02/05/2021, 11.19
KAZAKHSTAN
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Almaty, solidarity and strikes as crisis pinches

by Vladimir Rozanskij

In recent times, the number of those in need has increased enormously. Wealthy families offer free lunches to people affected by the pandemic and isolation, such as pensioners, homeless people and people with limited possibilities. Wages too low for bus drivers. Bluetooth to babysit children and minors.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - For some weeks now, in the most populous city of Kazakhstan (almost two million people), Almaty, has been operating a voluntary aid service among citizens: the wealthiest have been offering free lunches to people affected by the pandemic and isolation, such as retirees, property owners and people with limited possibilities. In recent times, the number of those in need has increased enormously. the organizers of the project are confident that they will not only be able to feed all these poor people, but also to help their socialization.

Food preparation begins early in the morning in small apartment kitchens. Every day, without holidays, 150 containers are prepared with lunches to take to the stalls and counters where people come to get free food. Oatmeal soup with cooked salami, two pieces of white bread and eggs make up the standard menu, but the food varies every day according to a bi-weekly menu.

An Almaty resident, Rasima Temerbaeva (photo 1), told currentime.tv that she started helping the neediest 7 years ago, as an individual initiative. Many have since joined her. When asked why she does what she does, Rasima simply responds that since childhood she had felt compassion for the lonely elderly people in her neighbourhood, and that she had always defended her weaker acquaintances from offenses.

The project is entirely based on crowdfunding, and often has to be interrupted because of a lack of funding. In 2019, the group also received state funding for a few months, which was not renewed, and participants learned to set aside what is needed to support their humanitarian work. Temerbaeva has been awarded various honors, but she herself claims to "appreciate the gratitude of simple people much more."

The strikes

In the meantime, strikes of various categories continue in the country: on February 3, bus drivers from various cities stopped, asking for salary increases, as the oil well workers had already done in recent days. In Shymkent, a city in southern Kazakhstan of nearly one million inhabitants, the running of the municipal lines has been completely stopped; Akim (mayor) Murat Aytenov promised to resolve the matter within a day, but few drivers trusted his promises, and people were massed at stops waiting for a vehicle to pass.

The drivers also complain about the lack of washing or sanitizing of the buses, and the total absence of lunch supplies during work breaks: all at the meagre pay of around 150 euros per month. The controllers on the Kazakh buses are volunteers with no salary, who are offered at most a small reimbursement of expenses or the possibility of "staying overnight on the buses". Without inspectors, no passenger pays for the ticket.

The central government does not seem able to deal with the serious economic conditions in the country, and shows other concerns: on February 3 a project to control children and minors was presented by the interior ministry.

As Deputy Minister Saken Sarsenov explained, "we will introduce experimental measures for the protection of children, using all possible means: cell phones, watches, video cameras, applying long-term battery control tools to backpacks and clothes". The system would not even need to be connected to the internet, using only Bluetooth. Everything would be financed by private individuals in agreement with the state. The protection of minors will prevent them from being involved in public demonstrations, as is the case these days throughout Russia.

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