Public Awareness Campaign Brings Drinking Water Standpipe to 20,000 People in Eastern Kazakhstan
Khadisha Akayeva is a young journalist and a social activist from Semey, Kazakhstan. As a journalist, she is known for her investigative works related to poor living conditions of Semey’s outskirts. With a Youth Leadership Grant (YLG) from EF’s Social Innovation in Central Asia (SICA) project, Khadisha created an influential public awareness campaign, Equal Rights for Suburban Areas. The campaign helped to bring a clean drinking water standpipe to 20,000 residents of Voskhod and Vodny villages, near Semey. Moreover, thanks to the efforts of Khadisha’s team of activists, an additional bus started operating between Semey and the villages, which will enable students living in the villages to get to school faster.
Equal Rights for Suburban Areas raises awareness about poor living conditions of suburban areas around Semey. These include lack of clean drinking water, poor public transport, limited leisure opportunities or sportsgrounds for children, inadequate lighting, and contaminated natural areas. The team of activists highlight these and other issues on their YouTube channel, with SICA YLG backing. To date, their videos have gained more than 250,000 views on YouTube.
“Our main weapon is raising awareness in the media. The popularity of our YouTube channel and wide media coverage of the project in general prompted us to understand that one can really achieve change with the help of the media. So many people got involved [with our project], there are so many ‘likes’ and ‘shares.’ This is the real reason why government officials cannot ignore us or what we do. They fear discontentment of the citizens,’’ says Khadisha.
As part of the awareness campaign, Khadisha’s team has organized several public meetings with local government officials. With SICA support, the team has also conducted several workshops on state budget allocation research and social media campaign strategies. “As part of this initiative, we want to grow a cohort of activists and watchdogs who know how to tackle corruption in the field of public spending and conduct public awareness campaigns,” she explains.
Dirty water has been a primary concern of Voskhod and Vodny villages for several decades. Some villagers have developed kidney stones due to contaminated well water. On 22 February 2022, as a result of the activists’ media campaign and public meetings with the officials, the town administration installed a standpipe with drinking water at the junction of Voskhod and Vodny villages. “Even though one standpipe is not enough for two villages, this is the first real change [we have managed to achieve],” notes Khadisha.
Another major win for the activists was the addition of a bus between Semey and Voskhod village. Prior to the campaign, the bus circulated every two hours. With the new bus in operation, people’s waiting time will be shortened significantly.
According to Khadisha, these villages are neglected by authorities for several reasons. The town administration does not include the villages when allocating funds for infrastructure development. Furthermore, the villagers are not fully aware of their own rights. Indeed, even activists dealing with this issue may not know how to effectively interact with government bodies to ensure their voices are heard.
“Our long-term priority is to scale up the project and launch a movement to improve the quality of life of the residents of Kazakhstan’s suburban areas. This project helped us gain invaluable experience and we hope we can pass it on to groups in other cities,” Khadisha says.