We have arrived in Pavlodar for our meetings and I am so excited to see another city in Kazakhstan, with more to come! We had breakfast in Almaty and flew to Pavlodar. When we arrived at the airport in Pavlodar, we were greeted at the airport by another employee of the NGO, Irina Bobkova an associate of Veniamin. She is a great disability advocate and works in the area of access in Pavlodar. Irina has created a great mobile app to track and report and educate others about access matters. We also met for the first time, Kanat Abashov, who works for the State Department in the Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy in Astana. He is a great representative of the U. S. Embassy and very kind and interested in our work.
Our first meeting was at 3:00 PM, after we arrived in Pavlodar, from Almaty. I spoke to a roomful of people and shared best practices about the employment of people with disabilities and the barrier of stigma in Kazakhstan. This was a very interesting seminar as I involved the audience. The presentation was lived streamed on Facebook and allowed questions and comments from the audience.
In attendance were people with disabilities, family members, human rights activists, NGOs, and a government official. At the beginning of the audience participation period, the government official stood up to tell me there were no issues with the employment of people with disabilities in Kazakhstan. After she concluded her comments, I asked her if she had a disability. She did not. Oftentimes, people without disabilities miss the mark due to first-hand knowledge about barriers people with disabilities face.
Some people with disabilities in the audience were shaking their heads in disbelief. I just continued on with the presentation and did not get into a discussion with this official. This seminar was a wonderful opportunity that, once again, Veniamin arranged with the community, people with disabilities, the government and advocates. Irina, Veniamin's colleague, arranged a very nice reception after the presentation and many of the audience participants shared with me how much they enjoyed the presentation and me being a representative of the U.S. They said there is a great need to overcome stigma and to learn from best practices in the U.S. It was great!
That evening we had dinner with Kanat, Veniamin, Alina, Vyazova, Yerlan Kurmangazin, and Irina. Yerlan and Alina both attended the seminar, but they were so interested they joined us for dinner. It was a great discussion, as I learned more about the view of the people of Kazakhstan about people with disabilities. Many have explained to me that the stigma is a part of the view of people with disabilities from the days before the independence of Kazakhstan from the U.S.S.R.
While today was a short program day because of the travel logistics in the morning from Almaty to Pavlodar, every day is a great day on a U.S. State Department visit, spending time with people with disabilities.