Youth employment and empowerment in Sierra Leone

Jan 12, 2010

Dozens of students discuss skills with a UN representative in a training center in Makeni, in the center of Sierra Leone (Photo: Jas Kaminski/UNDP)
UNDP and the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund (UNPBF) have been supporting Sierra Leone's youths through a number of training courses that will improve their chances of obtaining a job.

Through these initiatives, the youths gain valuable skills to seek employment and empower themselves.

These activities are essential to maintaining peace and stability in Sierra Leone. Fifteen- to 35-year-olds comprise 33 percent of the population but represent about 70 percent of the unemployed, according to the 2003 Population Census.

Many are either out of school or not working. By their early 20’s, one in three urban youths and one in six rural youths are unemployed. Official unemployment rates also fail to capture discouraged workers, high inactivity rates, underemployment and other factors.

A discussion in Makeni

A training programme known as TECVOC supports nine public and private vocational training centres nationwide through the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.

The Sierra Leone Opportunities Industrialization Center in Makeni, in the center of Sierra Leone, is one of the beneficiary institutions teaching youth participants in electronics, car mechanics, masonry, metal work, catering, agriculture, tailoring and carpentry.

Judy Cheng Hopkins, Assistant Secretary General for Peace Building Support,  Keith Wright, Head of Recovery for Development Unit, Sierra Leone and Patrick Lampoi, Programme Officer, Peace Building Support Office, Sierra Leone   (Photo: Jas Kaminski UNDP)
One day in October, as part of a wider field visit by the UN, students in Makeni engaged in a lively discussion about their training activities. As a numerous onlookers peered through the windows of the crowded classroom, the students talked about their challenges and dreams of a better life when they would be able to earn a living with the skills they are acquiring.

Judy Cheng Hopkins, Assistant Secretary General for Peace Building Support, spoke to these youths during a visit to Makeni where she inspected youth projects funded by UNPBF and UNDP.

Some of the large wooden chairs in the classroom were made at the training centre, one student said. Another student, Fatima, said that she was studying to become an electrician and that she looked forward to becoming self-employed when she finished her training. She brought down the room in laughter, as well as drew some derision from some male students, when she said, “Whatever a man can do, a woman can do better.”

On the left Johnston A. Kamara, 25, now training as a builder in Makeni  and has a number of skills such as laying out foundations (Photo: Jas kaminski UNDP)
Johnston A. Kamara, 25, had started training as a builder three weeks earlier and had already learned how to lay out foundations, make flower pots and assemble toilets. After finishing his course, he wants to earn enough money to support his country and family. “I have six brothers, three sisters and a mother and father living at home,” he said. “But my family is very poor.”

Later in the afternoon, youth leaders of national political parties spoke with equal passion and persuasion about their course, which is part of UNDP’s Political Party Youth Leadership Support Programme for political reconciliation and peace building in rural areas. The representatives thanked the Peace Building Support Office and UNDP for their support to the project, and stressed the importance of “tolerance” in the context of elections. Youth leaders from the Bombali district also spoke of the importance of establishing gender balance in political representation, and urged the UN to continue their support for youth-oriented projects in Sierra Leone.


In 2007-2008, UNDP approved US$27 million in funds for 11 UNPBF projects such as presidential, parliament and local elections, and youth and other peace building projects.

UNDP has managed youth projects funded by the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund since 2007 and, to date, implemented a series of three youth projects: Grants for Youth Initiated Projects (2007-2008); and Youth Enterprise Development (2008-2009) . The “Sensitization and Dissemination of Non-Violence among the Youth” in Makeni is part of a wider “Political Party Youth Leadership Support Programme” for political reconciliation and peace building in rural areas.

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