Meeting of Small NGOs to Highlight Civic Initiatives

ASTANA – A small, informal and interactive conference for Kazakhstan nongovernmental organisations, known as a “Social Camp,” will be held in Astana in November. Organizers say these types of meetings represent a positive change in Kazakhstan’s NGO community.

“In the last two years, civic engagement and civic activities have been really growing, making good progress. … Of course, social media has kind of sped this process up. We have a lot of small initiatives on Facebook, like a group that is helping to find clothes for the homeless, for example [and] a group helping to grow trees in Almaty. … We have a group collecting money for disabled children, and so on,” said former Civil Alliance of Kazakhstan Director and “A Child Should Live in a Home” campaign member Alina Khamatdinova. She has spent 17 years working with NGOs in Kazakhstan.

It is these local initiatives that the social camp will highlight. “We want to show charity initiatives that have emerged by themselves, through Facebook, for example … These aren’t national groups; they are very small, very community-oriented initiatives,” said Khamatdinova. Focused, needs-based groups providing services to a defined target audience should be the future of Kazakhstan’s NGO sector, she said. “We want to show everybody these great examples, we want to show these civic initiatives that can change our society for the better.”

The one or two day camp will highlight these initiatives, show how they work and show people how they can get involved, Khamatdinova said. Getting involved is the operative phrase: the camp will be open to the public through online registration, but all attendees must contribute in some way, whether through volunteering, presenting their own ideas or bringing some contribution. The hope is that attendees will think about how to recreate these initiatives in their own communities. “The main condition of coming to this camp is to be active,” Khamatdinova said. “You should be responsible—think about what you can contribute and how you can contribute … and come and share.”

“People want to be involved in these initiatives,” Khamatdinova said of the boom in small organisations, and the increasing involvement is good for society. “Everybody can become interested in helping; it’s not just somebody else’s business, it’s your business. You can see people around you doing something, taking their own time to help someone else, and people start to donate money.”

The culture of secular donation is just beginning to take root in Kazakhstan, where charitable donations are traditionally made through religious organisations. “It’s just starting to emerge and I think it’s good,” Khamatdinova said.

“Over the last two years, my friends and I were involved in fundraising for a children’s hospital in Almaty and people were really willing to spend $50, $500 to help somebody else,” Khamatdinova said. “It wasn’t like this five years ago, but now it’s become a personal social responsibility.”

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