Posts tagged American Corner

Slavery is “alive and well” in Kazakhstan (Part II)

I am so proud of two of my former students who showed up at the American Corner in Astana last Saturday to listen to two speakers talk about human trafficking and then blogged about it.  I’m continuing what I started yesterday based mostly on the notes taken by Wizard of KZ, but this latest story is in the words of “New Challenge” which explains best what happens when slavery goes unchecked as it has for many, many years in Kazakhstan.  Read what New Challenge wrote in her blog about a living example:

A few years ago three people, two men from Karaganda and Temirtau and a woman from Ukraine, were freed after 15 years of forced work in a farm near Karaganda, the owner of which was rather famous and powerful in the local area. These three people were so far from the civilization that they even didn’t know about the independence of our country, about “tenge” (Kazakhstani monetary unit), they thought that people were still using rubles. They no access to Tv, radio, any sources of mass media, they just worked as slaves for no pay, under terrible conditions eating odds and ends left after the dinner of the owner’s family.

Initially, these three people were in good relationships with their “future” trafficker. They were having her internship in that farm before she was victimized, the other two men were simple workers and used to get salary and have good and friendly treatments at first. Then everything had totally changed. In those 15 years the woman lost her mother, and her sister moved to another country, so when she was freed (she was 28 years old when she was trafficked and was unmarried) she had nobody waiting for her back in her country.

Unfortunately, our guests [at American Corner] knew nothing about her further life. The “slaves” could not contact the police because one of the owner sons worked for the transport police, they just didn’t believe the local policemen. Fortunately, one of the owner’s seasoned workers was a really kind-hearted man, and when his work was finished, he reported the police about the situation happening in that family and could cause to release those “slaves”.  Anyway, the judge sentenced the owner and his son to three and two years probation. As it was discovered afterwards, the judge was a woman with three kids, and she was worried about her family.

That brings up a good point in this very sticky delicate crime against humans. The judges have to be strong to hand out sentences, otherwise the criminals will go after their families with threats or even death. May that NOT be so in Kazakhstan!!!

Comments (3) »

Slavery is “alive and well” in Kazakhstan

According to guest speakers at American Corner in Astana, Kazakhstan, human trafficking or slavery is the second most profitable type of crime after drugs. The UN have statistics that report 5 million people become victims in human trafficking every year and the traffickers make about 8 billion dollars in income.   According to one of my students who attended this session with Marko Velikonja (International Narcotics and Law Enforcement) and Elena Beskrovnaya (INL Program Manager) mainly men are the victims of forced exploitation – 69.1%.  Sadly, 62% of the victims in Central Asia are exploited within their own countries. Slavery is alive and well in Kazakhstan and without proper awareness and education will continue unabated.

As Marinka Franvolic pointed out earlier when she spoke to my students, at least drugs can be found on the criminal as evidence and it is much easier to prosecute once drug dealers are caught.  Whereas, the victims are going along with their trafficker to a new, unknown destination not knowing they have been deceived. If there is any suspicion, or if the victim becomes alert to the fraud, the trafficker will plead innocent and get off the hook if law enforcement is called upon.  Therefore, a trafficker can get off scott free to victimize someone else since rigid penalties are not in place to strictly enforce those who are caught.

Three kinds of people are involved: victims, traffickers and the providers (transit people).  In the case of prostitution it would include the “johns” or customers. As mentioned earlier, every year five million people fall victim to exploitation (either sexual or hard labor with little or no pay) in the following kind of work:

Tobacco, cotton fields

Building construction

Child labor

Begging in street

Forced marriages



Surrogate maternity

Transplantation of organs

Who are these victims in Kazakhstan? They are usually the vulnerable people in the rural areas who are poor and jobless. Often they are heads of households who want to provide for their families.  Also, orphan children who have lived in orphanages all their lives but are turned out to fend for themselves at age 18 fall victim.  Basically it happens to uneducated people who have no skills in remote villages but it can happen to educated people as well.

The main tactic, after the victim has either been lied to or lathered with praise about their skills, abilities or beauty (cases of finding young girls at bars who are attractive and/or dance well), is to take away all of their documents once to their final destination.   The smart victims who are equipped with hotline numbers with the International Organization of Migrants (IOM) can get out of their slavery before they are exploited or raped by calling (8 8000 8000 15) free of charge.  The police hotline for dealing with human trafficking is 1 16 16.  Many Non governmental organizations throughout Kazakhstan exist and the phone numbers were given from 14 places: Astana, Aktobe, Aktau, Almaty, Zhezkazgan, Karaganada, Kokshetau, Kostanay, Krgyzlorda, Petropavlovsk, Taldykhorghan, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Shymkent, Taraz.  If I’m not mistaken most of these cities are in the northern part of Kazakhstan with the exception of 4-5 cities that are in the south.  What does that mean? More trafficking is happening closer to Russia OR more awareness and shelters with NGOs are in the north of Kazakhstan to help victims?

