September 2005, Young people in Kyrgyzstan learn how to get involved and take action
It was a special day for the Children’s Centre in Kelechek, a district of internal migrants near Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. All the children - most of whom had to work at the nearest market - came on time.
They were excited about selecting a girl and a boy from the group to present their first project. It would be a first move away from depressing Kelechek-2005 towards vibrant Kelechek-2010. Without benefit of financial support, the project aimed to convince local people and the local administration to clean up the rubbish that caused so many health and other problems in the district.
Medamin-kyzy-Ziyagul an active if shy girl of 14, was one of the children selected. She was to go on a one-week workshop at the lake resort of Issyk-kul, organized by UNFPA, UNICEF and UNV for youth organizations. She travelled together with 14-year-old Jembek-uulu-Aziz.
As the youngest participant, she felt a bit lost at first among the 23 other kids (Apart from Aziz) from all over the republic, ranging in age from 14 to 24 and all with different experiences. But her feelings changed immediately after the first session when the children got talking about their problems and projects: a child’s right to education; street children and working children; desperate parents and alcoholism. Differences vanished and everything seemed familiar to her.
Right on the first day, Ziyagul became close friends with Janyl Tilenbaeva, a 17-year-old girl who lived in Archa-Beshik, a similar district of internal migrants on the other side of Bishkek. Janyl told her how they had managed to cope with their rubbish problem, how they opened “Kaibergen” Youth Club with the help of UNICEF, and how children and adults became active in improving their surroundings and addressing children’s needs. Janyl described trainings that she and her friends in the Youth Club could help run at the Kelechek’s Children’s Centre. Ziyagul described how Kelechek young people had broken the silence around their community’s needs by taking active part in the National Child Poverty Conference last year. With the help of UNICEF, they had compiled their appeals and life stories into a bookl and handed it over to the assembled high officials. After that, a new road was built in the district and a school bus was promised to get children to school.
The girls had a lot in common and hung on to each other’s every word. When they got back home, they would share their new ideas with their friends there. By the end of the workshop, the friendship of the two girls produced a new project that would establish cooperation between their districts. This was something never before undertaken in the 10-year history of the 23 districts of Bishkek.
Of course, a week among friends -and amid the warm waves of the wonderful mountain lake! - flew by. But during that week, the children learnt how to better draft projects and the workshop also opened up new directions.to pursue. The organizers will closely follow up on the implementation of the projects and, based on the results, invite the best groups to submit their new proposals for grants.
Neither Ziyagul nor Janyl have yet thought about getting grants for their project. Right now they are focused on children’s ability to change the world by getting together and showing adults that, if a person has the will, she or he, young or old, can live better. “Our parents already support us and are happy that we have started our projects, but they still need time to really believe in what we are doing and to join us,” says Ziyagul.