In Buryatia, a struggle against AIDS and substance abuse

November 29, 2000

BURYATIA, Russia — In response to rising rates of alcoholism, drug use and AIDS among youth in this Siberian republic, Baha'is here have created a "Youth Center for Social Initiatives" to promote a healthy lifestyle among youth and teenagers and to train teachers and other specialists to do prevention work with youth. Deaths from AIDS have increased 33-fold in Buryatia since the beginning of the year, a symptom of the general moral crisis afflicting much of the region.

"No prevention work is effective without the development of a sustainable system of moral values among the youth and offering them channels for individual growth and self-fulfillment through community service," said Oxanna Dorzhieva, director of the Youth Centre. "Our principal tasks are the development of young people's awareness of their personal dignity and the need for spiritual independence, development of a volunteer movement for prevention work, training of teachers and other specialists in prevention education, and cultivation of a positive lifestyle among youth and teenagers."

The Youth Center is an outgrowth of a Baha'i project for youth in Ulan-Ude known as the "Young Lions" social project, which provided alternative youth activities, training in moral leadership, and popular social activities for the youth of the Ulan-Ude region.

"Many prevention projects organized by Young Lions, such as "Youth Against Drugs," "Be Sober in the New Millennium," "Our City," and seminars on AIDS, have won serious attention from the government of Buryatia and popularity among youth in Ulan-Ude and neighboring communities," said Ms. Dorzhieva.

The local administration of Ivolga, a region with the highest rates of drug use among youth and of alcohol and drug-related crime in recent years, approached the Young Lions for assistance in organizing prevention activities for the whole region.

"We wanted to extend our work with this key segment of the population and assist them in addressing these problems through the creation of the Youth Center for Social Initiatives," said Ms. Dorzhieva. "We are trying to build a network together with teachers and other specialists, parents, administration, the police, media and possibly other institutions, to protect youth from alcohol and drug use. The experience gained from this project will start spreading all over the Republic within a year."

The Youth Centre also works to develop regional, national and international collaboration in prevention work, and courses, seminars and workshops on moral leadership and prevention of AIDS and substance abuse. The Centre is working with specialists from the AIDS Centre of Buryatia to create a youth and teen prevention program that will include materials on moral education. The program will be submitted to the Ministry of Education of Buryatia for inclusion in the school curriculum for children aged 12 to 15.