Every child deserves a family

Every child deserves a family

Dr. Aigerim Mussabalinova is a selfless and brave scholar who wants to make our society a better place by her research projects on developing adoption and mentoring in Kazakhstan. Her dream is to see Kazakhstan without orphanages and help every child to find a loving family.

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.

The second project "Onege" that Aigerim was involved in 2019 is a programme implementing a set of social projects aimed at strengthening the institution of the family and the promotion of family values. This included the creation of social services for resource support in nine regions of Kazakhstan within the framework of a state grant from the "Centre for the support of civil initiatives", supported by the Ministry of Information and Public Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The project aimed to develop a family-oriented approach to welfare systems in Kazakhstan, and the protection of motherhood and childhood. During the project, 855 consulting services and support for 155 deprived families have been given. In addition, training sessions were held for trainers in nine regions,covering topics such as prevention of domestic violence in families, prevention of suicide and bullying among children and reproductive health education. An online educational portal "Onege" was developed and launched, with training courses available for free, including: "My Future Family," "5 Steps to a Happy Marriage", "Secrets of a Happy Family", "Conscious Parenting”. Specialist psychologists conducted webinars on various issues of informed marriage, building harmonious relationships in the family and conscious parenting. The webinars' records are freely available on social networks (Facebook and YouTube), as well as on the project's website.

Aigerim is determined to dedicate her career to academic sphere in Kazakhstan. Her work experience includes an academic research and practical research skills for NGOs. She has been planning to continue her research as the post-doctoral scholar on gender equality issues among children, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic situation in the country she had to postpone her funding search. In 5-10 years time Aigerim sees herself working in academia involved in teaching and research in Kazakhstan, and abroad as well because critical thinking is more welcomed there than in Kazakhstan.

Aigerim wants to contribute to social change in Kazakhstan, particularly to change old fashioned mentality consisting of stigmatised and conservative values which are irrelevant today. She wishes society makes a step towards inclusive society where all people despite their religious, national, political, age, physical, gender and sexual orientation differences could friendly coexist together. Taking into account that the main audience of her research is children and adults working with children, Aigerim believes that diversity, justice and equality should be taught to children from early age.

Aigerim advises future doctoral students to make thoughtful decision, write the reasons that make a PhD degree crucial for you, stick to it and take a full responsibility for your decision. Responsibility and high motivation are vital because a PhD journey is a long process with ups and downs. Aigerim suggests to keep reasons for starting a PhD programme visible in a written format or in mind so that it serves as a reminder for a student why the research is important during challenging times. Aigerim shares her own reasoning that helped her to stay motivated and determined during her studies. She used to compare her PhD with pregnancy where after certain point there is no going back but to deliver a thesis/baby. One should treat achieving a doctoral title with full responsibility as bearing your baby.

Regarding advices for current PhD students, Aigerim would like to emphasise that each PhD thesis is unique and there is no need to compare your research with someone else’s. A doctoral student should carefully listen to his/her needs and and not neglect basic necessities such as sufficient sleep, taking rest between research, physical check-ups and balanced diet. It is also important to praise yourself for any achievements, big and small. Otherwise, ignoring physical and emotional needs may cause a serious mental health issues resulting in devaluation of a PhD degree. Aigerim was diagnosed with pre-cancer condition during her studies in the United Kingdom and she had to go through a small surgery and continual doctoral check-ups. This illness has made Aigerim re-evaluate everything in her life and conclude that a PhD thesis is not the most important thing in her life, but only part of it. PhD thesis should not be perfect, it should be just written.

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