ASSEL RYSMENDIEVA Assel advocates for young people leaving care Assel Rysmendieva (24) from Almaty, Kazakhstan is an accountant by profession, but her volunteer work promoting and protecting the rights of children in alternative care is just as important to her. Her greatest wish is to prevent children from losing parental care and to make society more tolerant toward children with special needs. Assel Rysmendiyeva. Photo: SOS Children´s Villages It is the love and support Assel received from her own SOS Children’s Village mother that inspires her to be a role model for other young people. Not only does she advocate for their rights, but so far she has helped 40 young people leaving alternative care to successfully settle independently. When Assel’s SOS mother, Kuliya Kuandykova, accepted her as her own child at the age of 7, she gave her “a life full of dreams, expectations, strength and love,” she said. Now, even though she works full time as an accountant and auditor, she still tries to be a “Kuliya” to many young people who “call me at any time and share their troubles or good news”. Assel, doing the work she is so passionate about: helping children thrive. Photo: SOS Children´s Villages Her advocacy work stretches beyond the borders of Kazakhstan. She was active in SOS Children’s Villages International’s I Matter Campaign, which raised awareness about young people leaving care. In 2012, she addressed members of the European Parliament and the European Commission about leaving care issues, and was also part of the team who developed a youth-friendly version of the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children in Russian. After participating in a peer research project by SOS Children’s Villages International, Assel applied for and was awarded a grant to do more research on the topic. She coordinated a project that involved 100 respondents. “I am motivated by the desire to make the life of another person more valuable. You can achieve anything if you not only apply the will, but also the energy and the hard work,” Assel said. “Assel is an incredibly strong and positive woman. She is always willing to help and support others. As advisor, friend or big sister, she fulfils her role of mentor joyfully and heartily. Her top priority is to be available for others, to share her experiences and support her peers wherever she can.” – Véronique Lerch, Head of Liaison & Advocacy, Programme & Strategy, SOS Children’s Villages International.