Leyla Jabbarzade works at Common Sense Youth Organisation (CSYO) in Sumgait, Azerbaijan. For the last two years, she worked closely with organizations from Georgia and Germany for a youth project funded by the EVZ Foundation.
My name is Leyla Jabbarzade and I’ve been working at the Azerbaijani youth organization Common Sense since 2019. I’m working as a project manager and international relations coordinator and I’m organizing youth projects funded by the EVZ Foundation, the Erasmus+ Program, the European Peace Foundation and many others. We find it really helpful that the application process of the EVZ Foundation is easy and understandable to apply for project funding. In 2019, I got familiar with the EVZ Foundation while attending the EUROPEANS FOR PEACE Youth Conference in Berlin. At Common Sense, I mainly focus on writing applications and managing projects. We do projects with young people for young people. For us, it’s important not only to do fun activities with young people, but also to educate them. Therefore, we work closely with state institutions such as the Ministry of Science and Education. We can show them that our non-formal education programs really change the overall educational level of young people. We can’t change the whole system at once, but we can take small steps. Our goal is to educate young people so they can share their knowledge with their own communities. Although we cannot reach everyone, we can manage to spread our message.
I did my Master’s in Education in England with the support of the state scholarship program and wanted to become more involved in research and improvements in the education field in Azerbaijan. After graduating from college, I came back home and couldn‘t find a job in the higher education field. I did some volunteering, and I quickly realized that I love organizing projects with young people. After every single project, I can see the change we make – even if it's a small one. Later, I started to volunteer at Common Sense which really expanded my opportunities and enhanced my organizational skills.
My "MEET UP!" project this year was about social rights. I find it important to educate young people about social rights and how to claim them. We organized a workshop with our project partners from Germany and Georgia. It was really fascinating to share experiences and perceptions of social rights. For example, we discussed the right to be mobile in public transport and it was interesting to hear how different our experiences were, especially in rural and urban areas and for people with physical disabilities. We then encouraged the participants to organize a small project related to social rights in their local communities and to draw up an online brochure about their ideas to raise social rights awareness. In the next phase, we had a meeting in Germany to evaluate their local projects and discuss the challenges we have had throughout the process and heard their perspectives on social rights. It is a learning process for me to understand projects that happen on an intercultural and international level.
In Azerbaijan, it is challenging for people with disabilities to go to a restaurant or join outdoor activities. For example, in Baku there is no accessible infrastructure. I started to look into this because I was frustrated that young people with disabilities couldn’t join youth encounters. I thought of the "hidden skills" of people with disabilities and wanted to reframe their experiences. I gathered participants with and without physical disabilities in an Erasmus+ project to see how they would interact with each other. We call them "mixed ability" projects. Some of the participants told me that they didn’t even feel that they were different, which made me really happy. Young people amaze me every time because they always find a way to communicate even if there is no shared language or shared experience. They want to learn from each other. At the same time, it is challenging to organize such events because we want to adjust everything to their needs, but sometimes the projects are not 100 percent inclusive. We learn from this experience as an organization, and we want to do better next time. Unfortunately, we are not trained to work with young people with mental disabilities yet. Still, the participants are very grateful because they see how hard we try to include them, and they appreciate the effort.
We reach out to young people from rural regions and invite them to join projects in bigger cities like Baku. We help them if they need financial support to buy bus or train tickets or need a place to stay. Moreover, we are working with youth development and career centers in rural areas and ask them to share our information about upcoming projects. It’s very important to stay in contact with young people from those areas because focusing on urban spaces alone is not sustainable enough. If we want to see change, we need to include everyone despite their socio-economic situation. We try to encourage them to learn English, take part in international projects and improve their personal and professional skills.
I focus on a variety of topics because I want to organize projects in accordance with young people’s needs. Sometimes we think we need something big, something exciting and adventurous – but in most of the cases, young people just need a space to share their experiences and to gain knowledge. That’s why I focus on disability awareness, media and digital literacy, environmental issues as well as social rights. And I say "social rights" because it can be tricky to talk about human rights in Azerbaijan. Some people can perceive the term negatively. Although it sounds very politicized, we aim to enlighten people and build a strong partnership with government institutions to raise awareness of these topics.
The interview was conducted by Antonia Skiba