As it turns out, most traffickers are business people (owners of saunas, clubs, cafes, tourist and model agencies, farms, etc.)  Also, traffickers are former victims who are promised their freedom if they can bring in 2-3 more “victims” in exchange. Also, they are former convicts and corrupt government officials.

(to be continued)

Leave a comment »

Photos of Little Squirts in Kazakhstan

After all the recent blog posts I’ve been writing about Soviet matters that still impact life as we know it in Astana, Kazakhstan, I thought I’d show cute photos of children instead.  I promised I would and I had some other photos that I forgot to put on my flashdrive so this will have to suffice for today.  These kids were having fun at the nearby shopping center this weekend.  Pirates of the Caribbean must have been the theme for these children and a birthday party, there’s a Johnny Depp wanna be making the children laugh.

Something I didn’t laugh at this Saturday night was watching the movie “A Mighty Heart.” Whoa, that was heavy after watching the classic movie starring Audrey Hepburn at American Corner titled “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”   The classic was just plain silly showing just how stupid a country girl can be who comes to a new eye-popping city like New York.  Making many mistakes about commitment and relationships, we are not entirely certain the guy who loves her will actually get Holly or Sally Mae in the end.  The other movie I watched about Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journalist who went missing in Pakistan was almost the exact opposite about two very smart women who tried to find him.  His wife and Indian assistant.  I think I would only be able to watch that movie once, a second time would be more punishment that I don’t need here in Astana.  Enjoy the children, they are the hope and future of this country.

Comments (1) »

“Laughed” and Left Levity; Spider and Cider Drinks

Last night was particularly fun with 11 people squeezed into our flat for a lot of levity and food and fun!  The right combination of people made it a success. When entering our flat, the aroma of the apple cider on the stove that I had brewed three hours before, greeted everyone. At American Corner we showed “Sleepless in Seattle” though I would have preferred showing “While you were sleeping” since it has more of a Christmas theme to it.  We may show it later in December at American Corner.

For almost ten years, I have played this one Christmas game with my students and even with expats and with my family back home in Minnesota.  Thanks to my friend Jeannie in Ukraine who introduced it to me, it is easily found on the Internet.  The poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas…” which is indelibly set in all American children’s minds for some reason. Americans may not memorize many poems but this one  is a keeper.  Maybe the meter is just right, the two Americans (myself included) knew at least the start of it, our British guests shook their head. They didn’t know “T’was the Night Before Christmas…” What is added for this gift exchange game is the directions of Right or Left in order to pass gifts around a circle.  I warned my group last night to not be fooled when hearing the word “laughed” to think it is “LEFT.”  It still caught a few.

What’s interesting is that when I ask people ahead of time to bring a “gag” gift or something like a “white elephant” gift they haven’t a clue what I mean. But the one other American DID know and she brought a laughing glass.  If you turn on the battery on the bottom of the glass, it has a very contagious laugh.  We laughed and laughed right along with the glass.  One of the Kazakh girls got it when she opened up her gift when the game was finished.  I had wrapped about six extra presents ahead of time that could be used in this “Twas the Night before Christmas” game because I knew my guests would not get it.  Unfortunately, I had “girl” things to give like samples of Lancome cosmetics and lotions.  One of the British guys got one of those gifts but since he had indicated a STRONG interest in the other girl’s gag gift, they swapped presents and all went home happy.

Earlier we had all met at American Corner at the national library to watch the movie and then to discuss it afterwards. We talked about signs and I told my little group that I believed in signs because I gave them an example of what had happened to me on Dec. 30, 1990 in Minneapolis.  But I’ll have to save that story for another time to tell.

Today I showed the last movie of our movie series to about 25 students at our university “You’ve Got Mail.” That was another one that brought laughs at the right places.  Meg Ryan is the same actress in both movies, she does a superb job in “Sleepless in Seattle” as she does in “You’ve Got Mail.”  How do they memorize all those lines for their part and get into character?  That’s why they are paid millions of dollars and known all over the world for the talent they have, to make people laugh.

All good things must come to an end.  One of my guests last night had to leave early from our party and she said she really liked the spider drink I had brewed.  I had corrected her earlier but her mistake persisted. I told her again that what she had been drinking was hot cider (mixture of apple juice, cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg and other ingredients).  She laughed along with us when I corrected her that she can drink spiders all she wants but what I served up was apple CIDER!

