A former Soviet republic in east Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan has suffered decades of civil unrest and inter ethnic tensions, particularly between its Uzbek about 69% of the population. Traditionally semi-nomadic herders, they continue to practice this lifestyle seasonally.
Background to YouthBank in Kyrgyzstan
IN 2009 the Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia (EFCA), supported by the European Union and USAID, contracted YouthBank International to deliver the youth and community development strands of a wider ethnic conflict reduction programme - “Strengthening the Potential of Local Authorities and the Non-Governmental Sector in Consolidating Good Neighborly Relations”. Young adults were selected to participate on the basis of their leadership potential, initiative and commitment to connecting with and promoting local partnerships between businesses and local authorities.
High levels of unemployment, lack of sports and leisure opportunities, alcohol, drugs, violence and ethnic tension were all issues affecting young people in these predominantly isolated, rural communities. Additionally, older generations linked the instability and malaise of modern Kyrgyzstan to a perceived post-Soviet breakdown in the behaviour of younger generations. YouthBank provided a platform from which its young participants could be seen to be contributing positively to their communities, changing perceptions amongst the public and crucially amongst local government representatives. For example, their community activism galvanised support for the improvement of local schools facilities from local business people and other adults.
Making a Difference
YouthBank worked in the southern city of Osh in the wake of an outbreak of violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in 2010 which saw hundreds killed and thousands injured. Even in this climate of extreme distrust and fear, YouthBank’s ethnically diverse young people researched what their community’s priorities were and, directly meeting those needs, they refurbished a children’s playground, built a bus shelter and installed rubbish bins in the street. In the provincial town of Kara-Suu, YouthBank’s young people together co-ordinated the re-opening of a cross-community dance club which had been closed down after the violence of 2010. YouthBankers were able to use the club as a catalyst to bring together different generations from conflicting ethnic groups, and engendering respect from children and parents alike.
The YouthBank model has also been put to good use in promoting cross-border cooperation. Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border areas have seen a rise in Islamic extremism appealing to young people with little access to work or other opportunities. YouthBank-trained participants have initiated alternative activities that have provided their peers with positive experiences.
YouthBankers conducting market research on community priorities at Isfana Market, Batken Province
In 2014, six new YouthBanks also opened in the North-east of the country around Lake Issykul. Their value to community development in small, rural communities has been recognised statutorily, having now been registered as organisations under Kyrgyz law.