Apr 22, 2014

How I became a leader

Source: Chime Original

BY Zarina Nurmagambetova

Kyrgyzstan- Loneliness is a global challenge for teenagers and ethnic conflicts are a global challenge for the world. I was 13 years old when I started experiencing them both. Such divisions can be linguistic, racial or religious and there are currently about one hundred of those conflicts in the world, according to the Ethnic Conflict Information Center.

In my case, my perceived flaw was my nationality. Where I live, the majority of people are from a single ethnic group, while I have a dual ethnicity: Dungan (Muslim people of Chinese origins) and Kazakh. This made me different from others and led to aggression against me. The insults were many, and so were the disgruntled looks and physical attacks. As you can imagine, this completely crushed my confidence, it trampled and destroyed my self-esteem, and made me feel that life is just this one long and painful journey.

You know what leads to personality problems? It is the endless criticism and the self-doubts they generate. Constantly confronting and surviving these events made it hard to breathe, hard to sleep, hard to think. And those questions kept nagging me: “Why am I not like everyone else?” or “Why is life so unfair?” At an age when your worldview is shaping and you’re developing your attitude towards life, experiencing such blows was hard. What was wrong in our family tree? Why was I different just because of the parents I was born to? My origins became my burden. I arrived at a point where I just wanted to be a different person altogether. I was looking to change my very nature and that was unbearably hard. This is when the darkest thoughts can come to you. For a 13-year-old girl, these events were enough to make me think about saying goodbye to life and let it go.

But I became a winner when I understood that striving in life actually means conquering yourself, and overcoming your fears and uncertainties. I was lucky to change schools, but I still had the challenge of learning to forget everything I had been through and to learning how to trust people. I began to succeed in my studies and met others who accepted me for who I was. The pain, however, was still vivid. I remained unsure of myself and couldn’t open up to others.

Then something interesting happened. A confident woman with great taste and a clear speech came to my school. She spoke with the students about conflicts in our communities. At the end of the conversation, she invited us to partake in a casting for Youth Theater for Peace. For me, Youth Theater for Peace was something new and interesting. Casting day came and I was chosen to participate in the program. It was my first win in 13 years of life.

Youth Theater for Peace is a set of trainings and exercises that lead an individual to understand society and open up to it. At first, young actors learn to analyze problems and conflicts in their communities. Later, they perform plays based on their learning and lead community discussions about how to resolve conflicts. Perhaps it was just a fortunate coincidence, or perhaps it was fate, but at the very moment when I most needed help I got it.

At the Youth Theater for Peace camps, the teens really got to know each other and found a common ground. I felt at home: cozy, comfortable, surrounded by good people. At the trainings, we played different games and learned about drama and conflict resolution. Then came the time when we exchanged personal stories. Everyone had to describe a difficult situation in which they could not achieve their goal. I wondered whether or not I should share my own tale, but I realized I was supported by friends and decided to trust them. I shared my experience with confidence and haven’t regretted it since.

By the end of the first camp, my friends and I had developed leadership instincts, we felt we knew how to resolve conflicts and, most importantly – we all had gained a great number of loyal and devoted friends. I have been with Youth Theater for Peace for 4 years. I became a performance facilitator, speaking to other adolescents and adults about the root causes of conflicts and how to resolve them; I also address problems at the family, community and national levels.

Participation in the program has given me a great deal. It killed my fear of the future, destroyed my stage fright, raised my self-esteem and developed my critical thinking. It taught me to take action and make a difference rather than waiting for some external change. Most importantly, it showed me that you can always find a way out whatever the situation. I became a leader and successfully influenced my community. Am I a different person? I don’t think so, because no one can change who we are. I just became a better version of myself, which is something everyone can do.

My name is Zarina, and this is my story. I suspect that you wonder why I did not say my name immediately? It’s because I want to emphasize that this story can happen to any girl. It is important that I can proudly call myself a winner. I forgot the negative things that happened to me and started a new life. I realized that you need to live in the present and not be afraid of the shadows of the past. Tomorrow is a mystical home of human productivity, motivation and achievements. I realize that everything depends on us. Today, I achieved all the goals I had set for myself. Nothing is easy, but nothing is unreachable. It’s all in our hands and having learned that has set me free.

Zarina participated in the Youth Theater for Peace Program in her native Kyrgyzstan. Youth Theater for Peace is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by IREX.

Opinions shared are those of the author and are not necessarily representative of views of CHIME FOR CHANGE, Gucci or any partners of the campaign. 

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