NUR-SULTAN – Kazakhstan marked International Volunteer Day Dec. 5 to celebrate the spirit of volunteering and to recognize the impact that volunteers make on society every year. Established by the United Nations, Volunteer Day has been celebrated worldwide since 1985.
Kazakhstan has witnessed a steady growth in volunteerism over the past years.
“International Volunteers Day is celebrated all over the world today. They have rightfully become a symbol of kindness, sincerity, and selfless devotion to the interests of ordinary people. Volunteering is true patriotism. I declared this year as the Year of Volunteers. I am proud of our volunteers and I am grateful to them for their tremendous work, especially during a pandemic. Volunteering is not a temporary campaign, it is a state of mind for tens of thousands of our citizens. We are always together,” wrote Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in his Twitter account.
In 2016, Kazakhstan adopted a law on volunteering that paved the way for a more sustainable and systemic development of volunteering. In 2019, Tokayev declared 2020 as the Year of the Volunteer, noting that volunteering is necessary for Kazakhstan.
He participated Dec. 8 in the official closing ceremony of the Year of Volunteer. “The year of volunteering was a special year that showed the true noble qualities of our youth. It was a time of compassion, responsibility and care,“ said Tokayev, as he addressed the online gathering of volunteers and government officials.
Kazakh officials identified seven key areas in volunteering that can be improved upon. These include educational services, medical services, environmental services, mentoring people in difficult situations, emergency response, services for the elderly and work to preserve spiritual, cultural and historical values.
Helping others without expecting anything, creating change, even on a small scale, instilling hope and happiness in people’s hearts is what volunteering means for nearly 200 volunteer organizations in Kazakhstan and nearly 50,000 people involved in the movement. Connecting with other individuals to strive for a common goal is ultimately the end goal of volunteering.
But aside from well-established organizations, such as the National Volunteers’ League, people also self-mobilize to address community problems and also respond to emergency situations, as it happened with the coronavirus outbreak back in March.
When coronavirus hit the country in spring, some citizens came up with novel ways to help their fellow citizens during the time of crisis, and what started as an individual motivation to help others evolved into a collective team effort.
For Madina Sigaziyeva, a graduate student at the Eurasian National University and an experienced volunteer, volunteering is a “way to express yourself, find yourself, develop and contribute to society, meet new people, and feel like a citizen of the world, part of something bigger.” She believes interest in volunteering is on the rise in Kazakhstan.
“Despite the fact that it has always been there, only now volunteering is changing from an ad hoc activity to a structured one. The law on volunteering was adopted in 2016, relatively recently. The year of the volunteer was a great step towards creating a positive image for the cause in polite society. And yet there are still so many myths around volunteering. A lot is yet to be done, including legislative amendments, bringing innovations and striving for international standards,” she said in an interview for this story.
Sigaziyeva worked at Kazakhstan’s National Volunteer Network and managed the Qazvolunteer.kz project that serves as a platform to unite all volunteer activities. Currently, she is the curator of the Kazakh capital’s team at SCOLAR Network, a youth platform at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Yerdaulet Rakhmatulla, a 19-year-old alumnus of Nazarbayev Intellectual School and member of the Leadership KZ team that provides educational and professional opportunities for free, said he does not use the term ‘volunteering,’ because it is part of who he is.
“Of course, it means more than just a hobby as I put effort and sometimes more time than studies to contribute to the development of society and state. Thanks to all the projects I have engaged in I have met amazing people around Kazakhstan and have unforgettable memories from various events,” he told The Astana Times.
He has volunteered in promoting civic education, raising awareness about environmental issues and providing education services for free, including amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“TUNZA is an international platform for eco-enthusiasts, where I am honored to be Ambassador for Kazakhstan for two six-month terms successively and represent our country. During this time, I wrote reports on the ecological situation and developments in our country. In March of 2019, I have been invited to the National Eco-Planner organized by The Children are Drawing the World Foundation and UNICEF Kazakhstan,” he said.
UNICEF Representative in Kazakhstan Arthur van Diesen said that the Year of the Volunteer in Kazakhstan motivated the organization to open their own volunteering office.
“Currently, UNICEF’s volunteer programs are being implemented throughout the country. Young people and the older generation participate in these programs. They are all united by a common idea and the belief that each of us can and must contribute to creating a better world around us. We have managed to attract over 6,000 volunteers since the volunteer program launched in March 2020. They helped bring important information to more than 5,000 schoolchildren and 1,500 parents via online lectures, as well as half a million young people through social media,” said Arthur van Diesen.