Raising young people’s and local communities’ environmental awareness in water-related issues in Kyrgyzstan

The project is supported by Democracy Commission of the U. S. Embassy in the Kyrgyz Republic.

The project aims at raising young people’s and local communities’ environmental awareness in water-related issues in Kyrgyzstan by involving the youth in participatory action research (PAR) on water-related traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of various ethnicities living in Kyrgyzstan. The project targets motivated college students and young professionals in Yssyk-Kul and Batken.

The goals were met through the:

a)  selection of field researchers  in Issyk-Kul and Batken regions on a competitive basis,

b)  Formation of multi-ethnic research groups in the Issyk-Kul and Batken,

c) Training formed groups by  PAR principles and methods for water-related traditional ecological knowledge studies

d) field research in the target regions

d) monitoring and analysis of field materials,

e) raising young people’s and communities’ environmental awareness in water-related issues water resources by focusing on traditional ecological knowledge

 During the reporting period:

a) 18 people from two regions have applied to participate in the project

b) 8 telephone interviews and 10 live interviews were conducted

c) Two research groups were formed in the Issyk-Kul and Batken

g) 5 field researchers work in Issyk-Kul group

d) 4 field researchers work  in  Batken group

e) the total of three seminars (one in Bishkek, one in Karakol, and one in Kyzyl-Kiya) have been carried out in order to train the regional groups for the field research. We also conducted a preliminary monitoring of the progress made by the regional research groups at the seminars in Karakol and Kyzyl-Kiya. Some 18 people took part in the seminars.

g) 148 interview are received from two regions.

The first invitation to the contest was announced on 9 August, 2016. The announcement was circulated again in the beginning of September. The invitation was disseminated via Aigine’s Facebook page and via partner organizations’ mailing lists.

Selection. Having finished the selection process, we formed the Issyk-Kul research group. We conducted interviews with each member of the research group in Karakol, and then we held an information session on the project goals and timeline. Series of telephone interviews and written tests were held with Batken region candidates; 5 people were pre-selected, one of them – for the role of coordinator.

As early as the selection process was underway, it became evident that it would be most feasible to focus on the community of school and university teachers who work with young people. Issyk-Kul group included 4 local university teacher and a teacher of geography and ecology of Yrdyk village school. In Batken group, there are 2 school teachers, students and teacher of Batken State University.

The research groups ended up being multi-ethnic and consist of representatives of different ethnic groups such as Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Dungan, and Kyrgyz.

The first training seminar was held in Bishkek on October 7-9, 2016. The seminar was attended by 4 researchers of the Issyk-group as well as a participant from Batken group who we considered as a potential coordinator. During the seminar, participants were introduced to project goals and objectives. The main focus was put on training the participants on basic techniques of participatory action research (PAR). To put the methods of PAR in use, the participants were invited to a sacred site Zhalgyz Terek (Bashkara-Suu village, Chui district), which is revered for its water that flows out of 7 springs. The researchers got a chance to master their PAR and interview skills in live interaction with the traditional knowledge holders, that is, the guardians of sacred sites connected with water. The participants also met with experts in hydrology, folklore and water healing practices. Participants together with experts discussed and defined focuses of PAR for the project.

The following results were achieved during the seminar:

  • Learning the basic knowledge and skills of PAR
  • Identify areas of research in both areas
  • Develop and agreed the terms of cooperation
  • Signed agreements

The second regional seminar was held in Karakol on January 7-10, 2017. The main aim of the seminar was a joint analysis of field materials collected by researchers, as well as discussion of the field work difficulties.

One of the seminar objectives was to work on the concept of project products – a manual, calendar and social clips. The seminar was attended by all researchers of Issyk-Kul group. During the seminar, participants shared difficulties they have encountered during the field work such as the search for knowledgeable respondents, lack of experience in conducting deep interviews, inability to manage time during the interview. Specialized training was carried out to overcome these difficulties. During the seminar three practice sessions were conducted, participants were able to interview three experts of traditional knowledge. Sessions were called “Rites and rituals related with water.”

During the joint work organizers and participants of the seminar were able to form the primary concept of a manual, calendar and social clips. In a basis of the future project products will lay on the materials that are participants collected during the field work.

An interim analysis of the materials in Issyk-Kul regions correspond to the main focus of the project – the traditional knowledge about water.

  • Created a rough concept of manual
  • Pre-determined themes for calendar  and social video
  • Pre-defined place for piloting and testing of manual
  • Determined  the place of project products : Ecology Center at the Issyk-Kul university and high school in  Yrdyk village

The third regional seminar held in Kyzyl Kiya on January 23-26, 2017. It was also aimed at the joint analysis of field materials collected by researchers, as well as discussion of the field work difficulties. This seminar was attended by active researchers from Batken region.

Working with this regional group in Batken, we faced the few challenges. The regional team coordinator who was selected based on a strong application and two recommendations, was invited to the first seminar in Bishkek. However, this person failed to fulfill her obligations both with regards collecting information and coordinating the regional group. Training and consultation with each member of the group was carried out by us individually online or over the phone.

The overall quality of Batken group’s work, unfortunately, did not meet the expectations we set at the set0up seminar. It was noted during a joint analysis of quantity and quality of collected materials. An exception is the work of  Zaynidinov Bahriddin who showed good motivation and on the basis of on-line learning collects interesting materials in a remote village Beshkent  populated by Kyrgyz and Uzbek population.

Due to the low quality of the work we had to refuse to cooperate with two members of research group. Candidates from the primary list were invited. Each of them attend intensive training on the model of the first installation seminar.

Analysis of the materials of Batken researchers showed that there is more data on problems of water pollution and water scarcity in the Batken region, in particular, clean drinking water. The research group members managed to gather less information on traditional knowledge related to water.

The following results were achieved during the seminar:

  • Compiled weekly group and individual work schedule of participants;
  • Agreed topics for the  manual;
  • Pre-defined place for piloting and testing of manual
  • Determined the place of project products: high school in Beshkent village. The school is taught in Kyrgyz and Uzbek languages. Currently, 340 students attend school.

Only one among 10 project participant had experience of interviewing and PAR. All other participants during the seminars emphasized novelty and importance of the acquired knowledge and skills.

Increased awareness of field researchers and local communities in water-related environmental issues. This is recorded by the video taken during seminars.

Based on preliminary results of the project, we became convinced that: a) water related traditional ecological knowledge has a lot of positive potential, b) there is a need to raise awareness of various societal groups about sustainable water use. We will continue working in this field after the project completion.

The project is half way through. The fact that the participants in the Issyk-Kul and Batken groups initiated and supported the idea of product presentations can be viewed as a sign of the successful implementation of project tasks. Representatives of four organizations (two regional schools and two regional universities) expressed their willingness to organize and conduct a presentation on its site.