FIRING UP COMMUNITY MEMBERS FOR ASCP'S SUSTAINABILITY
Lenkaran, Sheki, Mingachevir, Ganja, Barda, Azerbaijan - January 30 and February 2-5, 2004. - Building strong communities by fostering civic leadership is Project Harmony's mission, which is implemented through the programs the organization administers in the USA, Russia, Ukraine, and the Caucasus. Azerbaijan School Connectivity Program, funded by the US State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, establishes Internet Computer Centers across Azerbaijan, provides extensive training for educators and undertakes efforts to strengthen community relations.
On January 30 and February 2-5, Vusal Khanlarov, Community Outreach Coordinator, conducted meetings with 320 local businessmen, representatives from media, police, NGOs, the Ministries of Education and Youth, Sports and Tourism and local executive committees in Ganja, Mingachevir, Lenkaran, Sheki and Barda. The main issue discussed at the meetings was the strategies for strengthening community relations through the community projects conducted in the Internet Computer Centers.
The Azerbaijan School Connectivity Program introduces new series of community projects that will involve active community participation and will be of mutual benefit for the program and the communities as a whole. The program aims at creating a unique resource for students to learn about businesses in Azerbaijan and local entrepreneurs to advertise their companies, the Azerbaijan's Business Web Portal. Project Harmony will partner with ARAN, humanitarian regional development organization in Barda on providing free of charge legal consultations for local businessmen via the Business Web Portal and Junior Achievement on assisting ASCP students to collect information on business environment in the regions, where the program functions. The website will also contain an online information center for entrepreneurs. Among the goals of the community meetings was to present the websites on IDP businesses, which ASCP students created for the project's first stage and to encourage businessmen to support the web portal creation process by involving ASCP students in job shadowing experience for the students to learn how enterprises function and to collect market information for the business communities. As one of the community members, whose three sons participate in computer trainings in the ICC in Shuruk village, stated: "The project is a great way of attracting businessmen to the ICCs, which would ensure the centers' sustainability in the future."
ASCP also made the ICCs available and attractive place to enroll for policemen by involving them in the "Road Signs" initiative. The project invites the representatives from local police stations to visit classrooms and provide trainings on road signs for students and teachers, who will then create the first website on this topic in Azerbaijan.
By connecting Azerbaijani schools into strong and developing educational network, ASCP have also created intensive exchanges of information between the cities in Azerbaijan and to support and strengthen these relations ASCP initiates the "Online Newspaper of My City" project. The initiative will engage local journalists in providing trainings for the students on how to write and edit articles for online newspapers about cities where ASCP functions. Groups of students from each school will form the editorial board of the newspapers that will contain latest news from the regions, ASCP schools, Parents-Teachers Associations and Volunteer Unions.
Forming the Parents-Teacher Associations (PTA) and Volunteer Associations (VA) are new opportunities that the Azerbaijan School Connectivity Program creates for the schools in its network and these initiatives were introduced and reinforced during the community meetings. The resources available at the Internet Computer Centers will help PTA and VA members to learn computers, the Internet, to create and maintain their websites and to communicate with the associations' members in other regions.
Thus by conducting such meetings and introducing new community-based projects, the Azerbaijan School Connectivity Program reinforces the public relations and aims at improving collaboration between community members for creating healthier and stronger civil society in Azerbaijan.