Understanding disabilities in Kazakhstan with ‘more than a blog’

Apr 2, 2012

Of all the ideas and trends which cyberspace offers in Central Asia, health and social problems still lack representation on the web.

Whereas media images and stories influence thinking and establish social norms, people with disabilities have endured misrepresentation, defamation and lack of representation in the media – they are seldom seen as individuals beyond the framework of their disabilities. The legacy of demeaning, isolating, and institutionalizing people with disabilities embedded negative and inaccurate beliefs and attitudes about what it means to live with a disability.

The media is a powerful force in raising public awareness and thus I wanted to write about Mesqueunblog.kz , one of a few sources helping to attract attention to this issue.  The blog is the life story of a Kazakh guy named Bakhytzhan Djumanov told by a French artist.

The name of the blog, which derives from “Mes que un club” (“More than a club”), is the motto of Bakhytzhan’s favorite football team “Barcelona”. The blog presents the everyday life story of and 18-year-old boy suffering from cerebral palsy.

The aim of the project is to attract attention to a problem that many Kazakhs would prefer to ignore and to help everyone better understand that the situation of people with disabilities to a greater extent depends on the attitude shown toward them. In addition, the project has a big outreach component. By raising public awareness about the problem, the blog is helping to initiate public debate on the situation of people with disabilities in Kazakhstan.

The blog graphics are done by Nicolas Journoud, a French artist, who has been living in Kazakhstan since 2006.  Nicolas is a freelance illustrator for the press and for advertising agencies in both  France and Kazakhstan.

The project is implemented by the International Journalism Center MediaNet with the support of the Soros Foundation in Kazakhstan.

I sat down with, Igor Brattsev, the director of the International Center for Journalism MediaNet , and asked him about the project:

Net Prophet: With whom did this idea to create such a blog originate? Why and how did you choose Bakhytzhan?

Igor Brattsev: The idea to create a blog came by pure chance. Nicolas Journoud and his Kazakh friends participated in the charity event. On New Year’s Eve they visited families with disabled children, giving them gifts and telling them about existing support programs for disabled children.

In one of such visits Nicolas met Bakhytzhan. Bakhytzhan’s story about his experience and his perception of reality become a starting point of creating the blog, which will help to express emotions and feelings of a disabled teenager suffering from cerebral palsy, who is not able to write or draw himself.

While looking for the best way to tell Bakhtyzhan’s story, we come up with an idea to do the blog in the form of comics – combine the written information with images. This would show life of a disabled behind the scenes, and help to combat negative and inaccurate beliefs and attitudes the society has about what it means to live with a disability

NP: Does the blog help his hero? If so, in what sense?

IB: The blog presents a real opportunity for people with disabilities to voice their concerns and problems.  It is a channel to communicate with society and tell the true life story of a disabled person, it helps to attract attention and break the wall that isolates disabled from society.  The isolation is actually what Bakthyzhan finds as a much pressing problem: ”We need not only financial support from the government, but in fact we want to be recognized, not ignored. We want them not to turn a blind eye toward our reality,” he says.

Thus the blog is not just a dry statement of facts and statistics about the problems children with disabilities have, but it also has a great emotional appeal, an attempt of a person with health problems to self-identify in the modern society. The main objectives of the project were actually formed while talking to Bakhytzhan and his parents.

We try not to make this blog as a report on the life of a disabled child, the grief of his family, the everyday problems they faced. This is actually a collective image of people with disabilities represented in Bakhytzhan’s story. If, after getting familiar with his story, the readers will perceive Bakhytzhan as a teenager, not just a disabled person, the main goal of this project will be achieved.

NP: Have you thought about the next steps? What is the future of this project?

IB: We are planning to make a print version of graphic images and selected stories, it will be a bilingual (Russian-Kazakh) album, which will be distributed among the media outlets, NGOs, government agencies, and international organizations.  And then, based on the comic book stories we will set up a traveling exhibit, which will be presented first in Almaty, and then, perhaps, and other major cities of Kazakhstan.

About the Author

Larisa Balanovskaya

Larisa Balanovskaya has worked for 15 years for various international organizations, such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (as an Outreach coordinator), the Swiss Development and Cooperation office in Kyrgyzstan (as a project manager), and as a specialist at the International Relations Department at the Kyrgyz – Russian Slavic University in Bishkek. An ethnic Russian originally from Kyrgyzstan, Larisa holds a Master’s degree in Philology of Russian Language and Literature. She is currently cooperating with TOL on the TOL’s NED-funded projects on Central Asia.
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