In today’s blog Generation Y spoke to to Anushka Hayrapetyan, the Project Director of ‘Young Citizens of Armenia’.
Generation Y: Hi Anushka!
Generation Y: Maybe you can begin by telling us, what is the Young citizens of Armenia project?
Anushka: Young Citizens of Armenia is the initiative of the KASA Swiss Humanitarian Foundation. It was launched in 2011 and is aimed at encouraging the autonomy, initiative taking and critical thinking of young Armenian people within the over-arching goal of creating a participative and democratic society in Armenia.
The project is currently funded by United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF and the city of Basel in Switzerland.
Generation Y: So what kind of activities form part of the initiative. I mean practically, what do you do?
Anushka: The Young Citizens of Armenia (YCA) project works with youth on two levels. First, we select and train youth (right now we have 37 young people in our youth clubs in Gyumri and Yerevan) using the methods of non-formal education. We nurture skills such as team work, time management, club animation, communication skills and try to raise awareness and get them involved in civic activism.
Secondly we work directly with young people of all backgrounds who visit their clubs, more than 20 youths visit the clubs every day. We currently have an English Club, French Club, Cinema Club, Psychological Club, Human Rights Club, and Intercultural Club, Art Club.
One of the best features of the project is that we work with youth who have big untapped potential. So we help them to discover their potential, making use of it for the development of themselves, their communities and the country as a whole.
Another speciality of the project is that our clubs have monthly topics which are oriented towards civil society development. Like for the past 3 months we had the following topics: “What is this thing called society?/Governance”, “Why should I care about the others?” and “Ethics/Intercultural dialogue”.
Generation Y: How old are the youth that take part in these clubs/events?
Anushka: The youth attending the clubs are 15-35. Last year our clubs hosted 4197 people which is a big number for Armenia!
Generation Y: And what kind of materials do you use?
Anushka: We are promoting ‘e-culture’ which is not that popular in Armenia. Our 37 animators get cquainted with the monthly topic and prepare the club meetings through e-learning platforms which involve an introduction to the topic, quizzes, videos, discussion forums, and other non-formal education tools.
Generation Y: What is the reaction to the initiative and its activities from the local people?
Anushka: It is very popular. Even when the clubs are having 1 month breaks in summer or winter, the Espaces youth training centre in Yerevan and the KASA socio-educational and development centre in Gyumri are constantly receiving calls asking when the clubs are going to be relaunched.
Generation Y: Can you maybe tell me a bit about life for young people in Armenia. Are there any particular struggles or difficulties that they face?
Anushka: The Armenian youth lack places where they can get information, enter into healthy debates, develop critical-thinking and initiative․ So these 2 centres in Yerevan and Gyumri provide the Armenian youth with the platform for meetings and resources in order to enable them to tap into their potential. Another thing to mention, there is a big amount of emigration from Armenia. The number are specially high among young people. So the project aims to stop this emigration by showing them that a bright future is possible in their own country if they develop their potential in the right direction.
Nowadays, the young people of Armenia find themselves in a rather difficult situation. They have lived in an independent country for more than 20 years now but still lack the ability to practice active citizenship. Being in a ceasefire situation over a territorial conflict with its neighbour, Azerbaijan, Armenia has closed borders with both Azerbaijan and Turkey. Armenia is faced with numerous social, economic and political difficulties. Added to this, the problematic legacy emerging from Armenia’s Soviet heritage and the problems emerging from its transition to capitalism clearly influence the situation of young people in the country, who often refrain from acting and engaging in the country’s economic, social, political and cultural life.
Politically, young people suffer from a restricted media and freedom of assembly, a problem which has become more obvious during the recent presidential elections. Moreover, whilst most young people feel sufficiently well informed about Armenian politics they lack the critical capacities and competences of e-Culture to analyse their information sources in a critically aware fashion. In short, young people, especially those living in rural Armenia, are unsatisfied with their life opportunities in Armenia and there are precious few places in which young people can gather to discuss these dissatisfactions and the problems they face.
The proliferation of conservative cultural values is particularly prevalent in the sphere of gender, where Armenians suffer from discriminatory family codes (particularly with regards to ages of consent for marriage and problems with divorce), restricted physical integrity (particularly related to reproductive rights, domestic violence and rape), ‘son bias’ (proliferation of selective abortion, and better treatment of boys in upbringing) amongst other things.
The education system today is still based on the outdated Soviet educational model, with underpaid, often uninspiring teachers and it fails to provide young people with appropriate social competences for active participation in society. University education is widely seen to be corrupt which does not encourage young people.
Faced with these kinds of problems, instead of getting civically active, many Armenians try to emigrate. In this project, we want to show that emigration is not the only, and not the best way to deal with the problems that young Armenians face. This project is guided by a principle that escape is not really a solution to our problems and it certainly isn’t a solution to the problems facing Armenia. Creating a positive feeling of ownership and showing the importance of personal contribution to the development of Armenia is one of the main objectives of our project.
Generation Y: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Anushka: I’d also like to speak about the other activities of the project, namely the youth initiative and public events. These activities are aimed at reaching out to more people in Armenia who have never visited the clubs. While organizing interesting events at public places our animators are trying to focus the attention of society, raise awareness and organize concrete actions around issues of concern in society. These topics are otherwise unspoken about, thus making every single member of our society part of a process of a positive change.
Generation Y: So you have spoken a lot about what you are doing now, the current activities. But what about for the future? What changes or developments within the project would you like to see?
Anushka: Currently the club component of the project is available to youth in Yerevan (capital city) and Gyumri (2nd biggest city in Armenia). Though we are trying to reach out to as many youth as possible through our youth initiatives and public events, we’d very much like the youth outside Gyumri and Yerevan to also get the chance to have youth centres and attend club meetings on constant basis.
Generation Y: Thank you so much for talking to us! If anyone wants to read a bit more about what you do where can they find the information?
Anushka: Here are the details!