Bishkek celebrated the UN’s International Youth Day on August 12th with an event on this year’s theme, “Youth Migration: Moving Development Forward.” Speeches and panels were given on the risks and opportunities faced by Kyrgyzstani youth migrating to urban areas or to other countries for education and work, as well as the role of remittances – money sent home from individuals who have immigrated abroad – in the Kyrgyz economy, accounting for nearly one half of this country’s GDP. Young people were invited to talk about how they migration affects their country’s development, as well as serious conversations about risks like trafficking in persons, a high risk for Kyrgyz young women, or stigma around the social acceptance of immigrants abroad.
Speeches were given by the Minister of Youth, Labor, and Migration, Aliyasbek Alymkulov (pictured on the middle right), and representatives from the UNDP, the International Organization for Migration, and OSCE, as well as a Peace Corps volunteer on his experience with students and young people leaving his community in Southwestern Naryn. This is common – young people often abandon villages, where unemployment can be as high as 90%, for education or work opportunities in the city.
The Peace Corps band, Тынчтык (Kyrgyz for “Peace”), also performed a concert of Kyrgyz folk music, and it was pretty amazing, (pictured on top and middle left). This group has been on mini-tour, performing in Issyk Kul and on television, and are getting more and more famous here. It was great to be able to see them live, and its pretty incredible to watch the response from locals when they see Americans not only speaking Kyrgyz, but investing time and energy to become a part of Kyrgyz musical tradition. It was a pretty stark contrast to the following act, a young Kyrgyz woman belting out Beyoncé’s “Halo.”
It is an interesting contrast here – there is a large international focus on youth, but they are often discounted here in deference to elders who are given respect with age instead earning it through accomplishments. There came a point where the conversation, meant to be an opportunity for youth to make their voices heard, was overtaken by older men pushing a particular agenda or publicizing their own organizations – one of which was investing in physical education as an answer to Kyrgyzstan’s issues with youth migration, lack of economic opportunities, and Kyrgyz identity. The young people here have so much more potential than they are given credit for, and I hope to be able to work with creating opportunities for them during my service in Kyrgyzstan.
Photos: Тынчтык (Kyrgyz for “Peace”) performs for Kyrgyzstani youth on International Youth Day [TOP]; Kyrgyz Minister for Youth, Labor, and Migration speaks on International Youth Day [MIDDLE RIGHT]; Тынчтык Performs [MIDDLE LEFT]; Peace Corps Volunteers and Staff Members Celebrate International Youth Day [BOTTOM]