This is our fifth edition of our ISLP alumni newsletter.                 VISIT OUR SITE  |  DONATE


"Life is but the memories we've created"

- Sully Erna

Dear Friends,

How was your 2016?  Life-changing, revolutionary, or quiet and predictable?  Do you like analyzing and making conclusions about your life in the passed year?  Do you have any new year's resolutions?  I think answering these questions is crucial if we want to be mindful of our own lives.  It's crucial if we want to make changes about how we live.

Personally I had quite an eventful year. Lots of different events, some of them were happy, some - not so much. But all of them gave me so many insights and so much inspiration!  What has this year taught me?  I would say, think and dwell on less, do more.  Also, it proved once again that I love helping people in their darkest of times when they have nowhere to turn to.  It is my calling, indeed.

I have made a resolution/wish map for the upcoming year - just curious how it will all turn out to be in reality because life and God never stop to edit our wishes for our best.

Would you dare sharing your stories? :)

Merry Christmas, dear friends, and Happy New Year 2017!
Dasha Tailakova, Editor

Developing our Alumni Community

By Marshall Christensen and Dan Ballast

Happy New Year!  We wish that this year would be a year that you can live with great joy, purpose and meaning in your life.

If you are reading this right now, most likely that is because you are a Co-Serve alumnus and our programs played some role in your life.  We are so glad you are even taking the time to read this.  We really want to stay in touch with you and figure out how to do more to learn from your experiences while we also share our own experiences about servant leadership. As Dasha shared above, we truly would love to hear from you and learn more about your story.

Over the last year, we have begun an effort to interview our alumni so we can share their stories with you.  You can see some of these first stories on our Alumni Page. We are including three of those stories in this newsletter - for you to enjoy.  We hope these stories inspire you as much as they do us.

We would love to talk with you and hear your story!  If you would be interested in telling your story to us, just respond to this e-mail and let us know.  We (Dan or Marshall) will arrange a time to talk to you - either in person in your country or by Skype.

Also, as we shared previously, Sandie Burch is helping us this year to figure out the best way to stay in touch with you.  Sandie is working to contact all of our alumni, and find out their latest e-mail, Facebook, VKontakte, or other information.  Sandie is also trying to learn the best way to stay engaged with you about servant leadership topics.  If you hear from Sandie, please take some time to respond to her.  If you have never heard from Sandie, please write to her and share your latest contact information with her at


Almira (front center in blue) attends the
Servant Leadership Principles Course at
KAFU in 2006.

Peace in the Storms of Life

The Story of Almira Kurmangaliyeva, KAFU ISLP program participant, 2005-2006

As a business woman and mother of three, one might expect Almira to be flying from one meeting to another and from one family crisis to the next. Not so. Almira is a calm and quiet presence in the midst of any storm. Her manner conveys inner peace, even when life is hectic. Her smile and tender spirit radiate to everyone around her.

Those remarkable qualities were evident even while she attended Co-Serve’s International Servant Leadership Principles course at the Kazakh-American Free University. She was one of the "Lady Leaders" in the class of 2006.

Today she owns two businesses in Ust-Kamenogorsk and assists her husband in running a third business. Before they married, Almira’s husband, who emigrated from Turkey to Kazakhstan, told her she would not work or even complete her university degree after they were married. His traditional role of the wife in marriage did not cause rebellion in the heart of this quiet leader. Rather than argue with him about her future, she used gentle persuasion, showing him another way. "His attitude changed," she says with a slight smile.

Almira started a home goods shop called Evim, importing furniture, decorations and souvenirs from Turkey.  Now she employees five people in the shop and has the distribution rights to sell products in all of Kazakhstan.  Her early success inspired the idea of expanding the business across the border, into Novosibirsk, Russian.  Unfortunately, the timing was not good.  The downing of a Russian war plane by Turkey in 2015 resulted in a hostile business environment and the business had to shut down.



Didar with his students at KAFU.

Student Success: The Measure of a Teacher

The Story of Didar Muratuli, KAFU Teacher of Information Technology

Didar always seems to be smiling.  His disposition is positive.  He likes being a teacher in the Technology Department at the Kazakh-American Free University (KAFU).  And he loves his students.  He wants what is best for his students, especially a quality education.

Three years ago Didar attended the International Servant Leadership Program for teachers.  The principles of servant leadership confirmed what his heart told him about teaching:  “My role is to help support, not force my students.”  When they achieve their best, such as winning awards at the academic Olympics, he shares their joy and celebrates their success.

Didar knows that teachers who practice servant leadership must often “go the second mile.”  For example, he recalls a time when students in his class told him about a student who was skipping class sessions.  When asked why, the student claimed that the cause was related to health problems.  Other students told Didar that this young man had recently broken up with his girlfriend.  He went to talk with the student.  By going to the student, and helping him realize that his future was at stake, Didar was able to persuade him to evaluate his priorities and get back into class.  He followed Didar’s advice because he trusted his teacher.

Didar places great emphasis upon people and relationships, two of the core values of servant leadership.  This means that as a teacher he must care as much about a student with a low socio-economic status as the one whose family has privilege and prestige in society.  He strives to be a model to all of his students, demonstrating that each student has great value.  As he says, “The influence of a teacher comes from one’s example.   In our department teachers share ideas and we bring students the things they need to grow.  If a student needs our help as advisors, we stay with them.”



Anya with her students at KAFU.

Modeling Servant Leadership as a Teacher

The Story of Anya Smagina, KAFU Teacher of English and KAFU Student Center Director

"I’m a lucky person."  Looking back on the years since she was born on September 12, 1990, that is the way Anya thinks of herself.  Given the trials and obstacles she has endured, her positive outlook on life is remarkable.

On the day she was born in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan, there was a big explosion at one of the city’s mining processing plants.  A huge cloud drifted over the city and the air was so polluted people could not see more than ten meters.  The smell of chemicals was terrible.  Doctors were so concerned that they refused to release baby Anya with her mother.  Even transferring to the village hospital where her parents lived was not an option.  “I was a very weak baby; my skin was thin and blue,” Anya was told years later.  After a week in hospital, her father took her quickly to the village so that she could finally breath fresh air.  Her doctors and parents assumed that she would always be sickly.   Indeed, she remembers being very sick as a child.

Anya is profoundly grateful that she was able to grow up partially in a village.  Today, as a twenty-six year old young woman, she has only positive thoughts about memories of village life.   At the edge of the village there was a river and a forest.  That is where her granddad took her to learn about survival.   “If there is an apocalypse of any kind, stick to me because I know how to survive.  I know what mushrooms to eat.  I know the berries that are edible.  I can make a fire without matches.  I can catch fish; I can hunt.”  Her experiences as a child made her strong, she says.

Her grandfather was her role model as a child.  He taught Anya survival skills.  Early in life she took the mushrooms she picked in the forest and sold them at her roadside stand along the village road, thus providing her own money to spend.  The family had a garden where they raised vegetables as well as strawberries and raspberries.  The family had no animals, but they traded what they raised for meat and eggs with the neighbors.


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