Curtain call: theatre spotlights school bullying in Kyrgyzstan

School is a place where students learn and grow but for some it can also present dangers. In schools across Kyrgyzstan, bullying can cause many problems – fights, conflicts between schools, psychological trauma, or in extreme cases, even suicide. Agerkech, a youth organisation, decided to take on the issue.

“What is bullying? We wanted to ask this question and understand its causes,” says Nurjan, an Agerkech representative. “After attending a training on conflict and peacebuilding by Saferworld [where we learnt about increasing public understanding of societal issues and methods for resolving them], I applied to put on a play that would address some of these crucial issues and raise awareness.”

To get started, Agerkech organised a two-day training on tolerance and conflict resolution related to bullying for students around Bishkek. They also used Instagram (@innovativepeacebuilders) to raise awareness with their followers and announce a casting call for a play that would address these problems.

“We had around 21 students who joined the training and casting for the play,” says Nurjan. “We cast 12 students from different schools around Bishkek.”

Nurjan worked together with her husband, Nurlan, to put together a script that they felt tackled a lot of the issues that young people faced, including bullying. He also directed the play and created its soundtrack.

“The play is about that time of life when you are figuring everything out,” says Nurjan. “It’s about the relationships between teenagers, young love, difficult home lives and the importance of parental support.”

“Maksat, the main character, he thought he was the best and didn’t want to study,” Nurjan explains. “His parents were both far away. His father was working abroad in Russia. They gave him all the material things he wanted, but they weren’t there physically – and this had an effect on him. He started to lash out at school, picking fights, extorting money and being aggressive. He also had friends who encouraged this behaviour, and used him for their own purposes – to gain status, money or power.”

Maksat's bullying and fighting scene from the play.

Nargiza (16) heard about the training and casting from a friend. “I had a look on Instagram. I saw some of my classmates had signed up, but also others from different schools."

“I played the role of Samara, a friend of Aika (Maksat’s girlfriend),” says Nargiza. “My friend Rebecca played Aika. Aika is hard working and studious, and has a lot of ambitions. She loves Maksat, but has noticed how he's changed since his parents left and he’s going through tough transitions in his life. She saw how he is quick to fight – using his fists rather than thinking things through. They argue a lot because of this.”

In the central scene of the play, Maksat gets into a fight with another boy over Aika. He and Aika have an argument, and he starts to reflect on his behaviour. “He started to understand that he shouldn’t act this way,” said Nurjan. “He told Aika he wants to change, try harder in his studies and find his own path.”

Maksat reflecting on his behaviour with Aika.

Nargiza says this experience was a huge learning opportunity for her and her peers. “Every day I went to rehearsals prepared. I wanted to show the younger kids a positive example – why bullying is harmful and why it happens. It also allowed some of the cast to deepen their experience in the art of acting. My classmate Aytenir already studies at an arts centre, and so this was a big accomplishment for him, and opportunity to develop his acting skills further.”

“At the beginning I was quite shy, but my fellow actors on stage motivated me to open up,” adds Aytenir, who played the role of Maksat’s friend, Kanybek. “Most of all, it was Adilet [who played Maksat], who motivated, supported and encouraged me throughout. He didn’t let me give up.”

“From start to finish, we changed so much,” says Nargiza. “Our confidence – from both the trainings and the play – grew a lot. Even when we were putting on the rehearsals, we learnt to listen to each other, made a lot of new friends and became closer. We went from being shy and reserved to having a lot of confidence. The play was even aired on national TV, and we were asked to perform it in various venues, at different schools – we were really happy to get this kind of recognition.”

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