Somali youth feel hopeful, despite challenges
Ali became an orphan a few years ago when his parents died in explosion. As the eldest of three children, Ali, 21, set off in search of work and landed a job at a security checkpoint in order to earn enough money to feed himself and his two younger siblings. While wielding a gun, his daily job was to tax vehicles passing through the checkpoint.
Disillusioned by this life, Ali turned to drugs and soon forgot his childhood dreams of becoming a football star. “My dream was to become a soccer star like Ronaldo, but I didn’t have the opportunity to pursue it,” said Ali. He lost track of his dreams, until he was approached by a group of women who changed his life.
The Women Civilian Protection Unit (WCPU)- part of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Community Security project - has helped young people like Ali turn their lives around. A community-based group of women, the WCPU works with the Youth for Change (Y4C) programme - a joint initiative between UNDP, UNICEF and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) - to help young Somalis affiliated with armed groups renounce violence by sensitizing them on the adverse impact of conflict and violence on their country.
Launched in 2011, the programme provides young people with an opportunity for rehabilitation and personal development through educational activities, social rehabilitation, economic integration, and leadership training. The programme is funded by the Government of Japan, which contributed US$12 million between 2011 to 2013.
- Over 70 percent of Somalia’s population is under the age of thirty (Somalia Human Development Report)
- The unemployment rate for youth aged 14 to 29 is 67 percent—one of the highest rates in the world
- Since 2011, 1,650 young Somalis were given an opportunity for rehabilitation and personal development through educational activities, economic integration, and leadership training
- The program is funded by the Government of Japan, which contributed US$12 million between 2011 to 2013
This month, Ali will graduate from the Y4C programme, where he and more than 1,650 peers learned about peace-building and governance, and took classes in art, drama, and the Quran in addition to playing sports. They were also equipped with vocational skills, and Ali learned the skills he needs to become a mechanic, which will provide him with a steady income.
The largest draw of the programme for Ali was an opportunity to play football again. “I found my old passion again: football! I ran miles to get myself into shape because before I was always smoking. I stopped all this and focused on becoming the greatest football player of Mogadishu,” beamed Ali.
A football tournament was held in May, the first competition of its kind in 20 years given Somalia’s highly insecure environment. The highlight of the tournament was a football match between the police and participants from the Y4C programme, which was organised by local non-governmental organizations and Y4C partners, with the overall aim being to build a better relationship between the police and youth formerly involved in crime or risky behavior.
On the big day, Ali was impressed with the police officers. “They were good players. And when I fell on the ground, one of them pulled me up. I was shocked. We won the match with my goal. I have not felt this good in years.”