Before my party ended, I had all 10 guests sign our guestbook and only then I sent them on their merry way.  The one Brit said he would use his laughing glass on the bus going home to see what other passengers and bus driver would think.  I wonder if he tried that. We all need a little levity now and then, especially with the colder temps setting in and the days being shorter and the night darkness longer.  But the lights decked out all over the city of Astana are beautiful, enchanting really.

Leave a comment »

Life is Catching up with me (Part II)

Today didn’t turn out like I thought it would.  Good in many ways but different.  I worked at the university all day to test young children on their English proficiency.  I’m used to older university students and I was glad to have four of my current, older Kazakh students help with the young squirts.  Oh, some are just adorable, the 6 and 7 year olds who want to learn English.  One little guy, at first, was crying. I think he was nervous being around the older 12 through 15 year olds. We had about 20 children all together with their parents who showed up.  The kids were tested (the parents stayed outside the classroom) and we will have to sort all that out eventually about levels and who will teach what to whom!!!  Lots of different lesson preps for so many ages from 6 to 15!!!

Ken had carved a miniature pumpkin and had brought that along and explained in Russian and English what it was.  Blank looks.  Okay, it is Halloween tomorrow and this is a very big deal for American children their ages.  These western children are ready to scoop up lots of candy on their adventures in their costumes in their respective neighborhoods on October 31st.

Later, we got in the car (with Yerik our taxi driver) to leave campus with my Canadian friend, Michel and we went to American Corner for the last part of a Halloween party.  Yerik informed Ken that “American Corner” when translated into Russian isn’t such a good word.  Oops!  Think anyone at the U.S. embassy will pay attention to that?  Probably not.

Well, it was fun to see some of the Kazakh students in their very convincing Halloween costumes. A Queen of Hearts, a very witchy witch, a pumpkin,  several pirates and others I couldn’t tell what they were.  A few students also had carved three pumpkins.  Where did they know how to do that? None of these college and secondary school kids have been to the U.S. Apparently they had looked it up on the Internet.  There were snacks and candy and drinks, a nice party hosted by an American named Emily.  Then at 5:00 p.m. we showed the American classic movie “Wizard of Oz.”

Amazing that this movie has had such enduring power for over 70 years, it was released in 1939. However, it didn’t endure long because we had some technical difficulties at first.  After we wished the tech goblins to leave posthaste and after the DVD was cleaned, the movie played just fine.  Afterwards, I led the discussion with about 10 students and it was interesting to hear their thoughts about what they thought the movie was about.  I never expected to hear one girl say it was about “FREEDOM.”  Of course, I asked her to expand on that.  Another guy said it was about respect of older people.  Okay, please elaborate.

Also, friendship, work, belief and hope were other things that this classic movie was about.  Somehow, because of the tech problems we missed Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  Still, they got the gist of the movie.  When the technical problems arose, I would get up  in front of the 40 students and chatter away to fill the blank time.  I talked about the background of the movie by saying, “watch for the ‘horse of a different color” or “check out the munchkins, they really didn’t like Judy Garland, the child actress,” etc.

I also explained Frank Baum, who was the real author of this children’s story (not Volkov and his version of “Wizard of Emerald City”) had an analogy to the gold standard (yellow brick road), the Wizard of Oz, was really about the ounce.  The ruby red slippers was really silver in the book, tied in again to the monetary system in the U.S.  The Scarecrow who wanted a brain, analogy the farmer who didn’t know how to farm well, he needed an education.  The Tinman, really the industrialist who didn’t care about people, had no heart. I am not sure about the cowardly lion, maybe about the lack of brave leadership during the Great Depression.  I don’t know, people from Kansas, like my husband, know the intricate history of what Frank Baum meant with all the characters in the Wizard of Oz.

Dorothy (not sure who she represents) said over and over again that “there is no place like home.”  Well, as an American teaching in Kazakhstan, I can say I DO miss my family and friends back home, but right now I feel distracted by the American politics going on with our mid-term elections.  Perhaps that is why my husband and I like showing movies, we don’t have to think about the threats to our own security back home but we think of all that is happening. Can it get any worse? (Don’t answer that!)

Finally, one of my bright, Kazakh students, who is currently reading Frank Baum’s classic book (in three parts) told our discussion group there were a lot of things left out of the movie.  She admitted the movie was good, just the same.   Isn’t that always the case, the book is better than the movie. (sigh)  Not sure if “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” is based on a book but it probably represents a true story about the Greek culture. We are showing that movie to our university students and then getting together with other Americans afterwards.  So the socializing and networking continues.  I need a hibernation break soon!

For today’s blog,  I could have written from my notes about the author who came to visit our class yesterday.  I have many notes about what I learned about the O.S.C.E. summit meeting being held a month from now.  I just thought I’d ramble about the everyday things I am doing.  The weather has been really nice and warm and I miss being outside. But such is life.

