How young eco-volunteers from Kazakhstan are tackling plastic pollution in their city

Winners of the Samgau Upshift programme from Atbasar create fashionable eco-bags and fight against plastic pollution

UNICEF Kazakhstan
Eco-bags_Atbasar 2021
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Marat Amir
25 October 2021

Ivan is 12 years old and he lives in Atbasar in northern Kazakhstan and studies in the 6th grade. Ivan's mum is an environmental expert, a profession Ivan himself would also like to pursue in the future. In third grade, Ivan has already taken part in a district competition of research papers and creative projects and won second place with his work on "Plastic Bag Pollution of the Environment".

So when Ivan had the opportunity to take part in the Samgau Upshift programme to strengthen social entrepreneurship skills among teenagers and young people, the choice for his project’s topic was obvious.

Eco-bags_Atbasar 2021
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Marat Amir
Ivan posing with a bag sewn as part of the project

"We have chosen this theme because we want to change the environmental situation in the country, the city and the world in general, we've chosen the easiest way that everyone can use. Personally, I first thought about the problem when we had a homeroom period at school, and I concluded that nature is crying out for help",

- Ivan says.

The idea of the project was supported by Dasha, Sasha and Ksyusha, schoolchildren from Atbasar and Yesil. The children have become active promoters of eco-bags. At the beginning of the project not all the children knew how to sew.

Иван и Саша работают над раскроем сумок из ткани
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Marat Amir
Ivan and Sasha are working on cutting bags out of fabric

They managed to qualify for the Samgau UPSHIFT mentoring programme among other 9 other teams, receive a grant and start implementing their project with the support of professional mentors.

"If we want to change the world, we have to start with ourselves. I started carrying eco bags 3 years ago, not to help nature (at that time I did not know that I could help it), but I carried eco-bags just because they are beautiful and comfortable",

- says Daria, a 9th grade student.
Дарья шьет эко сумку на электрической швейной машинке
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Marat Amir
Daria is sewing an eco bag on an electric sewing machine

Having chosen a topic, the children spent several months doing their own research and preparing a presentation to defend their project in front of a committee.

Ivan's family actively supports him. His mum is good at sewing and helps him come up with new bag designs, embroidery and mastering special equipment for making prints. Dad helped shoot the "No to plastic bags!" social cause advertisement and a cousin helped edit and upload the video to the internet.

Готовые сумки с дизайнами, придуманными эко волонтерами
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Marat Amir
Finished bags with designs devised by eco-volunteers

Darya also notes that the support of family members is very important:

"Our parents helped us a lot, they were very supportive, they helped us sew and sell, and they also use our bags and have become even more interested in the topic of ecology.

The children choose their own fabrics and come up with designs. On their bags you can find such embroidered slogans as "No to plastic bags" and "I choose eco-bag", "I am an eco-volunteer". They are also trying out various eco-pictures on the bags.

Ребята обсуждают дизайны изготовленных сумок
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Marat Amir
The children discuss the designs of the bags they have made

The Samgau UPSHIFT project has allowed young environmental activists to believe in themselves and to scale up their environmental project into an eco-friendly social entrepreneurship initiative.

Ivan shares his impressions of the project:

"This is a unique project!!! I’ve made friends through the project when before I had none. Also thanks to the Samgau programme more people have learned about the possibility sewing or buying eco-bags. Of course, I also learned a lot about other projects being implemented in different cities of Kazakhstan. This is so cool! I'm so proud to be part of such a team."

"Samgau helped us a lot, I'm very grateful for that, they helped us with funds and generally made it possible to implement our idea. We wouldn't have achieved this result without Samgau",

- Darya also notes.
Иван обрабатывает кромки ткани оверлоком
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Marat Amir
Ivan works the edges of the fabric with an overlock sewing machine

Creating beautiful eco bags has allowed schoolchildren from Atbasar to form environmental habits and avoid non eco-friendly bags which are a fashionable trend among their peers and friends.

Darya adds:

"Our project can involve even more kids. In addition to sewing, we also handed out leaflets and told customers and sales assistants in the shops about the harmful effects of polythene, the pollution of nature and how important it is to replace plastic bags with eco-bags".

Ivan and his team are not satisfied with what they have already achieved. Instead, they now strive to develop their project to even greater levels.

Дария, Иван и Саша позируют с эко сумками, изготовленными собственными руками
UNICEF Kazakhstan/2021/Marat Amir
Darya, Ivan and Sasha pose with handmade eco bags


The Community of Youth Workers public association has been implementing the SAMGAU (UPSHIFT) program since December 2020 to strengthen social entrepreneurship skills of adolescents and young people using innovative experimental learning methods with the support of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Population of the Republic of Kazakhstan (MLSPP) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Particular attention is paid to the most vulnerable groups (young people with HIV and other chronic diseases, disabilities, left without parental care). Using the UPSHIFT methodology, a flagship initiative of the UNICEF Innovation Lab, the program combines best practices in youth development, social innovation and entrepreneurship for young people.