In its third year already, this dynamic community of Chechnya's brightest and most original youngsters is a rare and special thing "“ not a "project" by an NGO, not a cadre-forging government outfit, but young people coming together on their own and building a community based on the values of equality, dignity, respect and mutual support. Ostensibly, it's about practicing English through interaction, but as every visitor to Chechnya who had the good fortune of getting invited to a Club session knows, it is so much more. It is the only space in Chechnya where freedom of expression, equality and diversity are taken seriously and earnestly put into practice.
A purely volunteer-led, grass-roots initiative, the Club never had any funding but that didn't keep it from growing into a thriving, dynamic institution. The only challenge was finding a home, so that the members kept bouncing from one temporary space to another, sometimes forced out by restrictions on their freedom of speech, sometimes by demands to "own" them. The Club's story "“ its quest for a home and formation of its ethos - was recently published on OpenDemocracy. After the Club lost their most recent home at a civil society resource centre, members won permission to meet at Chechnya's National Library. Things went well enough at the library, for a while. There were some inconveniences like having to leave by 6pm, or having all their chairs removed without warning because they were needed for a conference. Or being shut out altogether during the extensive public holidays.
But then they were advised that while they were allowed to use the space, they could not talk about things like democracy or human rights during their sessions "“ not at Chechnya's national library.
This episode made one thing clear, once again: in Chechnya, if you want the freedom to think and talk about what you want and with whom you want, you need your own space. After three years of wandering, the time has come for the C&E Club to find a home of its own, and this is why we ask you for help. The Club has never been anyone's project and it wants to stay this way. It never applied for or received a grant, because splitting this community into project coordinators and beneficiaries, filling out time-sheets and meeting someone else's eligibility rules and outcome benchmarks would go against what the Club stands for "“ independence, genuine volunteering and coming together, collective decision-making and open-ended outcomes. And because most club members are university or secondary school students, they cannot afford to pay rent (their own small contributions cover tea, cookies and basic stationary supplies). That's why we hope to raise support directly from you, the Club's friend, allies and members in spirit around the world.
The Club's home will be an apartment or office, with one room large enough to fit up to 25 people at a time, and little else. This space will not only accommodate the Club's regular meetings, but be open to other community initiatives (by Club members, their friends and anyone else), like arts workshops, film screenings, talks about entrepreneurship or education abroad "“ a hub for people who want to grow, learn and support each other.
Based on current rent levels in Grozny, this should come to around $4,800 per year, including utilities. We need to raise at least half of this before the Club members can sign a contract with confidence. Once a contract has been signed, the exact costs will be posted here. The rent contract and all receipts will be shared with all contributors.
Thank you, friends! Your support makes a huge difference! And next time you're in Grozny, drop by the C&E Club as a guest of honor!
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