”In youth, we see the potential leaders of Kyrgyzstan”
An interview with Ainagul Amatbekova, chairperson of Novi Ritm May 2016-May 2017.
Ainagul currently lives in Osh with her family, and has now initiated her final year of studies at the Faculty of International Relations at Osh State University. When I asked her about her areas of interest, the first thing she answered was:
“ I like volunteering, because I like doing something useful for me personally and for my community”. We continued talking about the importance of volunteer work, and how even the simplest tasks such as making coffee or handing out folders to strangers in the streets matters.
“I start with the little things”, Ainagul told me and highlighted that every person is important in order to successfully tackle social issues and problems in society. In other words, someone needs to be the one making coffee, and later it became clear that the “small things” was her first tasks at Novi Ritm when she joined in 2014 as a volunteer.
Novi Ritm was at the time involved in a campaign related to Gender Based Violence (GBV), and Ainagul was invited by a friend to join the organization, which she did despite her time-consuming university studies. However, the subject of GBV was not her personal motivation for becoming a volunteer. The true motivation was to get the chance to talk to foreigners in order to practice her English, where at this point in our conversation the energetic young woman in front of me expressed excitedly:
“I like talking to people, like talking, talking, talking!”
So after the campaign on GBV, she decided to join the English Movie Club at Novi Ritm and rather soon thereafter also the Girls’ Group.
“I saw these things, these problems, for example not sharing housework with your partner and things like that, but I thought that it was okay, it is the way it is in our society. I even thought it was in all other places!” Ainagul continued by explaining that in the rather informal meetings that the Girls’ Group had in the beginning, she started to increasingly reflect on these issues and quite soon she started becoming deeply involved in gender issues:
“Like, it is not normal to hit your own partner. Love this person; I mean how can men hit their wives?” For instance, she engaged in the UNiTE campaign that Novi Ritm took part in during 2014, both as a participant and a volunteer. At the same time, she increased her overall engagement in other activities within the youth organization. Now Ainagul Amatbekova has been the chairperson in the board of Novi Ritm from May 2016 and is also the coordinator of one of the two major projects currently underway. During her term as a chairperson she hopes to contribute with promoting the organization:
“Right now, we are not accepted as a youth organization, but as a feminist. And that’s not totally bad but it is sad to see that they [other civil society and governmental actors in Southern Kyrgyzstan] don’t understand the main point of Novi Ritm, which is for all young people!”
During our conversation, it becomes clear that feedback and maintaining a non-hierarchical structure is key in this youth organization. Recently, Aida Akhmedova, a founding member of Novi Ritm, has left because of other opportunities that has come her way. Though happy for Aida, Ainagul, and many others within the youth organization, were expressing their worries related to her upcoming absence, upon which she had answered:
“But it’s ok, it is good that I am leaving, this is a chance for others.”
Before letting Ainagul return to her busy schedule, I took the opportunity to ask about what she thinks is unique with Novi Ritm, considering that in Kyrgyzstan there is a quite wide array of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on different issues, and Ainagul had recently told me that she has previous experience with Youth of Osh (NGO) and the Osh American Corner (a separate English section in the public library where different events are held). For Ainagul the answer seemed simple:
“Youth for youth – we keep it! We understand that we might not always be well-experienced, but we don’t get stuck on it. We just try! For example we are not afraid of being criticized because we always want to and try to improve! By youth for youth – that is what we do!”
Check out this cool article by Ainagul which provides a glimpse of the work of Novi Ritm: “A graphic threat: using comics to combat stereotyping in Kyrgyzstan”!
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