“The Turkmenistan We Want Beyond 2015” - Children and parents as agents of changeASHGABAT, 19 April 2013 – UNICEF, being part of a UN wide initiative, has rolled out a multi-stakeholder consultative process on the post-2015 development agenda in cooperation with the Government of Turkmenistan based on the principles of open dialogue, participation, critical reflection and value of local solutions.
Children, parents of young children and local level authorities from all regions and the capital city of Ashgabat are engaged to express their vision about the future they want for themselves, their families, local communities, entire country and global humanity. The essential aspect of consultations is that there are no right or wrong views. On the contrary, its participatory nature encourages consideration of the existing socio-ecological environment people live in, while attempting to conceptualize necessary social transformations for their future well-being.
The global community is approaching the end of the Millennium Development Goals, which have made progress in children’s lives globally. Examples of this progress are translated into the saved lives of children and mothers. An estimated 287,000 maternal deaths occurred in 2010 worldwide, signifying a decline of 47% from 1990. The remarkable achievement is the fact that the number of under-five deaths worldwide has declined from nearly 12 million in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2011 (UNICEF, https://www.unicef.org/lastchild/). A new development agenda beyond 2015 will carry on achieving a world of prosperity, equity, freedom, dignity and peace.
A Turkmen boy writes an essay on the change he wants beyond 2015 - © UNICEF/Turkmenistan/2013
UNICEF Turkmenistan takes a leading role in advancing the development agenda for children and families prioritizing the issues of the early childhood development and inclusive child-friendly spaces for all children that will enable children to fully excise their rights. Jointly with its partners, UNICEF is embracing the opportunities offered by a post-2015 discourse through exploring bottom-up reflections and promoting citizenry engagement in prioritizing development issues.
The methodological framework of national consultations with children and parents has been designed based on the United Nations Development Group’s ‘What Future Do You Want’ guidelines for country dialogues and the post 2015-youth consultations toolkit. The adapted local toolkit is meant to stimulate and build the confidence in young people and children to take the role of facilitators of change by making reflections of how things are at the grassroots and shaping the future through the active contribution of their voices.
At present, consultations are reaching its culmination in Turkmenistan. Children and parents of young children from the regions of Dashoguz, Mary, Lebap, Balkan and Ahal and from Ashgabat city have already participated in consultations. The selected participatory approach has demonstrated its value in practice through responsive feedback from children and parents. Children in respective regions unveiled their genuine passion and creativity in determining their own vision and seemed truly willing to inherit the implications of decisions made today.
School children from 1 to 4 grades have expressed their views through age-appropriate qualitative method – storytelling by means of drawings. Small children love creative work and it is much easier for them to illustrate what they think. The Interactive session immerses children into the magic world, in which coloured pencils or a paintbrush became a magic wand to illuminate the future they want. After finishing their piece of art, children tell the story they put into their magical drawings, giving them meaning. Fascinatingly, despite the ambitious nature of an assignment, which may puzzle many adults, children enthusiastically and courageously rushed to fulfilling it.
Another group of children involves pupils from grades 5-7 who are asked to shape the future they want through the power of written words. After dialogue based orientation sessions about development agenda within the framework of MDGs and beyond 2015, children are asked to write a short essay summarizing their personal perspectives about their own and community transformation. Although consultations take place on the school premises, a more relaxed approach is created by the informal mode of essay administration, enabling the 5-7 graders to focus their attention on expressing their ideas rather than correct grammar. This added an additional pleasurable motivation for children to be engaged.
The oldest participants come from grade 8 and take part in the focus group discussions on the same theme around the future they would want to live in when they become grown-up citizens. It is particularly a decisive momentum for the 8 graders as their birth coincided with the development of the MDGs. This MDG-generation of young people are now at the age when they develop very rapidly physically and intellectually, as well as are in the process of forming their own identities; today they are given an ambitious task to ponder about the post-2015 development agenda that will make a direct impact on their adulthood. Obviously, teenagers see it as personal commitment to voice their views, some sounding very outspoken in their call for collective action of the global community to bring about positive change.
On the other front, parents of young children are gathered together to shed light on their aspirations about the future of their pre-school age children, as well as to discuss the all-inclusiveness of the early child development, which encompasses family environment, services and infrastructure and social protection by the State. Notably, parents did not find it overwhelming to talk about their children’s future well-being. This thinking in fact they do quite often during day-care of their children. Parents took consultations positively with a forward-looking approach that will enable the accurate positioning of early child development issues in the heart of the global post-2015 agenda.
In total, consultations are taking place in 16 secondary schools and 12 kindergartens across Turkmenistan, also reaching children and parents in some remote districts. Results of these consultations are yet to be explored and shared around. Meanwhile, initial observations of children’s and parents’ views about their future aspirations are broad ranging and constructive. They include environment issues; peace , safety and security; universal access to information, including the Internet and modern technology; quality of education and health services; healthy lifestyles; employment opportunities; enhanced social protection, and the well-being of vulnerable population groups, including children with disabilities. These are just few highlights that have come out of discussions.
Mothers of the young children come to discuss the future of their children - © UNICEF/Turkmenistan/2013
Not only children and parents are engaged into consultations. More than 150 local level authorities are participating in the survey, facilitated by the members of the parliament of Turkmenistan, to express their opinions as decision makers in shaping the sustainable development agenda beyond 2015.
Survey and qualitative data will be thoroughly analyzed and presented in the inclusive multi-stakeholder Analytical Report to highlight shared aspirations of the Turkmenistan children, parents of young children, as well as of local level authorities about the future they all strive towards beyond 2015. This outcome document will make a critical contribution to the Turkmenistan Country Report that will be shared with the global community.