Young people represent a great opportunity for the development of Azerbaijan. Although some may look at the situation of young people and see different problems (unemployment, drug use, HIV and AIDS), UNICEF looks at young people as important agents of change in their own development. More than ¼ of Azerbaijan’s population is in the very dynamic age-range of 15-29 years of age – and more than half the population is aged under 30. These are the most flexible and most energetic ages, and if they can be harnessed for the development of Azerbaijan, then all will benefit.
And yet one quarter of urban young people (aged 15-24) available for work (i.e. not in education or military service) are unemployed. How can they be reached, trained, and inspired to acts of agents for development?
UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Youth and Sports to transform the Youth Houses from occasional English or Computer training centres to places where young people gather, talk through local issues and problems, and bring them to the attention of the region’s Executive Power. We are convinced that this is good for the young people themselves, and for the community in which they live.
We are also working with some Olympic Centres to help them embrace a new business model: a model where larger numbers of young people are encouraged to use the facilities for a wide range of projects and activities, bringing communities together by using sports as a glue.
UNICEF embraces the concept of Sport for Development – using sports as a vehicle for all kinds of development activities from girls’ empowerment to life-skills training. We have worked with the International Inspiration programme (sponsored as part of lead-up to the 2012 Olympics in the UK) to train sports teachers and primary school teachers in ways to use sports to get good messages to their children, and at summer camps we used sports to convey messages to teens about how to protect themselves against HIV and AIDS, and drug use.
And new collaboration with Special Olympics and Paralympics demonstrates the integration of people with disabilities into sports and other events, to break down barriers between children who have disabilities, and those who don’t (and their parents).