I recently attended ZhasCamp, the first youth conference held in Kazakhstan on October 8-10 in Almaty. Young people and representatives ofyouth NGOs gathered from all over the country, and expert guests from Russia,Ukraine, Poland, Kyrgyzstan and other nations were also in attendance. The camp was a great opportunity tonetwork with other active young people, share skills and experiences, andestablish collaboration on projects. One of the other main goals of the camp was also to discuss the new lawon youth policy being passed by the Kazakhstani government, and give youthinput to government representatives who attended the conference (althoughunderstandably I myself did not participate in this process). I was also lucky enough to have won one of 48 travel grants to attend the conference, for which I must thank the ZhasCamp organizers as well as Soros Foundation KZ, who sponsored the event.
[Our event sponsors and host…like his shirt! :P]
ZhasCamp lasted three days and was in its very firstiteration, though the organizers hope to make it an annual event. One interesting innovation that wasimplemented was the idea of “open programming,” in which time was put aside inthe schedule for participants themselves to sign up and lead their ownsessions. Although this was a bitchaotic, it did result in a very democratic and participatory conferenceformat. I signed up to lead whatwould be a packed time slot with my fellow PCV Michael aboutvolunteerism in America, and prepared another presentation on our organizationDostar and our peer-to-peer model of volunteerism development with my fellowvolunteer Zauresh. We discussed the successful models of volunteerism development at both Peace Corps and Dostar, which I think was beneficial for a lot of the participants.
[Some of our Dostar volunteer team at ZhasCamp]
There were also several interesting “master classes” heldthroughout the camp on topics including fundraising for youth NGOs, cooperationwith local government, social media for youth PR campaigns and once again volunteerism (co-held by some of our own Peace Corps staff!). These discussions continued after hours in various “thematic evenings”over dinner at venues around Almaty that had agreed to partner with theconference and give discounts to participants.
On the last day of the conference, a “Projects Market” was heldin which youth NGOs at the conference could present a project to apanel of judges in competition for one of two 300,000 KZT (2,000 USD) small grantsto continue their project in the upcoming year. 16 organizations from around Kazakhstan presented a widevariety of projects, and it was truly fascinating to see all the activitiesthat were happening around the country. Youth camps for disabled children and orphans, volunteer clubs, a youthentrepreneurship center, etc. etc. While passivity was listed as one of the “youth problems” to be discussed at the camp, this certainly was not applicable to our fellow conference participants!
Our team went up to present our project: our Summer YouthLeadership School 2010. They hadtold us in advance that our project would be judged based on four criterion:sustainability, creativity, previous realization of the project, and that theinitiators and beneficiaries of the project were both youth. Keeping these criteria in mind, we constructed a Powerpoint presentationwith only one slide addressing all four points at once. Then we used the rest of our precious 5minutes to show a short video clip of our project results that Aziz and I had stayed up putting together the night before: interviews ofparticipants expressing their own gained knowledge and changed perspectivesafter the camp, and an exciting slideshow of all the pictures from ourcamp (check it out here on Youtube!). We ended up winning thegrant, which was such a huge honor and a confirmation of the great work ourvolunteers are doing!
[Our volunteer Aziz in excitement as we hear our names being called!]
Overall, I met some really wonderful and interesting peopleat the conference and discovered many additional opportunities for cooperationand skills-sharing among youth organizations not just in Kazakhstan but all around Central Asia. Cannot wait to see where some ofthese new partnerships and ideas take us!