Akmoldir is 18 and building a laser to the moon, and Alibek, 17 years old, is working on a robotic solar tracker. Reading about the hands-on experience and work of participants in Zangar, in Kazakhstan, makes it clear that the initiative has been achieving its goals in terms of advancing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the country. Young people have deepened their technical knowledge while improving necessary complementary life skills such as stress management and overcoming a fear of failure. As the person who oversees Zangar’s life skills component, I celebrate these successes and also know that there are important and interesting results that extend beyond those intended outcomes.

I would like to share some insights into the indirect positive impact of the Zangar initiative, in partnership with Chevron, and its Passport to Success® (PTS) life skills component. Based on personal observations, dialogue with trainers and youth, and monitoring and evaluation data we’ve collected, I’ve identified four main ways the initiative is indirectly impacting the local community:

  1. PTS trainers’ professional growth: Even though Zangar’s focus is to develop the life skills and STEM skills of youth in Atyrau, the local PTS trainers have benefited too. Through the initiative, 137 local teachers, psychologists, and youth workers have received PTS training to date. As these trainers deepen and expand their skill set, they are also able to positively influence their colleagues and peers. For example, Bakytgul Zhangazieva, a PTS trainer from Atyrau Polytechnic College shared this anecdote. “My colleagues have noticed that I get along well with my students, and one of them asked my advice,” she says. “This colleague used to find it difficult to manage the group of college students for 90 minutes during science-related classes. I shared some experience I had gained while delivering PTS and recommended she conduct energizing activities and, in general, use a positive approach with students. After that she changed her approach.”
  2. School communities: PTS is also having a positive impact on school communities in general. For example, one partner organization, B. Nysanbayev School and located in one of the seven rural districts of Atyrau city, has benefited from the program in many ways. Given the lack of after school programs nearby, PTS has been a unique experience for more than 150 participants there. It was also offered, twice, as a part of summer camp at the secondary school. According to Gulmira Mukanova, the principal, PTS is not only developing the life skills of students, but it has also been improving teacher-student relationships. Mukanova says “I wish every student and even staff member of our school would go through life skills training. Students and teachers change, and they become more respectful of each other. PTS helps you look at yourself from a different perspective and reflect on many things you haven’t previously thought about.”
  3. Community service: Although community service projects were a totally new phenomenon for the local community and even trainers themselves, PTS participants in Atyrau have implemented 133 of them since November 2015. These projects offer participants an opportunity to practice life skills and familiarize themselves with the concept of community service. They have addressed local issues ranging from environmental awareness to evaluating how inclusive their schools are for children with special needs. Some projects received positive country-wide attention, such as a project by PTS participants from the Taimanov School that aimed to entertain people waiting in a very long line at local civil services office after the passage of a new law. The project was mentioned in the regional government and civil services office’s website.
  4. Youth volunteerism: IYF's 2017 Global Youth Wellbeing Index, in partnership with Hilton, found a significant variance in the rate of volunteering in the countries studied; on average, 22 percent of young people surveyed said they had volunteered in the last month. In Kazakhstan, Zangar has organized different community events like graduation ceremonies and a STEM Fest, where PTS graduates volunteer. To date, volunteers like Amina, an engineering student, have contributed a total of about 3,000 of hours to Zangar programming. Moreover, the positive impact of PTS-trained volunteers has extended beyond Atyrau. Fifty volunteers from Atyrau offered their services at Astana Expo 2017, and 40 percent of them were PTS graduates. According to Halidolla Kabirov, a PTS graduate from APEC Petrotechnic and Astana EXPO volunteer, “Without volunteers, Astana Expo wouldn’t have been so successful, because volunteers were at every corner and they tried to guide every visitor to make their visit enjoyable. PTS helped them stay positive and treat the guests with respect and professionalism.”

As the famous Kazakh poet Abay Kunanbayev said, “Slowly yet concisely take your steps, and your efforts won’t be in vain.” I hope that as Zangar grows and Atyrau youth continue benefiting from it, in the future the local community and our country will see its bigger impact.

Meirgul Alpysbayeva is Program Manager, Kazakhstan.