Youth of Kazakhstan: Think Informally, Act Efficiently

October 19, 2010

On October 8-10, 2010, about 300 young people from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan gathered in Almaty for ZhasCamp’2010, an informal “unconference” of young leaders and members of youth NGOs. The event was mainly organized in an internationally popular BarCamp format – user-generated, open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants. Apart from open space sessions, ZhasCamp hosted competitions of social videos and projects, provided trainings and master classes of recognized international practitioners and local officials. The word "zhas" means "young" in Kazakh language.

With the slogan “Think Informally, Act Efficiently”, ZhasCamp boosted collaboration and open dialog among leaders and youth groups despite their political views and social perceptions. The event sought to enforce diversity and pluralism among youth; create a platform for youth to grow intellectually, share their experiences and develop a strong network of sponsors and partners; help participants to develop skills for successful partnerships with other youth groups; inspire youth to turn from “passive” into “active” decision-makers.

A discussion of the National Youth Policy was another major aspect of the work. It led to productive interaction with officials, who promised to consider the participants’ proposals on amending and implementing the Policy. The officials also invited youth to direct participation in the upcoming revision of the legislation on youth quoting Gandhi, “whatever you do for me but without me, you do against me”.

As one of the immediate results of this interaction, Mr. Murat Abenov, a member of Parliament of Kazakhstan was inspired by youth and created a Twitter account. During the event, he started using it by creating his postings and responding youth.

“The idea of ZhasCamp emerged from understanding of the whole array of problems of Kazakhstan youth, and that there are so many talented and active young people who are willing to solve these problems, but results are too few. We suggested ZhasCamp participants to connect the problems to implementation quality of the national Youth Policy and to develop amendments to the law on Youth Policy of Kazakhstan,” said Ms. Irina Mednikova, Head of Kazakhstan Youth Information Network and one of the organizers of the event. “Among our participants and speakers, we have officials from Youth Policy Department of the Ministry of Education and Science and a member of Parliament. They are open for collaboration with youth and ready to apply their recommendations into law. The great number of participants proves that our youth are not indifferent.”

"We are listened to and heard! ZhasCamp helped us express our point of view, contribute to improving the Youth Policy, and use this forum for learning the experiences of other young leaders," said Ms. Malika Atasheva, a participant from the city of Shymkent.

Among the most vivid parts of ZhasCamp were the contest of social videos Open Your Eyes and the competition of social projects implemented by youth Projects Market. The demonstrated 23 short videos were both amusing and touching. They deliver educational messages on most serious social and environmental problems in ironical, dramatic, and sometimes comical ways. Authors of 11 winning videos will receive money awards, and the videos will be broadcast on national TV channels and posted on all national video portals.

During the Projects Market’s final, youth organizations presented 17 social projects demonstrating accomplished results, impact, changes made, innovation, and sustainability. The audience was astonished by their work and achievements that influenced lives of poor, disabled, orphans, HIV-infected youth and children. While some projects were focused on environmental issues like waste management, recycling, and pollution, others dealt with unemployment, entrepreneurship, healthy lifestyle, journalism, and cultural heritage.

Two winning projects received money awards ($2000 each) from the World Bank and Soros Foundation – Kazakhstan. The World Bank awarded a project aimed at HIV-infected children and youth of South Kazakhstan Oblast, the country’s most HIV/AIDS-affected region. The project was implemented by “Dostar” Youth Leadership Volunteer Center from Shymkent.

The second winning project of activists from Almaty, “Young Rescuers Club”, was targeted on children from juvenile correctional boarding schools. The project’s objective is socialization of juvenile offenders, propaganda of healthy lifestyle, sports, and teaching the profession of rescuer. It was awarded by Soros Foundation – Kazakhstan.

 "I think, the Projects Market gave young leaders an opportunity to feel the significance of their contribution to development of our society. We are once again ascertained that youth alone and in partnership with adults can take an initiative and solve difficult issues,” said Ms. Zauresh Amanzholova, a member of “Dostar” Youth Leadership Volunteer Center.

In order to strengthen the young leaders’ capacity, ZhasCamp offered various trainings and master classes provided by renowned experts from Kazakhstan and other countries. Among them were:

  • Strategic planning and project management;
  • Creating social networks;
  • Fundraising;
  • PR and communications for youth organizations;
  • New media for youth organizations;
  • Volunteer work and NGOs: Recruiting volunteers;
  • Organizational techniques for advocacy groups;
  • Building communication with government officials.

“Innovative projects like ZhasCamp help to strengthen our society and state,” said  Mr. Asylbek Kozhakhmetov, the President of International Academy of Business which hosted the event.

ZhasCamp proved that youth of Kazakhstan are dynamic, creative, innovative, and has a great potential to participate in decision-making for the benefit of their country. Organizers and participants believe it was a start of integration of the country’s active youth which is so far split by barriers like political views, individual ambitions, lack of information, and huge distances between regions.