Youth Engagement, IFES Democracy Camp
When IFES first encountered Azamat Karabotoev in the summer of 2013, he was a quiet teenager from the Talas region of Kyrgyzstan. Like over 2,000 other Kyrgyzstani youth before him, Azamat participated in an IFES Democracy Camp. These 10-day camps and mini camps, conducted in Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries since 2000, are designed to broaden students’ understanding and inspire interest in government, volunteerism, and active civic participation. During the course of the camp, Azamat experienced the concept of civic responsibility in action, as he learned how to create and implement strategic interventions for improving his community. As part of the camp experience, Azamat and his peers developed projects for implementation in their local communities, supported through the extensive camp alumni network.
Following the camp, Azamat returned home and put what he’d learned and planned into action, a particularly difficult task in an under-resourced region like Talas. He ran for student body president and was elected to this post by his classmates. Many of the skills he learned at the camp aided him in achieving this goal. He confessed, “Prior to my participation in the Democracy Camp, I felt shy when speaking in public. However, after improving my oratory skills, I now feel more confident.”
During his time as student body president, he led initiatives for students and his greater community by implementing a number of small projects, including working with other area student body presidents to organize a charity event raising funds for a local nursing home; developing a stronger school Parliament team; passing on knowledge through an IFES mini-Democracy Camp for 30 youth from five area schools; and acting as a leader on a student trip to visit the Kyrgyz Parliament. Azamat’s personal experiences are just a few examples of hundreds of post-camp initiatives developed and implemented by camp alumni. However, his leadership, ability to mobilize others, and commitment to action made him stand out back in 2013 and 2014. It should be no surprise that since that time he has continued on an ambitious path of service.
“Democracy is not only about freedom but also about responsibility.”
After graduating from high school, and with a continued belief that he could make a positive contribution to the country, Azamat moved to the capital city, Bishkek, to study journalism at Bishkek Humanitarian University. During this time, he worked to develop and hone his skills by writing small articles for a local newspaper, Aiyl Jarchysy. In the summer of 2015, Azamat took part in a three-month journalism school held by Kloop.KG. After the training and writing practice articles, Kloop.KG hired Azamat in December 2015 to report on the work of the Jogorku Kenesh, the national Parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic. He is now working as a professional journalist, providing important information to the public on the work of their elected leaders.
Asked recently to look back on his IFES experience, he said, “Ten days at the Democracy Camp did not change my life’s direction, but it instead strengthened it. From my childhood I was interested in politics and in social projects but I did not know how I could make a contribution to improving society.” In looking at Azamat’s experiences from 2013 to 2017, it is clear that IFES’ Democracy Camp provided him the tools and impetus he needed to become a rising star and difference-maker in his community and, potentially, in his country.