From the Stage to the Street: Youth in Kyrgyzstan Speak up about Conflict
“Strangers used to scare me, and it usually took quite awhile before I would talk to new people,” explains Jarkynay Yrysbek kyzy, a high school student from Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan, a city that experienced violent ethnic clashes during the country’s 2010 coup. “But a year has passed since I joined YTP,” she notes, “and I can hardly recognize myself!”
In 2010, Jarkynay became involved in the USAID-funded Youth Theater for Peace (YTP) program, which uses a theater methodology called Drama for Conflict Transformation to promote sustainable conflict prevention at the community level.
For many – young or old, shy or outgoing – talking about conflict is daunting. Community-level violence took hundreds of lives during Kyrgyzstan’s 2010 coup, and many youth struggle to talk openly about their experiences with conflict. Drama techniques like those used in YTP can help youth process their emotions, build trust among peers, and gain the confidence to speak out about issues that continue to threaten the stability of their communities. “I don’t know why, but YTP got my interest,” Jarkynay notes. “We express ourselves in actions and motion.”
YTP skits are written by youth based on the conflicts they face in daily life, from ethnic conflict and domestic violence to bullying and migration. By providing a space for dialogue, YTP equips youth like Jarkynay with the communication skills to address conflicts in the classroom, on the street, and at home.
An evaluation of the first two years of the program showed that YTP participants demonstrated increased confidence speaking in front of others and - perhaps more telling - in addressing conflict. In one measurement, 98% of program participants reported feeling comfortable discussing conflict and peaceful resolution with others, compared to just 29% of a comparison group of demographically similar non-participants.
For Jarkynay, the confidence she gained in YTP affects her both on and off stage. “I learned to speak up among my friends and raise my hand in class.” At a recent public performance on attitudes towards newcomers in town, the student in the lead role fell sick and Jarkynay was asked to take her place. “I was scared in the beginning,” explained Jarkynay, “but after I performed, I was so happy! Nobody knows what it took me to go out on the stage.”
The Youth Theater for Peace program is funded by USAID in Kyrgzystan and implemented by IREX.