ARMENIAN PROGRESSIVE YOUTH

ARMENIAN PROGRESSIVE YOUTH

Putting Youth Narrative at the Agenda of the Country

The recent years have become a manifestation of youth empowerment in Armenia; however, this process has begun much earlier. Back in 2009, several students started an initiative which today is a well-established organization supporting youth in all parts of the country. This year, the organization celebrates its 10th anniversary and Regional Post talked with Grigor Yeritsyan, the President of the organization about their path and the potential of the Armenian youth.

Interview : Margarit Mirzoyan    Photo : APY

 

 

From a student initiative to a fully-fledged organization: what was the idea behind the establishment of Armenian Progressive Youth?

In 2007, a group of students decided to establish an organization. In that period, there was an extreme lack of student opportunities and they wanted to make their lives more compelling. The non-formal education offers were hard to find and were available only to those who had good networks. The student councils were politicized and corrupted. There were no proper organizations to represent the opinion of the students. We decided to change that situation and made our move. After two years of operating, we came to the understanding that being a non-formal student initiative is no longer enough and we have to take more serious steps, covering not only students but also the youth in general. The issues that we aimed to address touched the whole youth, starting from a low level of civic engagement and ending with high unemployment rates. Eventually, in 2009, Armenian Progressive Youth was established to emphasize the role of youth in Armenia’s life from such perspectives as political, social, economic, etc. Another trigger for the establishment of the organization was the events of 2008, when the freedom of expression of the Armenian youth was suppressed with all possible mechanisms. We felt that the time has come to make our voices heard. In 2011-2012, the organization expanded and the team became more professional, with a transition from volunteers to youth workers. Today we work in all regions of Armenia, implementing various programs.

The President of APY Grigor Yeritsyan

 

Directions of your programs are very different: conflict resolution, business-related projects, etc. How do you decide in which direction to go?

APY has a very wide target group – the whole youth. We take directions that are interesting to them, based on our research and needs assessment. We interact with tens of young people at our office every day and design our programs and define our priorities by talking to our beneficiaries or initiating focus group discussions. An important nuance is that the needs of youth in the regions differ from the ones in the capital.

We aim to work with all youth groups to ensure a diversity of voices and opinions. One of the issues they mention is the integration into different areas, for example, the job market. Unofficially, up to 50 percent of young people are unemployed or don’t work by their specialization. It’s nearly impossible for them to establish a business because it requires quite extensive investment. The economic empowerment is very important so that the person doesn’t depend on his parents and has the freedom to make his own choices, to have the specialization he/she wants and be self-sufficient. To achieve all these goals, the person has to have a job and to be able to sustain himself/herself. This is why one part of our projects is dedicated to the social welfare of youth and overcoming unemployment.

The next block is related to the inclusion of youth. When I say that young people have different needs, I mean that everyone starts at a different level, and we try to ensure the participation of people who need our support more than others, because some of them still can afford traveling and quality education. This is why we mostly work with migrants, economically disadvantaged and physically disabled youth, people who are somehow isolated from the social life and the communities in the regions and rural areas. They need more support compared with the students who receive education and are likely to get a job.

AYP training in process

 

However, we’re open for everyone and the other block of our organization is student exchange, intercultural learning and mobility programs. Via these programs, our beneficiaries can widen their horizons, see the world, volunteer, attend trainings in different countries and use the skills acquired in their daily life back in their homeland. As a result of our projects, young people gain various soft skills. These can be leadership, public speaking, language, and computer skills; in other words, everything that is required to be successful in the 21st century. When saying successful, I don’t imply its direct meaning. In this context it means to be self-sufficient, make your own decisions and get the job you want, having goals and a vision for life. One person might want to become a scientist, the other might want to have a stable job, and our mission is to help them design their path.

 

We cannot go into details for all your programs, but what are the most prominent ones?

The first project I would like to mention is our two schools, one for employment and the other one for entrepreneurship. These are six-month schools for 30 people in each. At the employment school, the attendees are mostly the ones who have problems with entering the job market. They meet discrimination, face unequal opportunities, and our job is to make them competitive. After six months, 80% of our participants get jobs in different organizations. Our professional mentors help to make that process smoother via individual meetings. In the entrepreneurship school, most participants are women who already have their businesses or want to establish one. Here they learn, for example, how to write proposals, and they can apply to APY for a grant in the range of 3000 US dollars. This is a huge motivation for them and we have many success stories.

The next project is called Wind of Change: Empowering Student Activism in Armenia. We gather 30 students and work with them for 5 months at Student Activism School. Here, they acquire skills and knowledge on a number of topics, namely, leadership, public speaking, the art of negotiations, media literacy, critical thinking, project management, teamwork, conflict resolution, community mobilization, etc. Then we invite 10 foreign experts, who work with our participants on other 10 topics related to higher education. For example, academic freedom, plagiarism, research skills, student rights, Bologna system, etc. After this, the participants have a chance to apply for a 1000 euro grant to organize student campaigns on the topics of their choice. The 15 successful participants travel to the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Poland to get familiar with university life there.

If you’ve noticed, all our programs work with the same group for a long period. The point is to have a strong result and make a change in their lives. It’s impossible to do that with one or two trainings. The core idea in our programs is to achieve behavioral changes within the person.

