“We need to be ready”
Working with governmental and non-governmental partners, UNICEF helps young leaders in Terter district help to build resilience in their communities, affected by the conflict.
Rovshan Ibrahimov, 13, is a 7th grade student at the secondary school in Terter, about 330 km from the Azerbaijan capital Baku. He has heard many stories of violence and conflict, as he has been raised in a community struggling to adjust to the chaos that ensued after the conflict around the Karabach area. Last April he became a witness of war himself – when intense fighting broke out around his hometown on what is known as the Line of Contact around Karabakh.
That April morning he and his family woke up to the sounds of shells and saw a missile hit the yard of his school. The school is currently closed for restoration, with traces of shrapnel still visible on the walls of the classrooms. Rovshan continues his studies in School No 1 in Terter, where all the students of his school were moved after the fighting.
Rovshan was elected as a member of the Youth Advisory Council (YAC) – a body of young people selected to advise local officials on issues of public policy which are felt to directly affect young people. YACs were created in Azerbaijan as part of the ‘Azerbaijani Youth Advocates Programme’ (AYAP), a joint initiative of UNICEF and the International Eurasia Press Fund (IEPF). Through this initiative the local authorities and young people come together to identify the most salient youth issues in their districts and plan joint actions to address them.
After the escalation of the conflict last year, UNICEF and its partners revived the AYAP in the three districts along the Line of Contact with an added resilience building component, supported through Dutch Government contributions to UNICEF’s Global Thematic Humanitarian funds. As a result, 60 young leaders were supported to reach out to conflict-affected children, working with community members to share information on how to stay safe in the event of future crises, and taking concerns and issues from community members to local authority representatives for action.
A special agreement was reached with the Azerbaijani National Mine Action Agency (ANAMA) to provide training to the YAC members in support of teachers leading Mine Risk Education classes in the affected districts. UNICEF also partnered with the ChildFund Alliance to use the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) for Children as a guide to train YAC members in facilitating DRR sessions with their peers.
“UNICEF believes that children and youth are a major part of community-level responses to disasters and should play an important role in risk reduction,” says Aida Ailarova, UNICEF’s Youth and Adolescent Development Officer in Azerbaijan.
Studies show that many young people demonstrate remarkable resilience and strength in the face of harsh war or post-war conditions.
Rovshan dreams of becoming a diplomat. “As a diplomat I will have the power to prevent conflicts all around the world, abolish all weapons and share the lands equally among all people…then people will stop fighting,” he says.
Rovshan feels that his engagement with the AYAP programme has left him more confident and better equipped to deal with an emergency situation, such as the one he experienced in April 2016.
He eagerly shares his experience with his peers and talks them through the steps they need to take to stay safe in case there is a conflict escalation.
“We need to be ready, if it happens again – and the training we have received really helps to prepare us,” he says, referring to the disaster preparedness trainings, part of the UNICEF-supported initiative.