Nevada City Advocate
The Nevada City Rotary Club recently played host to Lyazatt Alshinova, past president of the Astana Rotary in the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan.
The visit was part of the Rotary’s International Friendship Exchange where members visit clubs in other countries to trade ideas about how to work together to make programs more effective and successful.
Alshinova taught in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, where she founded a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching children from underprivileged families. And through her Rotary Club, she leads efforts to build a playground that contains equipment for kids with special needs. Her passion is to help disadvantaged children.
“I have three locations in Astana, each one with 22 activities,” she said. “One thousand kids now come to the clubs.”
Her trip to the West started in Montreal where she met up with Carolyn Feuille, the Nevada City Rotary’s director of international service, and the two attended Rotary’s International convention in Toronto.
“I was inspired by the convention in Canada,” Alshinova said. She learned a lot about Rotary International, about fighting polio and other diseases.
They then traveled to Nevada City where Feuille guided her on side trips to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe.
Alshinova said she enjoyed the warm reception from Rotary members all week long and the beauty of the community.
Alshinova said life was hard growing up in Kazakhstan when it was under Soviet domination. Television and newspaper reports warned that America was the enemy and wanted war with the Soviets.
“The children became the lost generation, getting involved in drugs and being attracted to criminal activities.,” she said.
“Many people lost their jobs,” she added. “We didn’t know how we were going to develop independence.
But she said things have improved throughout the region.
“The children are happier. They are doing well in school. We learned how to build new lives, how to make our own businesses.”
Alshinova’s husband is a landscape architect who owns his own firm. Her children, who were taught English at an early age with the goal of studying abroad, have become successful. Her daughter Kamilla, 24, is an interpreter and her son, Daniyar, 30, got a degree from Arizona State University in aerospace engineering, paid for by the Kazakhstan government.
“Before, it was a closed country. People couldn’t go to the U.S. or Canada. People in Kazakhstan don’t smile. They are very serious,” she said.
“But if you want to change, start with yourself. I want to make a difference in my country. I know how to work with children.
“What I’ve learned,” she says with a smile, “is passion.”
About the photo: Lyazatt (center) enjoys her new friends from the Nevada City Rotary Club in Tahoe.