis center for women who suffer domestic violence. These same centers help victims in the southern and northern parts of the country. Mostly these NGOs seek for grants from international organizations or, if the head is on good terms with the statesmen, get support from the government. Also, The National Red Crescent Society provides any kind of support to migrants and repatriates, single mothers and all those who are “unfortunates” in Kazakhstan.

I had a great opportunity to work with one of the shelters and visited another two, I learned about their work and, what is more valuable I learned the reasons that enslave people. As far as I know, the victims could be divided into the following groups: 1) migrants from neighboring countries (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia, and China), 2) ethnic Kazakhs who return from Turkmenistan, China, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, etc. as they do not speak neither Kazakh nor Russian, 3) people from low-income rural areas, 4) children from orphanages, 5) troubled children and the saddest fact, children with mental and physical disabilities.

Once an American friend asked me, what if victims tell their story to interested people as it attracts society to the problem of trafficking. Actually, one of the rescued girls from Temirtau (small industrial town dozen kilometers away from Astana) became a volunteer. She talks to women at the shelter, helps them during the rehabilitation. However, it is the only case I witnessed. Due to Kazakh mentality, people prefer not to speak about being enslaved or being forced into prostitution. According to common idea, the only person to blame is the victim. She made a mistake, may be it was up to her way of living or behavior.

There was a happy ending recently with one of the rescued women in Astana. A Kazakh woman was forcibly involved into prostitution and she got pregnant. Unfortunately, I do not know the details of her case. I met her several times at the shelter since autumn. Gulmira was pregnant and soon bore a baby boy. The baby was weak and they spent much time in the hospital. When I told about babies in the shelter, my current boss gathered three bags of children’s clothes and toys. Moreover, the most part of them were new. She said her kids grow up fast that they are not able to use all the clothes given as presents. Anyway, these bags were a great joy for my people. When I brought these and other clothes different people donated (my family members, colleagues and even my manicure girl!), people at the shelter looked at children’s stuff with joy and excitement. The feeling of warmth emerges when you show some support and encouragement to those who are misfortunate.

But about Gulmira, in winter her relatives came and took her home. I remember, Luba, the NGO coordinator at IOM, sighed with relief speaking about this woman. It is unusual for Kazakhs to accept the shame of being a prostitute and having a baby from an unknown person. Indeed, these Kazakhs forgive everything and are sincerely happy with the fact that their sibling is alive. So, it all depends on the family.

Unfortunately, Amina is an orphan from southern Kazakhstan, has problems with eyesight. Her relatives sold her for servitude in Astana, and kept receiving her invalid’s pension. When she was rescued, she had a baby in her belly. When I last saw Amina she was looking for a job. Unfortunately, she has no home and welcoming relatives.”

Thanks to my former student who sees and knows things I could never be aware about while back in the U.S. She can inform me about what is happening in Kazakhstan even though my blog is now blocked from being read within Kazakhstan unless people have a VPN (Very Private Network).  Yes, there is no freedom of thought in Kazakhstan if things are blocked or obfuscated such as this suicide that was not reported. They certainly do not want people from the outside to know that slavery is going on in Kazakhstan.  If it helps for those who CAN read this in Kazakhstan and feel ashamed of the statistics about slavery, it is going on everywhere in the world.  EVERYWHERE.  What we need is creativity in knowing how to solve this problem so that ALL people can be free!

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