Helvetas funded Youth United for Future (YOU) project is designed to contribute to a more cohesive society in which young people (15-29 years) have a fair voice and are resilient against extremist rhetoric by contributing to bridging the gap between younger and older generations in the society.
Osh and Jalalabad are the regions in South Kyrgyzstan most prone to social unrest due to their bordering with other Central Asian countries, their strategic position for international (licit and illicit) trade, low economic development and ethnic diversity. Thus, most youth in the South are living in difficult circumstances. The lack of equal access to quality education and work opportunities force many young people to migrate – internally to the cities, and abroad, mostly to Russia. There are other challenges such as languages spoken, religious beliefs and traditions. As a result, people are living mostly in mono-ethnic communities, and there is little interaction in everyday life.
According to research, a sense of alienation, mainly due to exposure to racism, exclusion from society, isolation from the opposite sex, pressure from families and communities, crisis of identity, feeling of powerlessness and insignificance is the main reason for young people to be drawn into extremism and to be susceptible to radicalisation. According to KG officials, more than 500 youth have participated in Jihad in Syria, most of them from the Southern regions of Kyrgyzstan.
Therefore, the lack of opportunities and support for youth does not only make youth’s lives difficult – it has also turned into a security threat, as young women and men become susceptible to radicalised groups, who offer them a place where they feel they belong to, are accepted and respected.
Furthermore, the majority of the population (appx. 90%) of Kyrgyzstan consider themselves Muslims (for historical reasons). Due to the non-communication with older generations, young people look for guidance in the internet and/or visit mosques or madrasahs (the number of mosques in KG increased from 39 at the independence declaration in 1991, to 2,300 at present). Since the state promotes freedom of religion, it has not put any control mechanisms over the development of curricula of the mosques or madrasahs. As a consequence, extremist groups could easily use these platforms, as well as the internet, for spreading their ideas.
The Youth United for Future (YOU) project aims at giving youth in the South of Kyrgyzstan perspectives and guidance to find their own personal and professional purpose in life. It also capacitates adults in constructive communication and participatory work with youth, and ultimately, it will develop practices to increase peaceful public discourse through exchange on religion and democracy on municipality level, with manifold stakeholders involved. The project directly benefits 1350 young men and women (15-29 years) as well as adults (potential mentors such as parents, teachers, imams, professors).
Since there is a plethora of projects working on youth and radicalization in Kyrgyzstan, it is very important not to duplicate the work of other projects working in the same field.
Our concept is unique due to its approach, addressing the intergenerational gap and offering new techniques in personal and professional orientation, followed by practical actions. Our investment in trainings for trainers is an important asset for all organisations (including ourselves), as they can use the methodologies for other projects as well.
The project is implemented by Helvetas and two local partners: Youth of Osh and Progress Aravan. The project implementation started in January 2018 in two communities in Osh and Jalal-Abad regions.