-  Empowering frontline communities in Azerbaijan  -

July 19, 2012

Heading to Baku, Azerbaijan just a few weeks before Baku was to host the Eurovision Song Contest was an experience in itself. Here is an emergent nation bursting with pride at hosting its most high-profile event in modern history. Coming from Britain, where Eurovision has a bad reputation, it was a surprise to see how swept up the country was in Eurovision fever. This was its big moment, and Azerbaijan was milking it for all it was worth.

But Eurovision is not the only vision. Tag has a vision, too. There are two Azerbaijans, even two Bakus. The first – represented by the glitzy Eurovision preparations – is the emergent, confident, aspirant, thriving country, where prosperity and development are powering ahead.

The second is the poorer, less-developed, sector, where improvements can still be made in education, healthcare and social services. Even in Baku, almost side by side are amazing new buildings hosting and housing the wealthy and the far less-attractive premises, left over from the Soviet era.

Working with our local partner – the Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society (AzRC) – we are looking to do our small part to address the gaps. We are fortunate to have access to knowledge that can do much good, and over the years we have sought a variety of ways to share it to maximum impact. As the relationship has grown so has the adventurousness of our projects.

Our latest project involves helping to build resilience in communities along the frontline with Armenia, where a bitter three-year war in the 1990s has left a strained ceasefire characterized by heightened tensions and ongoing dangers.

Following a joint assessment and planning period in 2011, which culminated in an official opening ceremony at AzRC headquarters in Baku in May 2012, Tag and AzRC professionals travelled to Qazakh and a training period in First Aid, Health Promotion and ODT (Out Door Training) was launched for seven local trainees. The Bus for All of Us project is now in full swing, with the trainees who have graduated to trainer status travelling to six frontline villages every week, one a day for six days, bringing health and resilience-building community skills and tools to children, youth and adults.

Consider the verse from the famous Psalm (23) “the valley of the shadow of death.” Living in a place where there is a risk of a child at play detonating a landmine or drawing sniper fire casts a shadow over people. Living in a conflict region plays games with one’s mind, saps one’s nerves and imposes additional strains on families and communities. Our work aims to dispel that shadow through sharing a range of approaches to strengthening coping mechanisms and sharing new community-building skills.

Whenever I return to Azerbaijan, I feel we are truly among friends. Given the disastrous scores clocked by my country, Britain, in Eurovision over recent years, I asked my colleagues at the Red Crescent whether they could see that we were not humiliated this time. Still, Britain again came near bottom, so Eurovision 2012 will go down as another Eurovision disaster for us.

However, I was not disappointed at HeyderAliyev airport, where I went to catch my flight home, when I discovered to my joy that free wireless was available. I had even remembered to bring my computer cable, and was looking forward to a couple of hours of productive work when I discovered that I had packed the plug adaptor in my suitcase and my laptop was low on battery!

So instead of enjoying the free wireless and getting to work, I had time to reflect on what I would write in this blog! From what you have just read, you can tell that regrettably that effort wasn’t productive either!

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