Dr. Aigerim Mussabalinova is a PhD graduate from University of Sussex in England, where she has spent the last four years of her life. Aigerim was born in Semey, East North of Kazakhstan and is currently living in Nur-Sultan. Her family consists of parents, younger sister and grandparents.
Aigerim’s thesis has been dedicated to a topic of “the child’s right to be raised in the family” and her research interests in general have been focused on the alternative care for institutionalised children. Aigerim chose this particular topic after а trip to the United Arab Emirates in 2011, where she was stunned by the fact that the country did not have any orphanages and children deprived of parental care. She started thinking of orphaned children back home in Kazakhstan whom she met during her work as a journalist at summer camps and charity events. Long conversations with children from a Family-type village, where Aigerim and her colleagues made donations in 2010, has touched her heart and remained with her since then. Despite the fact that Aigerim’s research passion about children in orphanage institutions and criminal charges against parents abandoning their children did not find support among Kazakhstan academics, she joined the social movement “The Child Must Live in the Family” in 2013. First Aigerim started as a volunteer lawyer consulting on orphans’ issues, and later she became more involved in that matter by taking part in the Kazakhstan Parliament and Government on amendments in legislation. Aigerim’s active engagement with a sphere of orphaned children inspired her to consider returning to university for a PhD programme. She realised that her knowledge on this matter was limited and there were many gaps in current practice that left other people clueless how to deal with it.
Conducting research during a PhD programme at University of Sussex has taught Aigerim such valuable skills as self-organisation, self-discipline and critical thinking. Her knowledge horizon has widened on many areas, including environmental problems, same-sex relationship and freedom of speech. She supports freedom of speech which is based on constructive arguments, and disapproves discussions and debates without solid knowledge and evidence, which are widespread on social media.
Aigerim believes that education system of Kazakhstan should be revised with maximum consideration of children’s and students’ best interests and rights. Overall mentality and thinking of the teaching staff and key stakeholders should be transformed. The entire education program should be built on fundamental social norms of justice, equality (including gender) and diversity (inclusive society). Aigerim recommends to develop research environment both in higher educational institutions and society overall with involvement of key stakeholders and officials. Her experience of conducting research both in Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom has revealed number of problems in local education sphere. For example, number of post-doctoral positions in Kazakhstan is very limited and current positions are unfairly allocated among particular people known in advance.
During her studies in England, Aigerim continued remotely consulting her colleagues from the Public Fund Family Academy which enabled her to be informed on matters happening back home in Kazakhstan and be involved in projects related to her research funded by the UNICEF and the Government of Kazakhstan.
One of the projects that Aigerim was part of in 2017-2018 is “A child-friendly social environment - transforming the childcare system" under the UNICEF and Republic of Kazakhstan Cooperation Programme 2016-2020. The main aim of the project was conducting a study in a number of regions of Kazakhstan on deinstitutionalisation of children and presenting it to the Parliament and the Ministry of Education and Science. As part of the trainings conducted within this project, participants were given information on the transformation of an orphanage into the Family Support Centres and the provision of services within the Centre.
This project influenced the launch, in 2019, of processes on the transformation of orphanages into Child Support Centres, where in addition to providing traditional services for the care of children left without parental care, services to prevent social orphanhood and work with families in difficult situations, as well as the training and support of foster families, are provided.