Opening the Doors of Youth Centres – opening up new opportunities for the country’s most vulnerable generation
Southern Kyrgyzstan, July 2011 – “I want to take English lessons so that I will be able to get a better job” explains 17 year old Aiperi, who is waiting for her class to start in the KokJar youth centre of Nookat District, Osh Province. The 16 Youth Centres in Osh and Jalal-Abad provinces that were open two months ago by the Ministry of Youth with the support of UNICEF demonstrate young people’s eagerness to learn and improve their situation. A classic example is Aiperi who travels two km four times a week to attend Russian and English classes in the centre, as she believes this will help her in whatever she undertakes in the future. She had also signed up for computer classes, but the class was so popular that she will wait for the next course to begin in two months’ time.
It has been a year since the violent conflict between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks in June 2010, in which many of the perpetrators, as well as the victims were youths aged between 15 and 28 years old. However, even predating these events, life has not been easy for the youths living in Kyrgyzstan and they have often been criticised for being unemployed and a problem for the country’s society. With low prospects of jobs, only few attending further education, minimal access to information, and little involvement in political affairs, they can easily find themselves victims of alcoholism, drug abuse, manipulation and violence, as seen by the June 2010 events.
“These centres attract many young people, not only from this village, but also from neighbouring communities” explains Erkinbek, the KokJar youth centre’s facilitator. “The English and Computer classes are very popular and are all full, with 30 students in each class. Young people’s situation is not easy, and they have needed systems to help them on their way for a long time. This centre definitely fills this void.” The set-up of these 16 new youth centres will indiscriminately allow youths from all walks of life to attend and pursue interests, learn English or Computer literacy and engage in other activities that promote life-skills. These centres provide the tools for Kyrgyzstan’s youngsters to help themselves, as declared by the centres’ logo reading “Start change from yourself”.
These youth centres provide young people with a safe place where they can spend time and relax. Nurzat and Taktygul at the youth centre in Gulcha village in Osh province often stay behind after class to use the computer and chat online with friends. This is a luxury they do not have at home, unlike so many youths in other cultures. When asked if they believed that this youth centre made a difference for the youth of the village, Nurzat replied: “Yes, of course, we can learn a lot here and it pulls us towards good things.” With these words, Nurzat embodies the whole idea of these youth centres.
At another youth centre in Too Moyun village in Osh province, Anipa, a young and dynamic English teacher is very proud of her set up in the centres. Her motivation is flagrant as she displays the English books that she has brought from home, while waiting for the course books to be delivered to the centre. On the blackboard is a lesson on “AM, IS, ARE: I am happy, he is happy, we are happy” – which sums up perfectly the atmosphere. ‘Thanks to the projector, the disc recorder and the other equipment in the centre, I can let my imagination run wild and make the English lessons fun. This helps me attract many young people to my class; they hear of it from word of mouth and come from all different backgrounds and villages and are subsequently friends.’
This kind of statement demonstrates that the aim of the centres is being met: young people from different areas, and more importantly after last year’s events, from different ethnic backgrounds get to know each other and learn about each other’s cultures and way of life. “It is important that these centres are seen as non-discriminatory and that they are able to reach out to all young people in the community and especially the most vulnerable.’’ says Silje Vik Pedersen, UNICEF Youth Project Manager. “The centres have been established to create new opportunities and new friendships between communities to help the peace building process in the south of the country.”
Written by Alice Janvrin