Nikita Latypov lives and breathes music. But he must rely solely upon his hearing to compose, play, and experience music. The 18-year-old from Shymkent, a city in southern Kazakhstan, was diagnosed with optic nerve atrophy when he was a child. The disease is incurable and has deprived Nikita of his sight. However, this has not stopped him from pursuing his love of music. Since the age of four, he has been composing his own music pieces and he can play any melody on the piano.
Nikita was fortunate enough to attend and graduate from a music school, but he was afraid that this was the end of the road for his pursuit of music, as there are no universities for people with disabilities in Shymkent. According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, there are 86,000 blind people in Kazakhstan, yet most parts of the country lack educational opportunities for blind musicians and artists. Like many blind people in Kazakhstan, Nikita had few options and felt he would have to give up his dreams of a career in music.
But what Nikita did have was a community. That community came in the form of a USAID-funded project called the Kindness Basket(link is external). Launched in 2020 by the online media outlet Vera.kz(link is external), with support from USAID’s Central Asia Media Program (MediaCAMP), the Kindness Basket is a unique collaboration between USAID, journalists, and community members who want to help. The Kindness Basket team creates and publishes stories about local residents of Shymkent who need a helping hand. Then, an online chat group that follows Kindness Basket stories springs into action to provide resources or support. The chat group is open to anyone who wants to help or share information and consists of over 60 people.
A community member who wanted to help was local celebrity and singer Diana Khashimkhanova. After seeing the Kindness Basketstory(link is external) telling of Nikita’s talent and of his dream to record a music video, she, other volunteerss and businesses have collaborated to make Nikita’s dream come true. A local restaurant provided the venue, while journalists and others offered resources and expertise, so that Ms. Khashimkhanova and Nikita could record a music video(link is external) together, which was then posted on Vera.kz’s website and YouTube.
The opportunity provided by the Kindness Basket has opened avenues Nikitanever thought possible. Now, together with his mother, he is looking into other ways to further develop his talent. Nikita’s next dream is to gain formal education in the art of composing and become a professional musician. Nikita’s story is just one of many successes of the Kindness Basket project that has led to follow-on funding from USAID’s MediaCAMP in 2021. This funding will allow for the continued publishing of stories about people like Nakita and further USAID’s goal of increasing civic engagement in Central Asia.