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Young people help build lasting peace after conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan

© UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/2011/Toktosheva
Avazbek-kyzy Nurzada and Aida Ahmedova prepare for a debate tournament on the topic of peace in Osh, southern Kyrgyzstan. UNICEF-supported youth clubs are working toward a lasting reconciliation.

'The State of the World's Children 2011 – Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity,' UNICEF’s new flagship report, focuses on the development and rights of more than a billion children aged 10 to 19 worldwide. This series of stories, essays and multimedia features seeks to accelerate and elevate adolescents' fight against poverty, inequality and gender discrimination.

By Galina Solodunova

OSH, Kyrgyzstan, 11 March 2011 – More than 300,000 people were displaced by civil conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan last June. The fighting caused a humanitarian crisis for more than a million people, including an estimated 400,000 children.

As part of the peace building process, youth clubs organized by non-governmental organization (NGO) Youth of Osh are carrying out small public initiatives with UNICEF support aimed at reducing social tensions and encouraging self-expression in young people.

The initiatives, like placing garbage bins in school yards and constructing benches in public parks, are filling those that volunteer with pride and a sense of community.

United by ideas

“I feel enormous happiness when I see that more people now come to the park and rest on our benches”, said Avazbek-kyzy Nurzada, one of the volunteers.

Fellow volunteer Erbol Bekbolotov, 16, also feels a sense of achievement. “I used to pay little attention to other people,” he said. His outlook has since changed radically. “I began to love my town and Kyrgyzstan. Now I feel happy when I can be helpful.”

And it’s not only their teachers and peers who have noticed. Parents and relatives have also started to take such activities more seriously. “My mum used to worry that my volunteer work took time away from my studies,” said Aida Akhmedova, 17. “But now she understands that by volunteering I also learn a lot. In the evening she asks me about my projects.”

One of the key successes of the youth clubs is that the volunteers are united by ideas, and not ethnic background or conflicts that could emerge from it. “Yes, it is important to know about your own background and the history of your ethnic group,” said Aziriet Turatbekov, 14. “But sometimes we also have to correct the mistakes made by our ancestors so that we can all be proud of our heritage.”

For Avazbek-kyzy, ethnicity does not matter at all: “I have friends of different ethnic backgrounds. Even during the events we all called each other and worried about each other.”

Desire for peace

Group discussions have brought about various initiatives. At one of their club meetings, the volunteers agreed that they needed to learn more about how to express themselves and stand up for their point of view.

They organized debate tournaments. One volunteer, Bekjan Djusupov, confessed he didn’t usually do his homework, but spent several days in the library learning about economics and history in preparation for them.

Youth of Osh Director Aijan Toktosheva said meetings were difficult at the beginning, with the young volunteers reserved and worried about the political situation and cases of revenge. What helped was a common desire to live in peace and inviting parents and teachers to the meetings.

“Step by step, we have managed to move the focus away from fear and anger, and towards developing projects,” he said. The topic of peace has now been broken down into issues of development, mutual support and respect, and is constantly on the youth club’s agenda. 

Expansion of initiatives

Continuing and expanding youth-led initiatives in southern Kyrgyzstan and across the country are crucial to ensuring youth engagement in the reconciliation process and bridging divides between different groups.

UNICEF continues to support youth-related projects and is creating more youth centres. These will focus on conflict resolution and reconciliation by creating inclusive activities in which everyone has equal opportunities to take part and contribute.

Language learning and computer training will be on offer, with the aim of increasing youths’ confidence, and improving their skills and prospects. Youth unemployment and drop-out rates in Kyrgyzstan remain high. Tolerance and peace-building training will also be provided for youth facilitators from local youth NGOs.

In all, it is hoped the continued success of UNICEF-supported projects will foster ethnic harmony among Kyrgyzstan’s younger generation, and contribute to rebuilding a new and stable community.



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