Bringing Life Skills to Kazakhstan’s At-Risk Youth

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, December 21, 2021
USAID Program Coordinator for Kazakhstan, Garret Harries, remotely delivers the keynote address at the graduation ceremony

“After the course, my self-esteem improved and I am more confident. I accept myself the way I am and am not so influenced by or dependent on the opinions of others,” says Milana Tushkanova, a 16-year old who is in her second year of studying electrical engineering at the Mining and Metallurgical College in Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. Milana is also one of the first graduates of the USAID-funded Life Skills Training Program which completed in February 2021. As a result of the program, Milana saw how important it is to strengthen her family relationships, friendships, and connections with the people in her life.

“Now, I apply the communication skills I learned to my daily life. Before, I didn’t believe that small things such as being positive, appreciative, and grateful were important. Having completed the program, I practice these qualities and am more able to find common ground with others. Before, I wasn’t interested in initiating or participating in conversations with people. I thought negatively about engaging with others. Now I am more open to talking, discussions, and have become more communicative.”

Strengthening family and social support networks of youth from at-risk communities is a critical component of the Life Skills Training Program and USAID’s work to prevent violent extremism (PVE) in Central Asia. Kazakhstan in particular has experienced increasing radicalization in the past decade, primarily in marginalized and underserved communities, which are the most susceptible to extremist ideologies. These communities, often located in mono-industry cities, are critical target locations for USAID’s efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism. The Life Skills Training Program reduces extremism vulnerability by: increasing at-risk youths’ self-respect, emotional control, and psychosocial health; building their critical thinking and decision-making skills; and enabling them to build positive relationships with their family and community.

USAID research shows that individuals with weak family connections and social support networks are more vulnerable to extremism. Strengthening the connections to these networks through communication and interpersonal skills, problem solving, and conflict management are key topics in USAID’s Life Skills Training Program.

Designed and tested in Kazakhstan, the Life Skills Training Program provides life skills training, career advice, and psychosocial support. The life skills component addresses PVE-specific skills, including fostering community dialogue about extremism, digital literacy, conflict management, and interpersonal skills. The career advice component increases employment related skills, as well as the knowledge and skills needed to start a business. The psychosocial component focuses on building self-esteem, resisting persuasion, and increasing awareness of social support services while reducing stigma about accessing such services. The PVE curriculum was initially piloted with 70 students in Kazakhstan’s Mining and Metallurgical College in Zhezkazgan and is now being repeated in three similar schools throughout Kazakhstan.

USAID's PVE curriculum has been shown to reduce vulnerabilities to violent extremism, including perceptions of marginalization and discrimination in their communities. At the end of the course, participating students are more likely to believe that they have the power to change things they do not like, are included in decision-making discussions, and are more able to overcome barriers to their success. These improvements amount to positive impacts on students’ perceptions of marginalization and discrimination. The Life Skills Program demonstrates that exposing at-risk youth to a range of opportunities and approaches to deal effectively with the challenges of life can help them feel more engaged and respected.

When asked what she would say to another student considering the Life Skills Program, Milana said she would tell them, “You will become more open and communicative. You will learn how to start your own business and gain experience in communicating and working with teams, how to stand up to bullying, the importance of communicating with people with a sense of respect, respecting others’ opinions, and how to behave in society.”

Last updated: March 25, 2022

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