Empowering Young People in Post-Conflict Areas of Kyrgyzstan
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan supported the creation of 19 youth centres around Kyrgyzstan in 2011 and 2012. Most of them were opened in areas caught up infear and loathing following the 2010 inter-ethnic conflict. The centres started by teaching local young people how to smile again, and are now known for shaping young talent and inspiration. These are the trip notes from visits tothree centres in Jalalabad Province.
The Youth Centre in Nooken District is a Place Where All Ideas Come True
The Nooken Centre is located in the remote villageof Masy. Despite the long distances involved, young people attend from throughout the district. This summer the main initiative is a business grants competition organised by Bishkek Business Club. The centre has the highest number of shortlisted candidates. Ten would-be entrepreneurswillsoon be heading for IssykKul, the beautiful lake that has chosen to host the final selection of business plans. Each of the candidates haselaborated a $500 business plan. The plansinclude setting up a greenhouse to grow vegetables, establishing a chicken farm and opening a sewing workshop for children’s clothes and bedding, to satisfy a chronically unmet need in nearby villages.
In the one year of the centre’s existence, young people have learnedto believe in their own energy and possible changes. SanabarTashtemirova, the centre’s 22-year old coordinator came from the civil service. She said, “In my previous job, I had to do what my boss told meand was exhausted by endless reports about what had beendone and, sometimes, what had not been done. Now my life has changed. Here I do what I really want, and can I realise any of my ideas. I see results. I see young people changing”.
Most of the centre volunteers point to changes in themselves. The story of Aziz from Kyzyl Tuu village is the most remarkable though. He used to wash cars, but was better known for bullying other young people. He was invited to the centre but still continued to bully. Fragile Sanabar was afraid of him, a tall athletic man. She kept thinking and discussing with the other volunteers how to approach him. Finally, they decided to appoint him head of one of the volunteerteams. Caught by surprise, Aziz engaged in his new role with a sense of duty. “For the first time, I saw that people were not afraid of me, but actually respected me,” he revealed a month later. He turned out to be a talented organiser. He organised numerous initiatives: cleaning streets and the garden near the Centre, and inviting other young people to come to the Centre and learn computer skills and languages. The respect of his friends inspired him to do the most difficult parts of their work.
The centre now reminds one of a hive of young people mingling and discussing their ideas. “Whocould even have dreamedofit a year ago!” exclaimed Sanabar. “At the beginning there was fierce opposition to any joint activities by young people of different ethnic backgrounds. They used to say ‘I will not sit beside him or her.’ Now everybody seemsto have forgotten. Most of the business projects shortlisted for the upcoming business grant competition were developed by cross-ethnic groups of young people. United by common plans and numerous ideas, andencouraged by their previous success, none of them can remember or want to remember that time”.
In all the training initiatives at the centre new volunteers make up at least 30 per cent of participants.They are eager to apply their knowledge and skills for the sake of change and wellbeing in their neighbourhood by joiningthe growing army of those who link realisation of their ideas and talents with the youth centre, and cannot imagine their lives without it.
The Youth Centre in Bazarkorgon – Whatever We Do, We Do it Well
The BazarkorgonYouth Centre is headed by 28 year old ErnisSatinbaev. He is a lawyer by training, but he could never fully realise his potential as he used to be shy and diffident. When he was invited to be acentre coordinator, after completing the various courses on leadership and communication he learnt to be a good spokesperson to his great surprise, and soon learnedhow to keep the interest of large audiences. “To be communicable and sociable was my secret dream, and now it has come true. I am confident that my desire and efforts led me to success,” he shared. His self-confidence and enthusiasm are echoed in all the centre’s activities.
Their “Start Change from Yourself” t-shirts are already known throughout the neighbourhood. One day they appeared in a dilapidatedlocal park, and soon weeds and worn-down grass were transformed into blooming flowers. After a flood in Kengesh and Pervoe Maya villages, a group in the same t-shirts came to help. Local families still remember the names of the enthusiastic young men and women who “arrived as if from heaven” when their houses were full of mud and their windows and doors broken, with none of them dreaming that any outside help would come.
“We always do our best,” said the young people when asked how they managed to perform such miracles. Perhaps that is why even a one month IT course providedgreat results. Ainuska and Gulzada from Beshikvillage were invited to teach computer science at schools, and their coursematewas employed by a local power station as IT specialist. For Anara, a short business planning course was enough to open a beauty shop. This is a special salon where she employs young women who had been victims of bride kidnapping and were later abandoned, often with children.
The key initiative now is a forum theatre. The young people are learning the basis of theatre art to use it to address social issues. Bride kidnapping is one of these issues. They wholeheartedly believe that the forumtheatre will engage more young people around important subjectsand even these thorny problems will be vanquished by the people in the white t-shirts.
The Youth Centre in Suzak District – Steering the Young Force for Good
Suzak district is the biggest district in Jalalabad province. Almost half the 250,000 populationare aged 14-35. Their centre was opened in late autumn 2011, and soon after the young volunteers decided to open another,without asking a single penny from donors. The second centre was opened in a remote village called Jashasyn.
The two centres work in parallel and coordinate their activities. Their first initiative was to help adolescents from remote villages who were about to leave school. The coordinator Jengish Kanimetov stated: “Our school graduates very seldom continue their education. This is mainly because there is anacute shortage of teachers. Many disciplines are not taught at all.” The volunteers mobilised top teachers from the district centre and brought them to disadvantaged schools. Children studied with enthusiasm and perseverance, often till late at night. Many of them regained their confidence and some decided to try to enter higher educational institutions.
The centres’ collaboration with schools was boosted when one of the volunteers was invited to head one of the schools in the district. Sirajiddin Ismailov, just 27 years old, became the director of Jumanazarovaschool,which has400 pupils. His friends decided to help him and organised a marathon which raised 300,000 soms (nearly $6,500). The old school building will be renovated and new furniture purchased. “We now want to raise funds to buy asecurity camera to be installed in the school. We think it will help stop bullying and increase the quality of teaching,” revealed one of the initiators.
The portfolio of achievements also includessuccess stories of the construction of water running facilities for the whole of Kaduvillage, andvolunteer assistance in villagesin the Kara Dary area which suffered from mudflow. However you cannot hear much about what has already been done. All the talk is about future plans, which include bringing light to the main streets of Kadu village and opening a greenhouse, as well as other bright ideas.
“It is becoming clear to everyone that young people are a real force,” said the coordinator. “There is also a danger here. Now that local council electionsare approaching, we should do everything possible to stop politicians using us as a tool for manipulation. This is the role of our centres: to make sure that the young blood is used for good things”, concluded Jengish.
While UNICEF is seeking additional funds to further assist the young people, 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. The foundations are there. The confidence and self-belief are difficult to kill. A little more assistance could help make changes come just a bit quicker!