Diana Mosoyan and her peers from Ninotsminda have long been concerned with issues of healthcare, tourism, agriculture and social welfare in their municipality and developed their own vision and initiatives to address these. Prior to engaging in civic activism, they had often spoken about existing challenges and criticized the unwillingness of local authorities to solve the problems. They found it impossible to have their voices heard, so it was hard to imagine that one day they would fruitfully cooperate with local decision-makers be able to help solve the existing problems.
Eventually Diana realized that discussions amongst themselves could not solve the problems alone unless she and her friends engaged in a dialogue with local authorities. In September 2021, she participated in the EU-supported initiative for Strengthening the Socioeconomic Rights of Ethnic Minorities and attended a training session in Social and Economic Rights Empowerment Center (SEREC). Now she carries out training and meets Ninotsminda Municipality communities to understand their challenges and communicate them to local authorities.
Before joining the project, Diana says it was unimaginable to think that she would ever be in a position to participate in 2022 budget planning or attend municipal council meetings: “We had dreams and ideas before, but there was no chance to put them into practice,” she explained. “All we could do was talk to each other and criticize things, because we had never communicated with decision-makers and could not even imagine that communication would actually be productive. After coming to SEREC, we had a meeting with local authorities where we discussed existing problems that seemed to have fallen through the cracks.
“We shared ideas on how to address the challenges of education, sports and environmental protection,” Diana says, noting that it was after learning about the EU-supported project that the young people decided to talk openly about problems with the aim to attract funding from the municipality to address those issues.
“During the meeting at the municipality, we raised some issues related to Round Lake, which was heavily polluted. We developed a project together with SEREC. We proposed to clean the lake and build an appropriate infrastructure to allow Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) to implement projects there. We also plan to build a recreation zone and biking paths for children around the lake. We have a lot of ideas, so let’s wait and see whether our project wins,” Diana adds.
SEREC’s main goal is to improve the local socioeconomic situation and promote development of the municipality, as Vladimir Zalalian, Administrative Assistant of the SEREC Centre explains: “When we visited local villages to disseminate important information, we saw there were a lot of active young people who could think of ways to solve the problems and implement interesting projects together in collaboration with the municipality and ourselves.”
“We try to ensure the authorities hear us, to show that, in addition to discussing problems, we want participate in solving them. Broadly speaking, you cannot solve problems simply by protesting and losing your temper. In order to address the community problems identified, a constructive dialogue and partnership with the authorities is key. We have frequently met with rural residents to understand the main problems they are facing. We understand problems cannot be solved at once, so we try to achieve our goals one by one. The most important thing is that the authorities understand we offer constructive criticism and wish to deliver results.,” says Agasin Zalalian, Coordinator of the SEREC Centre in Ninotsminda. As a result of the cooperation and awareness raising in the villages, local people know they can play a significant role in regional development. They are also aware that they can contact the SEREC Centre whenever they have an idea, need information about a grant program, or even some assistance in writing projects. The Centre would help them discuss the problems with the local authorities and contribute to the socioeconomic development of their municipality.