Small-scale Journalism Classes for Pankisi Youth to Increase Youth Employment and Alternative Reporting on Pankisi Issues
Relative to its size and economic importance, Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge is a region that attracts a lot of outside attention. With the highest population of ethnic Kists, many Chechen refugees from first and second Chechen-Russian conflicts, and harsh economic realities, the region has made news around the world thanks to reports of several dozen local inhabitants, including teens, joining Islamic extremist militias and fighting in Syria. These developments have raised the concern of youth radicalization in the region. In addition, the region endures extreme rates of poverty and unemployment; considering the reality, youth empowerment and alternatives to radicalization are critical components to the region’s development aspirations.
EWMI ACCESS’s partner CSO, the Kakheti-based Center for Civil Activities (CCA) is taking proactive steps to broach this sensitive topic and tackle existing problems through youth integration and civic engagement initiatives. Within the EWMI-ACCESS-funded project, CCA delivered intensive training courses to competitively selected group of local youth in basics of civic journalism. Pankisi’s newly minted press corps has been producing multimedia reports and blogs on issues of local concern and publishing on the most popular online media source in the Kakheti region – the Kakheti Information Center website.
While actively working in the Pankisi Gorge, CCA recognized the need for an effective information dissemination mechanism to inform locals of recent developments in the region and about the country as whole, support civic education, and promote greater civic engagement in the region. For this purpose, CCA has launched a bilingual (Georgian-Chechen) community radio WAY and employed its trained citizen reporters.
24-year-old Zarema Ididze is one of the trained civic journalists, now working for WAY starting from March, 2016. She graduated from Telavi state university in 2012 and since then was unable to find a job. She lives in the village of Birkiani in Pankisi, with her husband, two children and other family members. No one is employed in Zarema’s family except her. Zarema learned about the training opportunities from social networks where CCA had posted announcement. She passed the course successfully and, under the mentorship of journalists from Kakheti Information Center, was engaged in production of multimedia materials and blogs on various issues. Later she was given an opportunity to work in – WAY. “I had to travel a very difficult path to stick to this decision due to criticism from some members of the community saying that journalism is not something that Kist women should do. It was not easy. But, soon community members saw positive sides of it. The Community Radio and CCA made big changes in the Gorge. The young people who considered it shameful to even take a camera in their hands, are now comfortable in front of cameras or voice recorders; they express their ideas openly and propose new social initiatives”.
Before mastering the journalism Zamira was thinking of leaving the country to seek employment opportunities abroad: “Before starting my work at the Radio, I was thinking of leaving Georgia… I considered it the only way out of my situation. Now I have more responsibilities in my community. I want to challenge and reverse negative stereotypes about Pankisi and show you my nation and my Gorge from a different perspective … Radio WAY will allow us to do this.”
Radio WAY is just one of many potential civic activities that can work towards civic integration of the Pankisi community. Creating similar initiatives is not without difficulties but evidence proves that increased capacities and engagement of the region’s youth helps them to positively contribute to the society and thus, bring about positive changes and benefits to the region. ACCESS is proud to be part of these excitement developments in the region and is eager to seek further engagement opportunities to seize on this transformative momentum in Pankisi.
Photos Courtesy of Mr. Onnik Krikorian.