Young people bring positive change to a post-conflict area of Kyrgyzstan
By Galina Solodunova
KADU, Kyrgyzstan, 9 October 2012 - Erkin Japashev says he spent most of his early teenage years engaging in mindless village bouts.
In recent years, he has turned his life around. He is now a youth leader and a source of inspiration for schoolchildren and adolescents in this small village in Central Asia.
A community in transition
Kadu village is in Suzak, a district in Jalalabad, a province that has the world’s largest natural growing walnut forest. The school drop-out rate is high, as is the unemployment rate for youth.
As Erkin grew older and decided to take the long journey to personal change, his community would undergo a painful transition of its own. The region was marked by inter-ethnic tensions, which erupted into violence in 2010.
Education and economic opportunities would become even more difficult to find after the violence.
Youth centres create opportunity
In autumn 2011, a youth centre opened in Suzak – one of 19 such centres around Kyrgyzstan set up in 2011 and 2012 by the Ministry of Youth, Labour and Employment, local groups and UNICEF.
Most of these centres are located in areas like Erkin’s – caught up in fear, loathing and mistrust. UNICEF has provided technical support for joint activities, ensuring that young people have the space to be creative. Centres provide such lessons as basic computer skills and English, as well as discussions on urgent issues such as unemployment, inclusion, volunteerism, peace-building, conflict prevention and civic participation.
The centres are now known for shaping young talent, fostering teamwork, bringing different communities together and providing young people with skills to better their lives.
Erkin signed up for a computer course at the centre and became an active member. As he participated in centre activities, he began to meet more people, gained skills in negotiating and persuasion and identified more opportunities.
“I noticed the centre’s slogan ‘start change with yourself’ led to real changes in many teenagers’ lives. I began to involve schoolchildren with other young people from my village with the centre,” he says.
Erkin’s transition compelled him to try to effect change. One way was to confront the water situation.
A call for water
Obtaining clean water in Kadu was traditionally a challenge. For as long as someone Erkin’s age can remember, villagers would draw water from a spring at the top of the village, at the fringe of the walnut forest, and carry it down in buckets and on donkeys. This work took up a lot of time, and was usually done by children and women.
Erkin took on the challenge. “My appeals to local authorities went unanswered,” he says. “My original plans proved to be too expensive to carry out. Everyone kept saying this has been the way for generations. Nobody wanted change.” He persevered.
He met a parliamentarian and followed up with many written requests for support. The legislator finally agreed to allocate funding for 1,360 metres of hose pipes to connect the village with the spring.
Erkin also gathered other village residents and persuaded them to contribute financially. In total, he collected 80,000 som (USD1,700). A local benefactor sponsored the purchase of a 10-tonne water storage tank and a water filter.
Youth take charge
Next in the pipeline for the youth of Kadu is an information centre. At present, villagers have to travel 50 km to Suzak if they need to make photocopies. Residents ask local taxi drivers to copy one or two documents, which is expensive. Opening the information centre would not only make printing and copying services available, but would also serve to train young people in computer and other relevant skills.
There are also plans to install street lamps for night lighting.
UNICEF is seeking additional funds to assist the young people further. In the meantime, the young people themselves are not waiting.
“Some of the centres have already developed their own plans for achieving sustainability through small membership payments or engaging local authorities. It has a good chance of continuing, as the foundations are already here,” says UNICEF Kyrgyzstan country representative Jonathan Veitch.
Suzak Youth Centre Coordinator Jengish Kanimetov adds, “It is becoming clear to everyone that young people are a real force. This is the role of our centres: to make sure that the young blood is used for good things.”