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Empowering Tomorrow’s Peacemakers

Mariam Chanishvili, Communication Specialist at CARE Caucasus

Building a more peaceful and understanding world isn’t just a nice idea. As recent events in Ukraine have shown, it’s one of the most pressing issues facing humankind.

In the South Caucasus region—another fragile part on the border of Eastern Europe that was once part of the former Soviet Union—the World Needs Challenge is equipping young people to play a role in building a more peaceful future. This region includes the countries of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Here, ethnic tensions and socio-economic challenges have prevented permanent stability and peace in the region. Tensions have worsened recently and there is a great need for investments in peacebuilding.

Students Rebuild is working with CARE, the international humanitarian organization, to empower young people in the South Caucasus to recognize negative attitudes and biases which have existed between ethnic groups and contribute to the fragility in the region.

Through the Youth Act for Future project, CARE is working with young people across Georgia to challenge long-held prejudices and old hostilities that have burdened past generations. In the village of Samshvilde, a place mixed with ethnic minorities from Armenia and Azerbaijan, there is a great division between ethnic groups due to language barriers, cultural practices, traditional gender roles, poverty and past conflicts. It’s a poor region with few opportunities and places for youth to interact. Here, the ground is fertile ground for working with young people.

A parent who attended an informational session, Miriam, said there is great need for this project in their village. “Nothing ever happens here. Everything is so lifeless here. Our kids have no opportunities. CARE is the first organization that came to work with youth in our village,” she said.

Nino, a participant in a CARE information session in Ganmukhuri, referred to the lack of recreational opportunities: “There is nothing going on. There is no space to meet each other, to watch movies, to chat or to just have fun.”

Nazi Burduladze, CARE project manager, recalls, “I well remember the first meeting. The youth listened to us but did not speak at all. They were reserved, sh, and even embarrassed to eat during lunch and coffee breaks. Communication was one-sided, but we had good eye contact.”

Since the first meeting, Nazi says, the youth have changed dramatically in their ability to communicate and share openly.

Teenagers like Nino now have a place to come together with other teenagers and socialize, play games, sing, dance and have fun. They are able to share ideas and experiences, learn from one another and participate in trainings which address negative stereotypes, teach communication and increase their self-confidence and leadership skills. Through the trainings, youth began talking about conflict-related problems, unspoken issues in their society. They also become more involved in their communities.

Nino hopes to organize a volleyball tournament with youth from other parts of the country, as a way to promote understanding and tolerance. “By bringing different people together to play as a team, we will be able to practice fairness, discipline and mutual respect. People tend to forget all about who is on whose side, when it comes to playing sports,” Nino said.

In this way, young people like Nino are transforming into the leaders of tomorrow, those who will be advocates for peace.