Russian Federation

Summer youth camps promote peace in the North Caucasus

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© UNICEF video
Over 150 children from diverse backgrounds in the North Caucasus attended a 10-day summer camp designed to promote ethnic tolerance and friendship.

By John Varoli

MOSCOW, Russia, 24 September 2007 – Tolerance, peace and living in a multi-ethnic society were the themes of five summer camps organized by UNICEF and local authorities in four of Russia’s North Caucasian republics – Ingushetia, Dagestan, North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. Over 500 children took part in the programme this year.

At the Peace and Tolerance Summer Camp in Dagestan, held on the shores of the Caspian Sea near the 5,000-year-old city of Derbent, 150 children from diverse backgrounds learned to work together as a team based not on ethnic identity, but on the goal of forging a common future.

By sharing and celebrating their different cultures, the children absorbed the camp’s key message of mutual respect. In the evenings, teams presented their republics’ best music and dance traditions. The programme not only helped the children to accept and understand their differences but also revealed how much the people of Russia’s North Caucasus region have in common.

Need for tolerance

Since the early 1990s, each republic in the North Caucasus has been touched by ethnic and military conflicts. Hostilities between the Ossetians and the Ingush, for example, left thousands dead and tens of thousands displaced.

After the Beslan school siege three years ago, when over 1,200 people were taken hostage by terrorists and over 330 were killed – most of them children – UNICEF had to consider ways to confront the ensuing escalation in violence.

The Peace and Tolerance Summer Camp project, which came out of a direct partnership with regional governments, has been in place for three consecutive years. The Ministry of Education in Dagestan has supported the project so strongly that peace and tolerance are now officially included in the local school curriculum.

“While we also teach tolerance and peace in schools, at the camps children have practical experience about what this means,” explained UNICEF’s Head of Office in the North Caucasus, Rashed Mustafa. “They come into contact with their peers from other nationalities, and this strengthens their belief that tolerance is both needed and is possible.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Participants in the Peace and Tolerance Summer Camp on the Caspian Sea perform regional dances.

Fighting stereotypes

Many young participants at the camp admitted that their perceptions of their peers are often coloured by stereotypes – but 10 days at the Peace and Tolerance Summer Camp helped erode those biases.

“We used to think that Ingush and Chechens were very violent people, but now we see that’s not the case,” said one 15-year-old camper. “We should not fight with them, and we need to all get along and respect each other. They are just like us.”

“It’s probably too late to try to change something about adult people,” said another camper from Grozny, the capital of Chechnya.

‘Leaders of tomorrow’

“I think it is very important that camps like this are trying to change our attitude and educate us to be tolerant already at a young age,” said Milana, a camper whose family had to flee Chechnya when the first military campaign began there. They returned 10 years later.

“I didn’t see all the horrors of the war, but later, when we returned, my classmates told me what they saw,” recalled Milana, whose goal now is to become a political leader. Some of the tragic stories she heard were just too much to bear, and anti-Russian feelings became a problem for her.

Now, the training at the summer camp has helped Milana deal with these emotions. “The lessons we learnt here will have a direct impact on the future of our region,” she said. “The children here are the leaders of tomorrow.”


 

 

Video

19 September 2007:
UNICEF’s Maria Gorbachova reports on the Peace and Tolerance Summer Camp in Dagestan, Russian Federation.
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