NUR-SULTAN – Since 2014, students at the capital’s Nazarbayev University (NU) have helped provide children from large, low-income families with winter clothing through the Warm Winter programme.
The idea for Warm Winter developed out of another NU initiative, the Mentoring Programme, through which university student volunteers work with socially vulnerable fourth- and fifth-graders to help them with their studies. The mentors realised their student partners often missed school in the winter because they didn’t have proper clothes to go outside.
“When I was calling the children, their mothers would tell us that literally their children couldn’t go to school because they don’t have a coat and they got the flu. And [the children] start getting sick and miss [classes]. They texted me and my friends, ‘Our children are freezing, can you help?’ It is amazing that you can somehow help them,” Sofya Imanbayeva, a Warm Winter organiser and NU junior, told The Astana Times.
Over its first three years, Warm Winter helped 229 children. This year, it has already helped nearly 200, Imanbayeva said.
“We have noticeably expanded. In the beginning, it was more of a project with professors and students. [Now] even alumni take part in it. Graduates bring in their colleagues from various cities,” she added.
To buy and distribute the clothes, NU professors and students form groups and are assigned a child who might need a winter coat, boots, a scarf or a hat. The groups then visit the children at home with their winter clothing gifts, a moving experience for all.
“It was a quite emotional experience for me,” said a participant who preferred not to be named. “Warm Winter is a little miracle [for the children]. They were excited, happy, but at the same time very shy to see us.”
“It is hard to imagine that in this big futuristic Astana [now Nur-Sultan], there are people living on the edge of poverty just in the middle of the city. It is hard to notice when you just drive by those streets. People live with no hot water, hardly any electricity and heating,” the person added.
In 2019, the project started to engage with more external partners, like the Astana Medical University and Bolt taxi service.
“This year we started to work with Astana Medical University. They, I think, provided clothes for four children out of 197. This year Bolt also started to help,” she said.
Warm Winter keeps NU students aware of the social problems around them. The NU campus sits at some distance from Nur-Sultan, and students are provided with all the services they need there, meaning they can go for weeks without leaving campus.
“I am grateful to the Warm Winter project for helping me realise that great things are happening very close by. In addition, participation in the project encouraged me to rethink my own views and values. Only by helping others can we understand how this world should be structured, what values should guide society,” said 2014-2015 coordinator and participant Zhanyl Tulegetayeva.
“I like that Warm Winter makes you go beyond the frame. This is both in its literal meaning, because we have to drive to the parts of Astana that we don’t know and we get to see different things. I like this. And you see that your actions affect the lives of these children,” said Imanbayeva.
“I am happy that our family had the attention, that we have these projects and that we are helped. It is very important,” mother of four Gulnar Iskakova told The Astana Times. “The girls from Nazarbayev University, thank you! Well done! They brought very good new clothes. We were happy that they help families with many children, because to fully provide children with all they need is not easy these days. I’m glad that students are working on this. It means the young generation isn’t ignorant about the situation of the society.”
Warm Winter plans to continue expanding.
“The majority of us are Nazarbayev University students and alumni. Mainly, only our community knows about us, not people in the city. It would be great if next year more companies could join and contribute,” Imanbayeva said.
In addition to the Warm Winter initiative, students organise garage sales to support children.
“Last year, we collected more than a million tenge [US$2,600] this way and contributed to the treatment of one of our students. For Warm Winter, we collected around 300,000 tenge [US$780]. Seventeen children were provided with clothes with that money,” she added.
The project plans to expand to other cities and universities.