An inspiring encounter in Kazakhstan

One of the things I love most about working with social entrepreneurs is their ability to surprise you. You think you’ve heard all the best ideas, or someone has moved you in a way you’ll never experience again but then someone comes along and leaves you in total awe. I just had this experience when I was in Almaty, Kazakhstan a few weeks ago. I was over there with the British Council and Chevron to share lessons from the UK social enterprise space and one of my meetings took me to meet a young social entrepreneur, Eldos.

I arrived at 5pm to meet Eldos in the lobby of his hotel. He’d traveled from his region of Kazakhstan to Almaty and was also due to speak at the conference the next day. He proceeded to tell me his story…

A few years ago he was a college student finishing his studies and preparing to start university. A normal teenager, enjoying life. One day on his journey home he was in a terrible car accident. The car rolled over several times in the air, and each time fell on the side where Eldos was sitting. When he got out of the car and tried to sit on the ground but he could not hold his weight and fell. The driver fled the scene and didn’t even call an ambulance. The accident left Eldos completely paralysed from the neck down and destroyed his dreams of university in an instant.

There were many things I loved about Kazakhstan, but it didn’t take long for me to realise it is a shamefully bleak country to be disabled in. After the accident there was more than the physical and psychological effects of the car crash to deal with, the social judgement  and the financial burden of becoming disabled had a staggering impact Eldos and his family. Adding to their pain the doctors told them that if he lived for another six years that would be a ‘good’ result.

The family did not want to believe this and promised themselves they’d do all they could to get their son back on his feet. His mother left her job as an engineer to care for him. His family learned to make injections and IVs, treat bed sores and found someone who could provide professional therapeutic massage to help his recovery. With the help of his close family network Eldos found exercises on the internet and physical therapy movements on YouTube. After six months of persistent self-diagnosed therapy (they received no health care from the state) he could move his fingers and sit up right with support.

With their confidence boosted, his family became bolder with their plans and looked for ways they could ‘put him back on his feet’. They found details of specialist equipment and simulators on the internet, but such equipment cost millions. The family could never get that kind of money so they began to replicate the expensive equipment they had read about in a DIY fashion. It was trial and error, but they developed their own ‘simulators’ for crawling, knee movements and to work the pelvis.

A short video of the story- it’s in Russian! 

After two years Eldos, the man who previously could not even move, started to walk again. It was a huge victory for the family and his Father cried with happiness at the event. But the most inspiring – and social entrepreneurial – part of this story is that they did not stop there. They were determined to utilise the skills they’d learnt over the last two years to help others. They secured 350 square meters in a new building in the center of the city and set up ‘Asar Training Center’ where people could access the simulators they had made.

Eldos can now stand and walk with the help of a frame.

Eldos can now stand and walk with the help of a frame.

People came from all over Kazakhstan for massage, physical therapy services and to access the twenty simulators they had made. Helping many make their first movements, some take their first steps, and giving everyone access to a welcoming non-judgmental space. To date they have worked with over 170 people and for many of their visitors their trip to the training center has been the first time they have left the house in years.

A year and half after setting up their center Eldos and his family now employ professional staff and have a sustainable membership model. However, they have now identified a new problem: a lack of accessible and affordable accommodation for their visitors. All visitors currently have to rent an apartment in the city at an additional cost to them each time they visit Asar. So the new plan is to build a much larger rehabilitation center for the disabled with a gym, a swimming pool, accessible accommodation and even facilities for horse riding. Architects have helped them draw up plans for project, and the local mayor has gifted half hectare of land for them to build on. They are currently seeking support and funding to make these plans a reality.

Eldos looks over the architect plans for the new rehabilitation center.

Eldos looks over the architect plans for the new rehabilitation center.

Eldos has already had an incredible journey, his persistence has been tested to an unbelievable degree and now he’s taken on the bold role of trying to make things better for disabled people across Kazakhstan. I wanted to share his story because it left me feeling so inspired and totally in awe of what he has achieved. I would love to see his project get the funding it needs (they need approximately $150,000 for the next stage of the project) so if anyone reading this is feeling generous please get in touch, I’ll happily connect you!

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