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The sun may also come out tomorrow, but, today, it is shining brightly on Aziza Jalilova. She is one of many young people helping to make Tajikistan's future a promising one. Aziza is a member of the Children's Reference Group, supported by UNICEF Tajikistan as part of its country-wide programme to involve youth in decision-making processes. Aziza has been a member of this 40-strong youth group for over a year.

Aziza is a leader. She knows her rights and is proud of this fact. She teaches others, in her community, in her school, anyone, in fact, who is willing to listen, and many are willing to listen. It would be difficult not to listen, for Aziza's intelligence and innocence are matched by a seriousness, sincerity and maturity that are compelling. And Aziza is not merely a proponent of rights that; all children's issues are within her realm of discussion, HIV prevention, juvenile justice, health and social issues. She can speak persuasively and extemporaneously on each one of them.

At 15 years of age, Aziza is already a role model. Two or three times a week, she serves as a volunteer in a Dushanbe drop-in centre for street kids. There, she counsels children her own age and younger. She is passionate about this work and is deeply committed to it. When she speaks of it, her voice changes and her mood becomes somber. Aziza knows, without wanting to articulate it, that these street kids are in a precarious situation. With help, they can become productive members of society; if they are ignored, they may become pariahs.

Aziza's younger sister is also a member of the Children's Reference Group, and her mother is employed by an international non-governmental organization as an educator and trainer. They are a dynamic family of women of the sort so needed by society in Tajikistan today.

When asked if boys of her age show the propensity of the older male generation to be disdainful of women, she responded to the contrary, "no, they are respectful and eager to learn about their rights."

What message would she like to tell children outside Tajikistan?

"The same thing I tell them here. Don't cry, be happy, be responsible and learn your rights."

Indeed, Tajikistan does have a future.

Adapted from "Tajikistan", a publication of the UNICEF Tajikistan country office.





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