Civic Engagement Provides Opportunities for Blind Musician

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.

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Regional Efforts to Restore the Aral Sea Ecosystem

very year on June 5, we mark World Environment Day. It is an opportunity to celebrate our life-giving biosphere, without which we cannot exist. This year’s World Environment Day theme is “ecosystem restoration”.

“On this day, we should pause to remember the environmental tragedy of Central Asia – the Aral Sea crisis,” says Vadim Sokolov, Head of the Department for Project Implementation of the Aral Sea Basin under the Uzbekistan Executive Directorate of IFAS. “This is the day when we should remind ourselves and the world that we need to unite our efforts to save the Aral Sea,” he adds.

As the son of a family of water engineers, Vadim’s entire life has been intertwined with water, and his choice of profession was clear – he graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering in Hydrotechnical Construction from the Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Agricultural Mechanization Engineers. After spending many years working to introduce Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) principles in Uzbekistan, Vadim began work on addressing the problems of the Aral Sea. For many years he implemented various projects related to implementation of the projects, including coordinating the efforts of all the states of Central Asia.  “Unfortunately, we will not be able to return the Aral Sea to its initial size, but what we can do today is begin to restore the ecosystem, to help the people living there and the environment,” he reflected.

The desiccation of the Aral Sea is the result of water extraction from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers during the Soviet era for irrigation of cotton and wheat. These unsustainable water management practices transformed the world’s fourth largest inland lake into two bodies of water, consequently, the lake today is just one-tenth its original size. In its prime, the region’s economy was heavily dependent on the Aral Sea, and included a robust fishing industry that is in considerable decline today.

Forty million people live within the Aral Sea Basin(link is external), which extends across the five countries of Central Asia, including the four million people who live in the immediate environs of the lake. The Aral Sea region include most of Karakalpakstan and the Khorezm regions of Uzbekistan, the area of Dashowuz in Turkmenistan, and the Kzyl-Orda province in southern Kazakhstan. An overwhelming majority of the sea bottom is heavily salinized, and the population experiences sand and dust storms for three months of the year, severely polluting the environment and impacting human health.

During the past three decades, restoration of the Aral Sea ecosystem has focused mainly on afforestation of the drained seabed to mitigate the sandstorms that cause erosion and further degrade the fragile soils.

“I believe that restoration of the ecosystem of the Aral Sea and appropriate management are key for the sustainable development of the region’s economy and environment. Regional cooperation is crucial to address these issues, and Central Asian countries should unite in their efforts between governments, NGOs, local communities, and donors, and take significant steps to restore the ecosystem,” says Vadim.

Following a request from the Government of Kazakhstan, the USAID Regional Water and Vulnerable Environment activity began to assess and develop an Action Plan to restore a portion of the Aral Sea. In June 2021, a team of scientists, led by Vadim Sokolov, made an initial trip to the region to assess restoration options in consultation with local communities. The experts took soil samples, examined possible pilot sites, and assessed partnership options with local organizations.

As part of the assessment and information gathering process, USAID, in cooperation with the Kazakhstan Executive Directorate of IFAS, held a virtual roundtable in May 2021. The meeting focused on developing restoration measures and enabled stakeholders from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to discuss lessons learned, best practices, and plan the next steps for the afforestation of the drained bottom of the Aral Sea.

The Aral Sea assessment and action plan will be completed by late July 2021. USAID’s assessment aims to identify innovative approaches for afforestation of the drained bottom of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan. The approaches will consider the best ways to ensure sustainability of results and options for scaling up and replicating those efforts by local communities, governments of the region, and other donors.

Of the assessment, Vadim says, “This project, led by USAID, provides a unique opportunity to try new and innovative approaches for restoration of the Aral Sea ecosystem and to unite and improve the efforts of everyone involved in the Aral Sea ecosystem restoration. The USAID Regional Water and Vulnerable Environment activity’s assessment team is excited that the project will directly benefit the many people whose lives and livelihoods are dependent on the Aral Sea”.

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Всемирный день создания Фонда защиты природы

ФЗП 394

11 сентября 2022 года в городе Аральске отпраздновали Всемирный день создания Фонда защиты природы. Организаторами данного мероприятия выступили Центр молодежных ресурсов Аральского района, Государственный природный заповедник Барсакельмес, а также Исполнительная Дирекция Международного Фонда спасения Арала в Республике Казахстан. 

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Встреча с представителями АБР

АБР 394

7 сентября 2022 года в офисе ИД МФСА в РК прошла рабочая встреча с представителями Азиатского Банка Развития. Целью данной встречи было обсуждение проекта по водным ресурсам. 

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Рабочая встреча с Членом ИК МФСА от Республики Таджикстан

394 Боев

2 сентября 2022 года в офисе Исполнительной Дирекции Международного Фонда спасения Арала в Республике Казахстан (далее — ИД МФСА в РК) состоялась рабочая встреча с Членом Исполнительного Комитета Международного Фонда спасения Арала от Республики Таджикстан, г-ном Боевым Санои Шодиевичем. Во встрече также принял участие г-н Бултеков Нуркен Усеноаич — директор Регионального Центра Гидрологии. Обсуждались вопросы о деятельности ИД МФСА в РК а также о реализации проектов ПБАМ-4.

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News №3

The USAID Regional Water and Vulnerable Environment Activity is pleased to announce its latest grantee — Youth Group for Environmental Protection (YGPE) in Tajikistan.
YGPE’s project is part of a three-organization partnership with For Tolerance International (in the Kyrgyz Republic) and Istikboli Avlod (in Uzbekistan) to improve water conservation along the rivers and tributaries in the Ferghana Valley. These organizations will work with youth-based “Green Patrols” to teach techniques for saving water and re-using water safely in local schools and communities.
In Tajikistan alone, YGPE and these Green Patrols will provide water conservation instruction to more than 1,000 young men and women and reach another 80,000 people through online campaigns and printed materials.
Acting together to improve our water!

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News №2

The USAID Regional Water and Vulnerable Environment Activity organized a three-day Training of Trainers workshop for 18 higher education specialists from Network of Academic Societies in Central Asia on Water-Energy-Food-Environment (WEFE) Nexus curricula.
Over the three-day training, participants discussed best methods for teaching these concepts to university students, reviewed case studies from the UN and FAO, and participated in a simulation game to gain some experience in WEFE Nexus-inspired decision-making.
This Nexus game will be used for workshop sessions for students. The training modules will be adapted for all Central Asian countries and will be introduced into the educational system in the countries of the region.

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