We also have peace-building programs. Probably, we’re the only institution that does Armenia-Turkey and Armenia-Azerbaijani peace-building programs. It’s very hard and risky, but we think that if the youth isn’t engaged, there’s no chance that one day we can live in a peaceful region. We organize meetings in neutral zones, two Turkish young people work at our organization and we always have Turkish youth representatives, who come to Armenia and spend here from two months to one year. We also have Armenians who do the same in Turkey to understand both societies and break the stereotypes.

In the frame of the Armenian-Azerbaijani project, which gathers youth representatives from both countries at one place, the goal is to make them communicate and if there’s a desire, implement joint projects. For example, it can be a film screening and discussion in both countries at the same time. Then they can meet and discuss the results. We had a joint production of a cartoon on war, an exhibition on the topic of “What is peace?” in both countries. Why do we choose sensitive and hard questions? Because the name of the organizations illustrates that we have to be progressive, talk about topics that others don’t, because if we don’t speak no one will.

 

The organization has been operating for around 10 years. How has the Armenian youth changed during these years? What trends are you seeing?

I have to say that our youth has changed a lot. They have become more purposeful, intelligent, and independent, they know what they want. This change was recorded two years ago, in the context of the revolution. 2018 became a turning point for the Armenian youth. We can say that the events of the 2008, later followed by the falsified elections, broke the spirit of the youth, leaving them with the sense of helplessness. But already in 2013, different activist movements started to appear on the horizon, like ecological and civic campaigns, Electric Yerevan, the movement against the increase of transport fee, campaign for the Mashtots Ally and the Trchkan Waterfall. I think that our youth learned a lot as a result of these initiatives. They found out how to make their voices heard when the government didn’t, when one couldn’t make their voice count via eligible elections, when someone sold your voice for 10 or 15 thousand drams. This was a good school for them.

 

If in 2009, when we started the organization, young people would start volunteering at 21-22, today the age baseline is 15-16. The youth in marzes has become more active than before: there’s a huge advancement. The number of initiatives increased while the number of obstacles decreased and the emergence of the internet and social media had a huge role in this. One problem that we constantly work on is that people from the regions move to Yerevan and sometimes leave their villages behind. We try to create something which connects them with their homeland providing them with quality education opportunities and a job. This allows them to afford to go to a movie once a week or invite friends to places and not to worry about food and healthcare access. For all these, one needs financial resources, for which you need to get a job, for which, in its turn, you need to be competitive and ready for the market. This question is quite sharp in regions because there are fewer jobs and education offers. But in recent years, we have seen many people move to the regions. They move to a village or a small city, start something that no one has done before. Still, there’s this issue of uneven development of Yerevan and the regions, but the gap is shrinking.

 

We live in quite interesting times, so what is the role of the youth in the social transformation of Armenia?

I think, and this is also the philosophy of our organization, that the youth is the present of the country, not the future as many claim. They are the driving force of the country, the face of innovations, technological advancement, the developers of the new social and political culture – especially the Generation of Independence – and they are the ones paving the way for the generations to come. We were born in an independent country and think differently. The youth played a huge role in the revolution of 2018. Let’s be honest, this was a revolution done by the youth, but even after that we came back to the point where we acknowledge that nothing depends on us, as we have a government of our choice and it’s their job. But I think that one has to be a citizen not only on the days of the revolution but every day. We underestimate the potential of the youth and there’s a low representation of the youth among the decision-makers and so, their problems are not on the agenda. It’s great that there are many young specialists in the government and 25% of the National Assembly is young. Amazingly, our vice prime-minister is 29. But it doesn’t mean that having a young professional at the decision-making positions increases the inclusion of the youth. We need many state initiatives which will reveal the potential of the youth, we need the government to have an exact strategy on what areas related to the youth they want to address. Most importantly, the youth should be engaged not only at the phase of identification of these issues but also at the solution phase, with “Youth for youth” and “Nothing without us” principles. Any project that is assumed for the youth, should be designed with their active participation. Currently, we have no platforms to make the voices of young people heard. We previously had such platforms but they got politicized and lost their meaning. We need to find new ways of listening to the youth because, eventually, around 30% of the Armenian population are young people which is a lost resource, in my opinion. Our society has to change and understand that we’re no longer gerontocracy. The age no longer matters in the 21st century.

 

How do you imagine APY in another 10 years?

In 10 years, I see our organization becoming more stable and well-established. Our work is conveyed to young people who have the same drive and diligence. Our youth is braver and stronger. I see us having a huge youth center. Here many young people can come and feel equal, with non-formal education and other development opportunities. If you want to become a good musician, there will be all the necessary equipment to practice and do the marketing free of charge. You are into sports? There will be facilities for that as well. In other words, people would be able to develop their talents and make their dreams come true. To make this a reality in 10 years, we have to live in a more democratic country with falsified elections lost in the past. In ten years, I imagine us this way because ten years ago I couldn’t imagine us living in this country, in these conditions, with such an amazing youth. I guess we had our input in making this happen.

 

10 Years of APY in Numbers

40.000 young people were directly involved in APY projects

4000 local and international volunteers have served with APY

5000 young people in Armenia benefited from APY training and volunteering opportunities in more than 50 countries.

10.000 hours of training and capacity building provided to young people

3500 young people from all over the world visited Armenia to benefit from nonformal education and training opportunities offered by APY 

500 local and international projects were implemented

300 partners  in Armenia and across the globe

100 youth initiatives and community projects supported by APY

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