Individual, Group Charity Has Deep Roots in Kazakhstan, Needs New Legal Foundation

ASTANA –Kazakhstan has seen an increase in the last 10 years in aid organisations workingtoupgrade the law on charity. The country also recently announced itself as adonor toforeign countries in need. The phenomenon of charity, however,is quite specific in Kazakhstan. The society is formed by the influence of the Soviet Union and local and Islamic traditions, so it has its own concept of donating.

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“We like to share,” said Gulmira Torkyrova, a nurse in the city’s Oncological Hospital, in a July 17 interview.

Torkyrova rents an apartment and works 40 hours per week.

“I am not able to give money or spare clothes to poorer people, but I love to share my time and sometimes food with them. I do extra work for free during the weekends by taking care of our hospital patients and trying to help them as much as I can,” she added.

Torkyrova is not familiar with the term “volunteering,” but she actually does it.

“I was brought up like this; the idea of helping each other was a trend at Soviet schools.We were taking care of older people, working in the fields during holidays and even had obligations to do homework with students from your class who were not good at some subjects, for example math,” she said.

During thetalk,Torkyrova mentioned the name of God several times. Religious reasons are also important for her, but she does not do it to get a place in Heaven.

“The person’s smile is the best appreciation for me,” she said.

If Torkyrova calls it “sharing,” Madina Urazmbetova calls it “the habit to give help.” She is a volunteer and believes that Kazakh people have strong traditions of helping others.

“As you know, Kazakh people used to live in yurts and moved from one place to another. At that time, help from your neighbours was essential. The folk started to practice freewill initiative by gathering together and helping each other. This tradition is called Asar and it was an actual act of volunteering at that period of time,”  she explained in a July 20 interview.

In order to createa link with modern life, Urazmbetova spoke about her recent experience of Asar in Karaganda. In the spring, a big flood occurredin the Karaganda region, where three people died and approximately 1,800 houses were destroyed. The freewill initiative to help people in that region has quickly spread via social media. People collected money, food, clothes and medication. The hashtag #SOS_KARAGANDA got to the top of KazNet, the Kazakh Internet.

“People were working days and nights and we even collected more aid facilities than were actually needed,” said Urazmbetova.

In her words, volunteering is spontaneous in Kazakhstan.

“People help each other when a big problem happens and the help is urgently needed. Unfortunately, they do not understand that help needs to be done every day, not only when a big fire or flood happens.Children and sick people wait for money and care daily. Nevertheless, there are several voluntary service organisations and several initiative groups which are working here, but most of the Kazakh people prefer not to be part of them,” said Urazmbetova.

In 2014, Kazakhstan was ranked 101st among 135 countries in the World Giving Index.

“It is evidence that charity as a form of official giving has a weak basis in Kazakhstan,” said Baurzhan charity fund President Zhuldyz Omarbekova in a July 16 interview. She noted the ranking does not mean people refuse to give help, but quite the opposite;they want to donate but do not trust charity organisations. She added the country’s legislation isnot conducive to developing this area of focus.

“Eighty percent of the money people donate in Kazakhstan goes for mosque building. We ask why donors do not built schools, kindergartens or hospitals. And the answer is simple: there is no need for documents when you build a mosque.For other types of building, you have to undergo a full process of submission,” Omarbekova explained.

The charity law is in the Kazakh Parliament and will soon be upgraded. The main changes will apply to the tax policy and the definitions of “funder” and “benefactor” will be legalised.

“The law on charity has been declined several times within sixyears. Before, the government was not ready to provide tax breaks for all businesses that do charity. Now we can afford these changes and after the law gets parliamentary and presidential enactments, entrepreneurs would apply to get no more than a 10-percent break in federal corporate income tax,” Mazhilis member Nikolai Kuzmin said in a March 12interview.

Saltanat Murzalinova-Yakovleva, social adviser of the Miloserdiecharity fund, believes Kazakh society is movingtowards smart charity.

“There are less-seasonal acts of kindness nowadays.People arechanging their mentality and becomingopen to such organisations as ours,” she said in a July 20interview.

As Murzalinova-Yakovleva noticed, people give fewer alms to beggars on the street and prefer to know how their money will be used.

“We have anew generation of people who want to make the changes, not only ‘give help for good and forget,’” she added.

The actions apply not only inside the country, but outside. In addition to upgrading the charity law, the Kazakh government is changingthe policy about aid giving. Last year, the law was passed providing for the establishment of the Kazakhstan Agency for International Development (KazAID). In the last seven-nine years, Kazakhstan has provided aid to countries such as Kyrgystan and Afghanistan and now hasan official basis for such work.

Leila Bozykova, 67, a patient of the Oncological Hospital in Astana, is under Torkyrova’s care. She recalled her ancestors’ introduction to Kazakh charity.

“I am Ingush and I was born and lived all my life in Kazakhstan. My grandparents were deported here in the 1920s. They came here in cattle trucks, whipped and hungry. The soldiers forced them into a cattle chute and they stayed there in cold and fear. Suddenly, Kazakh people came and started to throw white stones at them. My grandparents and other exiled people got angry;they already were put down. But then they realised that these white stones were kurt, a kind of Kazakh food: a dried piece of sour cream. From that time, my grandparents, parents and Ihave always gotten support from the Kazakh people,” said Bozykovain a July 17interview.

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