Kazakh student opens social café as supportive workplace for mentally challenged youth

ASTANA – A young and aspiring Nazarbayev University student is set to open a social café paving the way out of isolation for people with mental health challenges. The new project, created by 20-year-old Maulen Akhmetov, aims at recruiting people with mental disorders, promoting charity and spreading social awareness among youth and understanding and respect in society. In an interview with The Astana Times, he said he and his team hope to break the stereotypes that surround people suffering mental illness.


Maulen Akhmetov

“It is very important for a person to be settled in life, to be happy and to benefit society. It is something that everyone wants. In Kazakhstan, we have long been engaged in charity, organising different fundraising events and delivering clothes and necessary items to needy families. However, we wanted to focus on the systematic approach to solving these problems. We wanted to base the charity not on human generosity, not on people’s pity or pride, but a simple desire to eat delicious food and get good service,” he said.

Young adults undergo training in occupational therapy workshops established by the Medical Centre of Mental Health operating in the capital. Centre psychologists provide counselling at such workshops, which offer skills like sewing, knitting, carpentry, construction, dance and art.

“Centre director Yerbol Nurkatov promotes the idea of a new approach towards treatment and rehabilitation. They encourage young people back into society, to develop their communication skills and live independently. I think that the problem is hidden not in such people, but in the fact that there are no possibilities. Only a few people know about the challenges that such people face. There are now approximately 102 adults in Astana attending the workshops. This project creates an integrated approach system of rehabilitation, so that we can monitor the process,” added Akhmetov.


Everyday Social Cafe team

The café, based on the campus, will employ 20 people. The staff intends to develop the idea of social responsibility by eliminating food waste, cooperating with animal shelter organisations and reducing plastic waste. Visitors will be able to become part of the team of young enthusiasts, and part of the proceeds is to be donated to other initiatives.

“We like to experiment and we are committed to helping people identify their capabilities to further their careers. We want to establish a system that would effectively train and encourage people. You know, they are brave people. People find strength and come to the centre to study and change their life. Just imagine a person stuck at home is beginning to make steps towards society, communicating with others every day. When a person gets financial independence, he or she begins to look at life from a different perspective. They get meaning in their life; they keep developing and they help their families. I think communication is the most healing and effective method to make a person happier,” Akhmetov told the paper.

The young entrepreneur came up with the idea of a socially-inclusive workplace last year and presented it at the ABC Quick Start Acceleration Programme for beginning start-up companies, inventors and innovators launched by the Astana Business Campus innovation cluster and the university.

FLZlPrt2PM8“I like that we start with Nazarbayev University, because I believe that these students will be able to make a big difference in the country. Someone just understands that every person in the world has his or her own place in society; everyone has potential strengths. The only thing is just whether you focus on the strengths or the weaknesses of the person. You just start looking for his or her potential. That is all,” he said.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently supported the project and agreed to allocate a place for the café in its pavilion at EXPO 2017. This will be a great opportunity for people with mental challenges to break through barriers that have too long prevented them from meeting people, said Akhmetov.

“We would be glad to contact the commercial department of EXPO 2017 and tell them about our social project and the will to bring our message to the expo community,” he said.

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