Promoting Dialogue with Youth for Peace in Kyrgyzstan
In early 2018, GPPAC together with our member Foundation for Tolerance International (FTI), established the participatory video project ‘Cameras in Hands’ in Kyrgyzstan. The project endeavoured to empower Kyrgyzstani youth to become agents of change and bridge social, gender, and ethnic divides. Fourteen months on, the project continues with youth recording the next set of videos and continuing with their mission to improve dialogue.
To achieve these objectives and results, participatory video (PV) methodology is the foundation of the project. It involves small groups of diverse preselected students that steer a process of video production and screening sessions to engage in discussions with their communities and youth from other regions.
This process is very empowering as it requires youth to make decisions through democratic discussions within a strong group dynamic, where participants have to build trust and take turns in a variety of different roles (actor, cinematographer, editor etc.). This structure requires them to listen and become more aware of others, while also building their own self-awareness.
School children were trained and equipped to produce videos portraying the social problems in their communities - such as gender inequality, divisions in the society and fights, security concerns or border tensions. The project has already enabled behavioural changes as children learnt how to work in teams and became more tolerant of each other. One of the participants noted: “We used to argue often, everybody strongly stood on their positions. But during the production of scripts, it became clear that without unity we would not be able to produce a video.” This behaviour is mirrored in the students’ lives outside the project and is something that their teachers have picked up on:
“The boys started to be interested in studying, they are more open and friendly.”
With sixteen videos already produced, the school children are now working on the second round of videos. Throughout the process they attracted a great deal of public attention by sharing their stories: via social media, word of mouth and through presentations and feedback sessions with local decision-makers in the communities. Such activities are essential in order to empower youth, give them accessible platforms to make their voices heard and ensure their inclusion in the decision-making process.
Feedback sessions were held in four regions of Kyrgyzstan, namely, Osh, Jalal-Abad, Batken, and Chui. Representatives of governing bodies, parents, school authorities, residents, police, local branches of the Ministry of Education and, of course, young people gathered as the participants of the project presented their videos and took part in discussions. The meetings focused on the community-specific problems and the development of work plans for their solution. Local decision-makers demonstrated their genuine and serious reception of the messages conveyed by the young people. One spokesperson remarked:
“During the times of the Soviet Union we were divided into brigades, and since then we started to divide ourselves as well, and children are taking our example. We cannot explain to the youth here that we do not need these divisions. We are very grateful to our children for these movies”.
More than 150 students from 8th-11th grades and their teachers participated in the media training and gained new skills. The young participants learnt how to effectively use social media in order to showcase their videos and photos, as well as how to avoid influence of the false information. Boys and girls were taught to write interesting posts and attract attention of the target audience to help in solving particular problems in their communities. One of the participants after the meeting confessed:
“I didn’t know that with the help of one post in social media you can help people or have a positive influence on the life of at least one person. Now I came to the conclusion that social media platforms are something bigger than the opportunity of online entertainment and communication”.
The youth involved in this project have exceeded expectations. Being tired of the participation in traditional peacebuilding activities, youth consider the PV activities, social media campaigning, public speaking, and meetings with decision-makers to be exciting. The inclusion of Kyrgyzstani children in peace processes shows that young people can bring great changes, especially if they have the right tools and access to platforms for dialogue with policy makers.