Youth in Sierra Leone find hope in entrepreneurship

12 Jan 2010

In eastern Sierra Leone, the Kono district is well known for diamond mining. However, during a decade of civil war, this district also gained notoriety for the brutal violence meted out to the local population.

Youth unemployment was a major cause of that violence. Today, a high unemployment rate among the youth of Sierra Leone – 60 percent – and low adult literacy rate of 31 percent still pose a serious challenge to the country’s newfound stability.
 
To provide hope and opportunity for the youth of Kono, UNDP is implementing programmes that support nascent entrepreneurs, allowing them to start their own businesses and providing them with training.  In addition to gaining technical capacity and a source of income, the disadvantaged youth of Sierra Leone build confidence and leadership skills through these initiatives.

Musa Kamara started work as a mechanic at the tender age of eight. It all began at the vocational school where he picked up skills and eventually learned the trade. Twenty-four years later, armed with this knowledge, sharp skills, experience and motivation, he opened Fast-Tec Electronics in June 2008.  Determined to venture into entrepreneurship without any support from agencies, Musa invited his friends to learn mechanical skills so they too could earn an income. Today, he has four colleagues at his shop: Sahr, Yakuba, Ibrahim and Osman.  Musa’s next target is to expand the shop so that more people can join him to learn motor mechanic skills for their self-empowerment and future employment.
 
Mr. Aiah Kai is the owner of Kabi Garage and the team leader of 15 young motor mechanics training as apprentices.  Like Musa, he started young, and eventually he was able to open his own garage when he was 25 years old, a feat he is clearly proud of today.  Aiah warmly welcomes young people of Kono to learn and obtain skills.  Recently three miners, Dane, Alpha and Ibrahim, came to Aiah’s garage and asked to start an apprenticeship, hoping over time to pick up valuable skills in mechanics.  According to Aiah, “There is no future for the youth in mining. That is why I try to encourage them to learn a trade. Fortunately, some of them are beginning to listen.”
 
“Now I know how to repair motorcycles and I have even started to earn small money from my work to improve my life,” said Ibrahim.  “This training programme even teaches me how to write and calculate at school. I [attend] school during the morning and work at the garage in the afternoon,” he added.  
 
Fast-Tec Electronics and Kabi Garage are just two entities that have been receiving support from UNDP since February 2009, through an Italian NGO, Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI). As the youth continue to challenge themselves to personally grow and become productive citizens, they are developing their community and benefiting their country.