By Nargyz Bitimbay ’20 (Kyzylorda, Kazakhstan, placed by PAX in Palmyra, ME)  

One FLEX alumna aims to use her passion for debate to help make the practice more accessible for teenagers across Central Asia through her project, DebateLink.  

Founded in 2021 by then-high-school-student Aruzhan Sandibekova ’22 and her classmate Asemai Kauas, DebateLink is an online debate community that welcomes all levels of debaters. It offers free or deposit-based practice, debate rounds, workshops, and lectures on various debate-related topics in English and aims to promote debates among the youth of Central Asia, with a focus on high school students from underserved backgrounds. Through this platform, youth not only learn about debating, but also explore topics such as feminism, international trading, moral philosophy, and so on. 

“When I was on the board of directors at a volunteer organization, I learned about debates and became interested,” shares Aruzhan. “I found online courses to gain foundational knowledge on debates, which is where I met the other teammates of DebateLink.

When my teammates and I were novice speakers, we realized that it was hard to start debating without being a part of a debate club at one’s school or university or paying for costly debate courses. Discussing this issue, we came up with the idea of creating an online debate community where students could find themselves teammates or information about tournaments. Our organization’s primary objective is to increase engagement in debates among students in Kazakhstan and Central Asia, improving their self-education.”   

To date, the platform has conducted more than 500 matches, 30 lectures, three online charity tournaments, one debate academy, one global webinar with 300 participants, and one in-person conference, with support from the FLEX Alumni Grants program. 

In 2023, Aruzhan was awarded a FLEX Alumni Grant to develop her debate community and take it to a new level.  

“Having won a FLEX Alumni grant, we wanted to leave a sustainable impact on those who… otherwise would not have gotten such an opportunity,” explains Aruzhan. The DebateLink team created a three-step plan to help involve students from a wider range of socio-economic backgrounds and geographic areas in debates. The first step was to contact students from rural areas and smaller cities, run a selection process, and provide successful candidates with free online training to help them get a basic grasp of debates. The training videos were recorded and/or translated by the organizational team and prerecorded by advanced speakers. 

After giving a theoretical base, the DebateLink team organized an opportunity for the students to practice through an online, two-day international charity tournament on July 22-23 involving seven countries and two leagues (English and Kazakh). Some of the motions included, “This House Regrets the spread of AI into public use” and “This House Would oblige to speak Kazakh fluently for obtaining citizenship and residence permit in Kazakhstan.” The top three teams won prizes such as access to an online college preparation course. The team also raised $750 to purchase supplies and donate them to a kindergarten in Ukraine. The delivery of the supplies was organized by the two founding members, Aruzhan and Asemai. 

The last step was the in-person national conference held on August 19 in Almaty, which gathered 50 students from five different regions. The most active participants were provided with a fully paid trip. The conference included speeches and networking activities inspired by FLEX-Ability workshops and many FLEX events. Aruzhan invited speakers from different fields, such as marketing, STEM, education, and project management. As a result, participants learned about leading their own projects, formed collaborations, gained insights about university admissions, and were introduced to opportunities in business and STEM fields. For those who could not attend the conference but passed the selection process, the team set up an online livestream, which engaged an additional 21 people.   

“It was heartwarming to see that what we do makes others happy. Hard work paid off as we saw the smiles on the participants’ faces,” says Aruzhan. As for the future of DebateLink, Aruzhan shares, “We are currently working on launching a telegram bot that will make the process of learning debates significantly more accessible and customized. Generally, we will keep focusing on helping underprivileged students discover new opportunities and interests.”   

DebateLink has not only opened new avenues for debate enthusiasts in Kazakhstan but has also significantly contributed to developing debating skills among teenagers in the Central Asian region. More broadly, by creating an inclusive online platform and organizing events like the recent national debate conference, Aruzhan and her team have fostered a sense of empowerment and self-education among youth. 

Featured Alumni: 

Aruzhan Sandibekova ’22 (Almaty, Kazakhstan, placed by ASSE in Port Angeles, WA) 

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