Mukhamet Shayakhmetov was born into a small nomadic community on the Kazakh steppes in 1922. He grew up as a child rearing horses and livestock, wandering across large tracts of land with the family group as his people had done since time immemorial. When the Soviet policy of collectivization was introduced in 1929, all of his senior relatives were called off to work in factories. In due course, he himself was transported to a camp. He was conscripted to fight for the Red Army in Stalingrad, and returned after the war at the age of 21. He trained as a teacher, went on to took part in the Second World War. Since then he has taught in schools in Kazakhstan, and played an active role in national education policy.