Leave a comment »

T/F – Kazakh teachers SHOULD be strong, authoritarian figures!

I created a survey this past week with 24 questions in an attempt to find out where Kazakh people are tracking with their ideas on education.  My questions ranged from finding out their thoughts on Kazakhstan’s teachers, students and methodologies.  I used some of the respondents’ comments in yesterday’s post.  Now I will ferret out what I can learn from the questions that were either answered true or false concerning Kazakh or Kazakhstani teachers.

What surprised me is that I got 12 people’s responses who disagreed with the following statement “All schools and universities throughout KZ should employ teachers who are strong, authoritarian figures.” Nine people agreed with that first statement.  I can say for sure that ALL Kazakhs who responded to this survey have mostly had strong, authoritarian teachers from the past Soviet training in pedagogical schools.  So what is this perhaps saying?  Over half do not like being taught by strong teachers who are authoritative.

A follow up question that was mostly answered “False” by all but three people was “Teachers should command students rather than use democratic measures of majority rules.” That is affirming, most all want democracy displayed in the classroom.  No one likes to be bossed around or commanded especially as students gets older.  Kazakhstan is supposedly a new democracy as of 20 years ago, so a good place to start would be in the schools and universities.

Another question I asked, with western teachers in mind who are perceived as “easy going,” was the following:  “Kazakhstan universities should hire teachers who are less easy going and more dogmatic in their teaching.” Hopefully some of the weaker students from American Corner understood what the word “dogmatic” meant.  Here’s the outcome from my sampling of 19 Kazakhs:  17 people wrote “False” which means, they would prefer more easygoing teachers who are less dogmatic while two seemingly preferred that kind of teaching.

What was most interesting to me was the split that happened over this question about discipline.  Ten said they agreed that “teachers should use strict disciplinary measures for late assignments, absent students, etc.” while nine Kazakh students said false to this sentence.  What do they have in mind with “strict disciplinary measures?”  A failing grade or loud shouting to shame them in front of others?  I would have to observe a Kazakh classroom to find out the answer to that question of how strict discipline is meted out to an errant student.  Some students believe they need the extra kick in the pants to push harder to do better.

Here’s what is interesting as the last question I’ll write about today which relates to where I work here in Kazakhstan’s capital city of Astana and where the Ministry of Education is housed.  I asked: “All Kazakh schools and universities should address the prevailing attitudes about authority and power structure inherited from the Soviet system.” My nine colleagues at work who answered this split with four saying TRUE! While five disagreed.  Those four who believe that the post-Soviet attitudes about authority are not helping the education process spent at least two years in the U.S. getting a masters degree, a few even longer time.  Interestingly enough, those younger students from the American Corner who also spent time studying at James Madison University believe the power structure that exists in Kazakhstan needs to change.  That means 13 respondents to this little survey I did do not know there is a different kind of power structure in place in educational systems, in administration or in the classrooms.

If I had asked this same question in a different way such as “The administrating bodies in charge of education need to update to the 21st century challenges to reflect a more student-centered approach to learning.” Perhaps I would have gotten the same mixed response.

Stay tuned tomorrow when I reveal more about what I found out how these Kazakhs who are a product of the post-Soviet educational system still in place now think things might be changed.  My firm belief is that something does have to change with the bureaucracy because many in places of authority are not coping with the 21st century very well.  We are in a social network and plugged-in, global environment.  No turning back now unless a disaster happened where all electronic communications would be cut off.

May that not be so!

Comments (5) »

Photos from “Cool Runnings” and Ken’s Birthday Party

Our movie audience at the National Library continues to expand.  Last night we had over 50 people watching “Cool Runnings” and there were at least nine of us Americans to discuss this comedy with each little cluster of Kazakh students gathered together.  This gave more students a chance to practice their English speaking skills after watching a very funny movie for just one and a half hours.  Granted the auditorium was very warm (I think the heat wasn’t turned off yet) but everyone stayed on to discuss.  Very gratifying for the birthday boy after Ken was presented a present by the American Corners gal and we all sang happy birthday to him.  I was actually surprised that most everyone in attendance knew how to sing “happy birthday.”

The American friends I had invited to celebrate cake afterwards, came over to our two room flat. We were able to comfortably fit ten people in our living room.  They amazingly all ate my five layer cake that looked like a disaster because of the icing problem, but it tasted particularly good with vanilla ice cream.  Since I had such shallow cake pans, I had made a chocolate cake (3 layers) and then a carrot cake (2 layers).  I have two more carrot cakes in the freezer that I’ll pull out tomorrow night for a reprise of more birthday good wishes for Ken.  I wonder if there will be any more birthdays to celebrate before we get to May!!!

Leave a comment »