Young people in Osh build peace through volunteering, debating and sharing
by Galina Solodunova
“I want to be a diplomat, but first, I want to learn to be a good volunteer to be helpful to other people and my country” - Ariet Turatbekov (14 year old)OSH, 25 February 2011 - Small initiatives like setting up garbage bins in school yards and constructing benches in public parks unite youth volunteers and fill them with pride because they feel of use to their community. “I feel enormous happiness when I see that more people now come to the park and rest on our benches”, said Avazbek-kyzy Nurzada. These social projects are born from discussions in newly created youth clubs organized by the NGO “Youth of Osh” with the support of UNICEF. These initiatives benefit the public as well as fulfill the primary aim of the project – reducing social tensions and supporting young people in expressing themselves in the peace-building process.
When young people become volunteers, their lives change radically. “I began to love my town and Kyrgyzstan. I used to pay little attention to other people, now I feel happy when I can be helpful. I discovered that there are many active young people in my town!” said Erbol Bekbolotov, 16. “I found so many new ways to develop my intellectual and creative capacity”, shared Ariet Turatbekov, 14. Young volunteers are already recognized by teachers as well as their peers. They also feel that parents and relatives have started to take them more seriously. “My mum used to worry that my volunteer work took time away from my studies. But now she understands that by volunteering I also learn a lot. In the evening she asks me about my projects” said Aida Akhmedova, 17.
Young people are united by ideas and therefore do not focus on ethnic background or conflicts that could emerge from it. “Yes, it is important to know about your own background and the history of your ethnic group. But sometimes we also have to correct the mistakes made by our ancestors so that we can all be proud of our heritage” said Aziriet, 14, the twin brother of Ariet Turatbekov. For Nurzada, ethnicity does not matter at all; she explains: “I have friends of different ethnic backgrounds. Even during the events we all called each other and worried about each other”.
Discussions between volunteers also brought about various learning initiatives. At one of their club meetings, they agreed that they needed to learn more about how to express themselves and stand up for their point of view. They organized debate tournaments and Bekjan Djusupov confessed that he does not usually do his homework, but in preparation for the debates he spent several days in the library learning about difficult topics such as economics and history.
“At the beginning it was difficult” said Aijan Toktosheva, the director of “Youth of Osh”,“because young people were reserved and at home they often heard that the situation is insecure and cases of revenge might take place. However, what helped was our common desire to live in peace; we all want the same thing. We also invited parents and teachers to our gatherings. Step by step, we have managed to move the focus away from fear and anger and towards developing projects”. The issue of peace is not discussed anymore, as it is too broad, however, topics such as development, mutual support and respect are constantly on the youth club’s agenda.
Continuation and expansion of the initiatives in the south are crucial to ensure youth’s engagement in the reconciliation processes and to bridge divide between different groups. It is equally important to also address the situation for youth in other parts of the country as unemployment and drop-out rates are high.
UNICEF continues to support youth related projects and is currently creating youth centres in the south of the country, where conflicts took place in the summer of 2010. These will focus especially on conflict resolution and reconciliation by creating inclusive activities where all have equal opportunities to take part and contribute. On top of volunteer activities that benefit the wounded community, new skills such as language learning and computer trainings will be on offer. These will increase youths’ confidence and improve their personal prospects in the long term; all within a safe and fun environment, away from the formality of schools. Trainings on tolerance promotion and peace building will be provided for youth facilitators from local youth NGOs. These projects will foster ethnic harmony among the younger generation of the country, thus rebuilding a new and stable community.