“We have re-programmed ourselves” — a volunteer on BeGreen Kazakhstan

A young teacher tells Kazakhstani schoolchildren about climate change

Margarita Bocharova
Волонтер ЮНИСЕФ Алтынай Сегизбай в кабинете образовательного центра Imannur, г. Алматы,Казахстан.
UNICEF/2022/BauyrzhanSabitov
03 May 2022

“I used to be afraid to talk about environmental issues, not just with schoolchildren but even with my friends, and now I can speak about it more or less freely and share my thoughts,” says 23-year-old Altynai Segizbay.

She has held almost 30 online lessons explaining why the climate is changing, the environment is being polluted and biodiversity is shrinking. Altynai has established contact with high and middle school students as part of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) BeGreen Kazakhstan program.

Altynai has an almost exemplary volunteer track record. In 2020, when coronavirus restrictions were in place in Kazakhstan, a friend’s post on the social media turned the girl’s attention to the UNICEF volunteer program #ПайдасыБарКарантин. The large-scale campaign was aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 and supporting the physical and psychological health of young people during the quarantine. Altynai was not able to participate, she decided to apply for another summer program — BeKind.

BeKind aimes to create a safe environment in the republic’s schools. It was the first time Altynai tried her hand as an online volunteer. “Already in the second season of BeKind I chose to trade the volunteer position for the one of a mentor-interpreter,” says the girl. Altynai is a trained simultaneous interpreter and currently teaches English in an educational center. The volunteer program BeGreen Kazakhstan 2021 was an opportunity to take on yet another role — that of an administrator.

Презентация волонтера ЮНИСЕФ Алтынай Сегизбай на ноутбуке во время онлайн-лекции, г. Алматы,  Казахстан.
UNICEF/2022/BauyrzhanSabitov
Презентация волонтера ЮНИСЕФ Алтынай Сегизбай на ноутбуке во время онлайн-лекции, г. Алматы, Казахстан.

“I’ve never thought I could be an activist who is always online answering chat questions. While volunteering for 3-5 lessons can get you a certificate, mentoring makes you feel part of the community,” says Altynai about her shift in perception. As a high school student, she tried to avoid any administrative duties and minimized her communication with strangers.

Now the situation has changed for her and many of her shy companions: “It’s as if we, introverts, turned into extroverts. The volunteer program has a very good effect on a person not only in terms of experience, but also psychologically: you just smash some barriers that used to be in your way,” says the online volunteer.

There are some challenges to popularizing the environmental agenda among schoolchildren.

“We tell the kids that you don’t have to be afraid of the big word ‘ecology’. You can start with simple things,” says Altynai.

She urges everybody to appreciate even the smallest steps toward conscious consumption. In her online lessons, she draws on her personal experience. “Many of us, when we taught our children to economize on water and energy, subconsciously re-programmed ourselves as well,” says Altynai. For example, she prefers tote bags and reusable water bottles to plastic counterparts.

Волонтер ЮНИСЕФ Алтынай Сегизбай возле контейнеров приема вторсырья Ecosen, г. Алматы, Казахстан.
UNICEF/2022/BauyrzhanSabitov
Волонтер ЮНИСЕФ Алтынай Сегизбай возле контейнеров приема вторсырья Ecosen, г. Алматы, Казахстан.

Also, before the start of the UNICEF and the National Volunteer Network project, young people were trained not to complicate the material and avoid too many big words during their lessons, so that everything was clear and digestible. “We were told from the start that we should try not to sound dry, strict, and boring, that we should be ourselves,” says Altynai. She explains that she’s tried to be on an equal footing with the students and treat them like peers. The activist is happy with the results of this approach: “Children don’t feel any pressure. It’s like there’s an invisible thread linking us, and children don’t feel shy about expressing their opinions.

Волонтер Алтынай Сегизбай проводит онлайн-лекцию об изменении климата, г. Алматы,  Казахстан.
UNICEF/2022/BauyrzhanSabitov
Волонтер Алтынай Сегизбай проводит онлайн-лекцию об изменении климата, г. Алматы, Казахстан.

She is content to point out that she has received a good response from teachers as well. “Teachers are contacting me, they’re interested, they want to write an article, organize a project together, they have many questions,” says Altynai. The girl enjoys fantasizing about what else she would like to discuss with schoolchildren: “It would be great if we also launched a program on animal protection. I think there would be an even greater response from the children. In Kazakhstan alone, animals such as saigas, goitered gazelles, koulans, wild dogs, and Tien Shan brown bears are dying due to human activities.

For now, the online volunteer is focused on bringing the urgency of climate change to schoolchildren without intimidating them at the same time.

“When you explore this topic, you feel hurt for the planet and want to spread the word so that more people know and talk about it. Because soon we might reach the point of no return in some aspects,” emphasizes Altynai.

This is how she sees her volunteering — a tiny step towards making a difference.

Волонтер ЮНИСЕФ Алтынай Сегизбай готовится к лекции об изменении климата, г. Алматы, Казахстан.
UNICEF/2022/BauyrzhanSabitov
Волонтер ЮНИСЕФ Алтынай Сегизбай готовится к лекции об изменении климата, г. Алматы, Казахстан.

She sincerely believes that programs such as BeGreen Kazakhstan can make a difference, because raising the ecological awareness in schoolchildren now will make the future generations of Kazakhstanis better prepared to address these issues. It’s also great because children are eager to share what they’ve learned with people close to them. “This is the domino effect from the knowledge we spread,” says Altynai.

Волонтер ЮНИСЕФ Алтынай Сегизбай сдает макулатуру на переработку, г. Алматы, Казахстан.
UNICEF/2022/BauyrzhanSabitov
Волонтер ЮНИСЕФ Алтынай Сегизбай сдает макулатуру на переработку, г. Алматы, Казахстан.

Today she doesn’t think about how much longer she will be able to volunteer, but she has no doubt that enthusiasts will always be there. What saves an activist from burning out is a rational approach to evaluating their time and resources. “At first it seems impossible, but once you start the routine, you just get used to it, and it becomes part of your life,” continues Altynai. A source of motivation are meetings with eco-activists, experts and entrepreneurs from all over Kazakhstan, which UNICEF organizes for its volunteers.

“Other people’s success stories are very inspiring. We live in a time when any of your ideas can become a reality,” believes Altynai.