Students plan confidence-building projects in South Kyrgyzstan

Over 120 students from three ethnically mixed universities in South Kyrgyzstan recently learned about conflict prevention and started planning for projects aimed at increasing confidence between their peers of different nationalities.

‘I wanted to learn more about the conflict because it is happening, we are experiencing it’, says Mahtuma, an ethnic Uzbek student in the Osh Law School in South Kyrgyzstan. She is referring to the clashes in the city of Osh and Jalal-Abad in June 2010, which killed hundreds and left over 1300 houses burned. Mahtuma is among 120 students who learn about conflict and peace as part of a five-day student camp.

International Alert and its partner in Kyrgyzstan, Foundation for Tolerance International (FTI), organised three camps in November 2010 for students from three ethnically mixed universities of the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad. Students who attended the camps learned about conflict, diversity and tolerance and developed their own ideas on how to defuse tensions on campus and rebuild confidence between communities.

‘I was very concerned that my family would not let me participate in the camp’, says Mahtuma. Her parents are traditional and Mahtuma says she is the only woman in the family who does not wear a headscarf. With tensions in Osh still high, some parents refused to let their children participate in the camps. FTI staff and trainers took it on themselves to convince parents in doubt that the project would not put students at risk. ‘This is a good initiative, young people learn new skills and spend their energy in a constructive way’, commented the parents of another participant, who were at first sceptical and came to visit their daughter at the camp.

Following the training, students will develop their project ideas for building confidence in South Kyrgyzstan, the best of which will be funded and implemented in their universities, dormitories and neighbourhoods.

‘I want to help with the recovery of my country. My father helped with the delivery of aid during the crisis, my uncle too – they helped Uzbeks and Kyrgyz alike. I also have ideas on how to help and I hope that my project will be selected’, says Nurlan, a second-year student in the Osh Law School.

International Alert and FTI work with universities in Osh and Jalal-Abad where the potential for violence along ethnic lines remains high after the June clashes. The academic year started with a two-month delay after the Government had postponed it to prevent risks of escalation of violence around the October parliamentary elections.

Alert’s work with students and young people in the South of Kyrgyzstan is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).