Peer Interactions Between Religious & Civic Leaders in the U.S. & Kazakhstan.
Ten Kazakh delegates representing various sectors (religious, civic, and non-profit) from the southern Kazakh and Zhambyl regions traveled to the U.S. for a training program in Washington DC, Baltimore, New York City and small towns and rural regions in southern Virginia. Here they experienced team-building, sharing their common interests, and observed US models and concepts that could most appropriately be transferred to their communities. The results are both exciting and inspiring.
Following are brief reports on some of the work completed by participants in the program.
“… the most important aspect (of my trip to the US) was the inter-relationship between the Islamic mosque and the church, the workd they have done with the population based on democracy (referring to the dialogue work of ADAMS and in Baltimore)…All the meetings were valuable.” — Imam Yerbol Kospagar, Chief Imam, Aulie-Ata, Taraz City mosque.
Follow-up From the U.S Based Program
Svetlana Beissova, Executive Director of the Taraz Initiative Centre, worked closely with Sergui Kislov and Varvara Naidenova, also alumni. Sergui works in local governmetn and is responsible for 22 cultural groups. Varvara’s NGO trains women in skills that can generate income for them. Inspired by what they had seen in Goodwill in Roanoke, VA, they approached an NGO in Taraz that represents handicapped persons about the concept of setting up a Goodwill organization. In June 2005, TIC undertook the venture itself, involving women who were unemployed. They found a room, and put an announcement in the paper. They solicited and received donations from two political parties to place more newspaper ads, and handed out and posted flyers. And the word spread…
“…at first, only volunteers brought in recycled goods. They inventoried the merchandise and washed, repaired, and ironed them. Next other people called them to bring in their items. After that, others came to buy or if they had no money, they just gave the clothes away. The venture continues working…” Svetlana Beissova
Ruslan Abdullin, Executive Director of Club Vera, an NGO in Shymkent, returned home and shared his experiences with the head of the Youth Division of the Office for Internal Affairs. He pursued and received a grant from the US Embassy to set up a Tolerance Center in Shymkent, based on what he learned about the services of American Islamic Centers and the Inter-Faith Center in New York.
For several years, he has planned and led a annual Peace March. This year, 47 people participated in a 740 Km march from Shymkent to Almaty that took 25 days. 10,000 booklets were distributed, and 30,000 additional people received information through media coverage. In 2006, Ruslan plans to march from Almaty to Astana, and involve 15 countries during a 52-day program spanning July and August. His main goal is to show that different religions can live together, and one thing they can do together is march for peace.
“Ages spanned 9 years to 76 years of age. Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and Krishna Consciousness devotees participated, representing eight nationalities and three countries.” — Ruslan Abdullin.
U.S. Delegation to Southern Kazakhstan
In Shymkent, the U.S. representatives visited the offices of the Women’s Business Association (Legacy’s partner in Kazakhstan) and Bereke, an NGO that works with USAID on several community development projects.
There was a grave concern about lack of women’s participation in the mosques and the fundamentalists’s influence on youths. We were in agreement that women play a major role in society and there is no justification, from an Islamic point of view, not to participate in mosque activities. However, mosques in Kazakhstan play a limited role in society to the extent that they are merely places of worship rather than centers for social activities, welfare, and education.
We tried to broaden their understanding of fundamentalism. The most vulnerable group to fundamentalist ideologies are youths who are going through their rebellious phase. We explained that confronting them violently gives them more reason to become entrenched in their position and addss romance and romantic martyrdom to their struggle. Violent confrontations only aggravates the situation and leads to further violence. This is especially true in the absence of alternative programs and social avenues that could direct their energies constructively. Once again, we returned to the need for appropriate social outlets and a real understanding of Islam. — Khaled Hassouna and Wael Alkairo, U.S. delegates.
“We are beginning to understand that everything depends on ourselves in all spheres – economics, business, health, education, religion. During Soviet times, doctors healed, teachers taught. there was no inter-relations and no talk of religion. Everything is new and it is best to start with youth — Information is power! “– Kuralai Bekenova, Director, Business Women’s Association, Shymkent.