A Creative Path to Inclusion
Across Kazakhstan, education and recreation resources for youth with disabilities remain limited, especially in rural areas. Despite state efforts to introduce inclusive education in schools nationwide, most youth with disabilities in Kazakhstan still do not have access to high-quality, inclusive education or leisure activities. Many families choose to homeschool their children due to lack of appropriate training for teachers, low accessibility in schools, and a fear of social stigma. Consequently, youth with disabilities are often confined to their homes and fully dependent on their caregivers.
Since 2013, Atyrau’s Zhurekten Zhurekke (“From Heart to Heart”), a charitable foundation, has supported vulnerable groups across Kazakhstan, including youth with disabilities and their families. The organization has opened branches in nine cities across Kazakhstan and supported more than 1,000 families of youth with disabilities through trainings, workshops, fundraising, and awareness campaigns.
In January 2021, with support from EF’s Social Innovation in Central Asia program, Zhurekten Zhurekke launched a series of workshops in Atyrau for youth with disabilities and their caregivers. Participants learned creative skills, including sewing, illustration, and clay and plaster sculpting. Workshops provided an outlet for self-expression and boosted youth’s problem-solving, communication, coordination, and motor skills. As a result of the workshops, one participant secured a job as a tailor in a local textile shop, and three others started their own creative businesses.
“Very often youth with disabilities are confined to their homes and are extremely dependent on their caregivers,” says Gulbaram Ermukhanova, director of Zhurekten Zhurekke’s Atyrau office. “This puts immense pressure on the caregiver as well as the child. Just like other children, our kids need to play, communicate, and learn outside the classroom. It is a very important part of a child’s development.”
Between January and June 2021, Zhurekten Zhurekke hosted workshops serving more than 70 individuals. The organization also mounted a social media campaign to help participants sell their final products online. The campaign sold twenty-five pieces, with all proceeds going directly to youth and their families.
For Gulbaram, supporting youth with disabilities and their families hits home. As the mother of a child with autism, she is dedicated to keeping youth with similar challenges engaged and their parents connected. “There are very few spaces for our families to connect, share our experiences and support each other. Workshops don’t just benefit children. They also allow caregivers to meet and help one another,” she explains.
Adds Aigul, whose son participated in the workshops, “My son has suffered from epilepsy since early childhood, and now his development is lagging behind. Involving my child in art therapy at Zhurekten Zhurekke has helped him with his behavior and mood. He enjoys the workshops very much and he continues to engage in art even at home.”
Gulbaram hopes that her efforts will not only assist youth and families in Atyrau, but also raise awareness about the importance of support systems across Kazakhstan.