BISHKEK -- The Kyrgyz branch of international NGO Search for Common Ground (SCG), with financial assistance from the UN Peacebuilding Fund, is helping Kyrgyz youth develop social projects as a way to steer them away from religious extremism and terrorism.
More than 162 youth aged 14 to 28 have been engaged in the Jashstan (Land of the Young) project, operating in 27 conflict-prone communities across Kyrgyzstan since April 2017, Yevgeny Badilovskii, the project manager, told Caravanserai.
The project aims to dissuade Kyrgyz youth from extremism by involving them in active leadership.
"We choose locations where there were a lot of fights among youth and work with young people towards increasing their potential," he said. "We want to move young people away from radical ideas and conflicts by involving them in the project."
Supporting business initiatives
In Min-Kush, Naryn Province, the Jashstan project helped a group of young people to open a furniture shop.
The six boys saw that there was demand for a place for villagers to buy furniture.
"In [the first] three months, they carried out 20 orders totaling 20,000 KGS [$291] for a village where 3,000 inhabitants live," Badilovskii said. "The funds invested by the project were $1,500 and have almost been paid off."
Another group of boys from Saruu, Issyk-Kul Province, decided to start producing dried fruits.
"The boys saw that a large number of apples and other fruits were lost over the season," Badilovskii said. "They also learned that 3,000 children in the village haven't been receiving enough vitamins, while 10 tons of apples and pears were left on the ground in Saruu."
With the help of local population, they collect and process 3,300kg of fresh fruits once a week, producing 18kg of dried fruit products -- enough for 150 school children.
"Now they want to expand production and provide the village kindergarten with dried fruit," Badilovskii said.
Strengthening youth community
Meanwhile, as part of the project, a group of boys from Manas, Talas Province, opened a youth centre last year to strengthen the sense of community among their peers in the province.
To engage as many youth as possible in the project, co-ordinators have been holding meetings in 19 villages and also created a WhatsApp group. Local authorities also gave the group two rooms in a local post office building as a meeting space.
The boys repaired the rooms and turned the space into a place where youth can meet and discuss issues they are concerned about.
"At the moment, we are bringing participants to Talas for six-month courses to teach young people skills on leadership and communication with local residents and youth," Zholdoshbek Zhanuzakov, one of the youth founders of the centre, told Caravanserai. "To keep them from going to a combat zone, we tell them how to set things up here and how to write business proposals."
"Thanks to the youth centre, boys of various ethnic and sub-ethnic groups have been able to get together and discuss various subjects in agreement and peace, jointly creating certain social development projects," Badilovskii said.
"They are planning to open a movie theatre at the youth centre so that young people have a better way to spend their leisure time," he said.
Promoting tolerance, fighting extremism
The Jashstan project is strengthening young people's resistance to extremist ideas and recruitment into radical groups, Aygul Ibrayeva, the Chuy Province regional co-ordinator for the project, told Caravanserai.
For example, in November 2017, Tokmak resident Almaz uulu Aybek, 21, and his friends set up workouts and gymnastics on chin-up bars on streets as part of the Jashstan project to promote a healthy lifestyle and stop street fighting among youth groups.
"We have a lot of different ethnic groups in Tokmak, and there were a lot of fights," he told Caravanserai. "In the past two years, the situation has improved; young people have started making friends and our project is greatly helping in that."
About 40 people are participating in the project and they have also invited a trainer to come, he said. "We meet every day and train ... and in March there will be a competition in Tokmak."
The project has helped dissuade young people from radical ideas, according to Almaz.
"The classes open up the potential of young people in culture, science and athletics," he said. "We try to develop young people... [and when] new possibilities open up for them, they don't wind up taking such extreme steps as going to Syria."