Алидовар Сотарсаиров

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan, 14 June 2018 – Alidovar is from Ishkashim, a remote mountainous area where you can breathe the windy heritage of the Silk Road, sense the chilling waters from numerous springs, and gaze upon bordering Afghanistan.
Three years ago he applied to participate in a children’s forum, a UNICEF-supported side event to the International High Level Conference on Water for Life in Tajikistan. The forum brought together 60 children and adolescents from twelve countries to discuss how to engage their peers in ensuring access to safe and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for every boy and girl.
“My first UNICEF experience was transforming in many ways,” says Alidovar. “The five-day advocacy workshop at the historical Hissar Fortress helped me understand better water, hygiene and sanitation issues. I learned the basic journalistic skills, but most importantly, I became more confident that my voice matters in solving the development challenges in my community, regardless of my young age”.
He also attended a WASH workshop prior to the conference which introduced children and youth to advocacy work, video production and social media so that they contribute to the ongoing global discussions.

First efforts in community

“I went back home all inspired and got engaged in several projects,” says Alidovar. “Together with my fellow mates from Khorog, we produced three OneMinuteJr videos. Mine was about the impact of washing hands on the quality of schooling and level of educational outcomes. I also conducted advocacy sessions for students in my school on the importance of having water next to the toilets and the need to wash hands. I told them how not washing hands can affect their studies and health, for example, height, and spoke about it from my own experience. Then, I asked my school principal for her support to install a water sink next to our school toilet.” In Khorog, where Alidovar studies, only two out of twelve schools have adequate WASH facilities, and his school was one of them. “The school principal could provide only a small amount as there was no dedicated budget for that, so I decided to raise funds within our school. I went class by class and collected numerous small notes and coins from the peers. That is how the necessary amount was collected. My friends from a local NGO bought all necessary materials and one of the school teachers installed the sink. Finally, the water started running…”
Then Alidovar went to the US for a year as part of an exchange programme. When he returned to his school in Khorog, he saw that the sink had been broken. “Looking back, I realise that one of the reasons for the failure of my project was that I did not mobilise a team around it. I was running here and there on my own and pushed on my own. My fellow schoolmates did not feel any ownership. Having a team is essential for the success of any project. I only realised it today, when I came for the second UNICEF-supported workshop.”

Becoming a young mentor on innovation

Last year, UNICEF Tajikistan was one of three country offices globally that received the Global 7% Set Aside Funds for adolescent projects for 2017-2019, which included the UPSHIFT programme. This initiative helps young people like Alidovar become social innovators to identify problems in their communities and create solutions. Through UNICEF’s UPSHIFT social innovation curriculum, they also learn how to lead, mobilise teams and inspire the full process from conception to execution. UPSHIFT has trained Alidovar in a different capacity enabling him to become a young mentor on innovation.
“Having made all my journeys with UNICEF, I would like to make two appeals: one is for my fellow young mates and one to the decision-makers in my country and globally,” concludes Alidovar. “My ask to fellow young friends is that they value teamwork as one cannot succeed on his or her own, and do not to jump to solutions right away without diving deep into a problem or issue they are going to address. As to the decision-makers, the only thing I would ask them is to involve young people in decision-making. This is an enormously powerful thing. It not only inspires kids, but also enriches the decisions that are taken at all levels, and eventually helps future generations.”

UNICEF in Tajikistan is again bringing a cohort of young, talented innovators to the High-Level Conference on the International Decade for Action “Water for sustainable development”, 2018-2028. Fifteen teams of adolescents, including a team led by Alidovar, are just some of the examples of the power and potential of engaging with young people. It is with their inspiration and input that UNICEF in Tajikistan has resumed WASH programmes in the country, and will continue working with adolescents to find local solutions for WASH.