Nur-Sultan’s first free social store revives Kazakh tradition of mutual help, support

“The first store was opened in Shymkent last year. We opened the second one in the capital on Feb. 23, 2019. The idea to open the store was to revive the Kazakh tradition of asar (together in Kazakh), which encourages mutual help and support,” said Qarqyn.kz Deputy Director Berik Arystanbayev.

Individuals may visit the store once a month and take up to three items; in a family of five, each person may select three things. Items such as strollers, car seats, cribs and bicycles are not included as part of the total. Families in need are permitted to take items at any time regardless of whether they have already reached their limit. They may even file a request with their contact information and are then notified if a particular item is donated.

“Recently, we had to unfortunately make a new temporary regulation – all visitors have to donate 500 tenge (US$1.30) for the operation of the 200-square-metre store, which requires 900,000 tenge (US$2,325) a month. This includes rent and administrative expenses. Thus, our clients contribute to the store, which would usually function on 80 percent of what our director earns from his private business, which is currently stopped,” Arystanbayev added.

Photo credit: Diana Vassilenko.

Qarqyn.kz has more than 30 visitors a day from all parts of the country. People also regularly bring donations, which they are encouraged to sort, hang and display. The store has four full-time volunteers, while students and schoolchildren from the Astana Zhastary Youth Resource Centre help at least three times a week. A proposed small wage may serve to encourage additional student workers.

“We witness sad cases, when people who donate to our store end up being those in need. There was a mother of twins, whose apartment burned down completely. The family ended up with nothing but the clothes they had on. The mother came to our store and took everything she needed until she’d overcome the difficulties. On the other hand, there are very fortunate cases. There was a single mother with six children who was a regular visitor of our store; one day she stopped coming and the other, she came to bring whatever she no longer needed. It made us happy to see that those in need become those who help. The Kazakh tradition of asar has truly been revived,” said Arystanbayev.

Though most donations are used, clothing shops such as Syndicate Boutique provide new items. All tags are removed, so people can choose on need and not worth.

“Occasionally, people donate money to our shop. All the furniture we have is fully or partially sponsored by kind people. For example, we paid for the materials needed to make shoe shelves and a furniture company made them for free. All of the clothes racks were also paid for. Even so, we were on the verge of closing down at the start of August as we stopped receiving financial support. We really hope people from around the world, people who can and want to help, will donate money or become legal custodians, so we can continue helping those in need,” he added.

The store, located on Syghanaq Street 15, is open daily from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. and closed on Mondays.