The Almaty-based non-profit organisation ‘Love Kazakhstan’ is an inspiring outfit dedicated to helping the most vulnerable groups in society – whether single mothers, the disabled, or anyone else in significant need. One of their active volunteers is Almaz.
Some of the Love Kazakhstan volunteers at work
Volunteering isn’t a well-understood concept here – people don’t readily get why someone would decide to help the people around them without any pay or material gain, constantly sacrificing their own time, energy and personal interests. Surely they get something in return! How can anyone only give out?
If you ask Almaz why and how he became a volunteer, he would tell you his story:
“Voluntering became like a need for me, in the good sense of the word. Helping those around me has been a key thing that changed me personally. I began to have a far happier life, free from pain and past hurts.”
Almaz was born in the Kyzylorda region of south-west Kazakhstan, in a city called Aralsk [which used to be on the shore of the Aral Sea, but is now a very long way away from it]. His mother was a single parent, bringing up him and his brother after their father, an alcoholic, left.
“Those circumstances had a huge impact my childhood,” he says, “and left deep wounds inside me – grown ups accept that divorce happens, that sometimes it’s the only choice; kids just don’t see or understand it like that, they can’t accept it.”
So when Almaz’s father left, it was a genuine tragedy for him. “I felt such deep pain and hurt, particularly when I saw other kids who had a Dad. And the more I realised how much I needed a father, the more I saw my own Dad as a traitor.
“My father never helped us, and we were always really hard up. Mum had to work so much, and whenever I saw her looking so exhausted, in clothes that were worn through, whilst my father was always drunk and living just a few streets away, I felt such pain…
“One day I promised myself that when I was grown up, I would get revenge on my father! I also promised that I would help other kids who didn’t have fathers. And, of course, that I would never leave my own kids!”
In 1995 Almaz’s family moved to live in Almaty, then the capital city. In order to get a good education and to somehow help his mother, the whole family began working in a business that was popular in the 1990s – selling sunflower seeds. It was a really tough time for them, but nonetheless, Almaz graduated with a law degree, began to earn decent money, got married and became a father. He’d made a good start in life and could finally stand on his own two feet.
But the pain of the past hadn’t left him, despite the joys of becoming a Dad himself, and Almaz found himself feeling sympathy for his own father.
“Somehow I understood what he had stripped himself of,” he says, “and I forgave him. It was like I had a new birth. I was filled with new feelings, new needs – I wanted to do more, something kind and more important!”
The Mamyrbaev family with their new furniture
Now Almaz is working with Love Kazakhstan, actively helping people who are experiencing difficult life situations. One example is the Mamyrbaev family, who moved from Karaganda after the recent floods there, to a village near Almaty. These people had experienced enormous stress, having lost almost all of their possessions as the flood waters rose. And it’s simply impossible to recover from that scale of loss and damage without anyone else’s help.
They now have somewhere to sleep at night
Charitable organisations create a much-needed lifeline for people who find themselves in such critical situations, with both important moral support as well as any material help. Through humanitarian aid which Crossroads in Hong Kong shipped to Salem Social Village, and which we were able to distribute to Love Kazakhstan, this family who had suffered from devastating floods could be rehabilitated as soon as possible. They found a new home, rest and time to straighten their lives out once more.
Some of the clothes that were also donated to them
“To see the joy in the eyes of people and to know that you took part in making this happen – surely this is the best reason to become a volunteer?” says Almaz. “This kind of life can be rightly called rewarding and happy. And already I couldn’t live any other way!” And with these amazing words, our conversation is complete.
More donated goods from Crossroads, ready for Love Kazakhstan to distribute where it’s needed most