Youth empowerment is key to unleashing their potential

November 26, 2018

Unisa Bangura, smiles broadly minutes after he was awarded a certificate in social works from the Obasanjo College in Newton just outside Freetown ©UNDP Sierra Leone/Alpha Sesay

Seven years ago, when twenty-eight-years-old Unisa Bangura completed his Senior Secondary School, he didn’t have the financial support to enable him to go to college. Desperately in need to raise the money, he ventured into volunteerism as a teacher in a community school in Goderich, an affluent neighborhood in the west end of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.

Two years into volunteerism, the little monthly allowance of three hundred thousand Leones (roughly USD 50) couldn’t allow him to save enough to fulfill his lifelong dream. Along the way, he got married and had a child, turning hopes of actualizing his dream into an uphill battle.  

When the Ebola struck in 2014, schools were put on hold and he had to join the fight against defeating the deadly virus as an hygiene and sanitation officer at the Emergency Treatment center near his Goderich community. When the Ebola ended, he was amongst the first to be relieved of his duties because he was among the least qualified.

“I’ve missed out on too many job opportunities I thought I had the skills for,” said Bangura. “I’ve faced one rejection after another even though I’m experienced in those areas.” He said with a beam of smiles.

The challenges faced by Unisa and the 70 percent of Sierra Leone’s youth who, according to the 2012 status of the youth report, are either unemployed or underemployed. This moved the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2011 to introduce the Youth Empowerment and Employment Programme (YEEP).

The programme works in close partnership with the Youth Affairs Ministry (MoYA) and the National Youth Commission (NAYCOM) with the aim to build technical capacity of MoYA and NAYCOM to facilitate policy development, ensuring that relevant policies are coherent and harmonized and have a positive impact on employment creation; promoting youth empowerment and leadership, primarily through the strengthening of Chiefdom and District Youth Councils, and assisting youth in their transition from school to work through the provision of employment promotion services such as internship opportunities and support to micro, small and medium-sized business development.

In April, this year Bangura’s friend Lamin heard an announcement on the radio calling for qualified students who want to study at the Obasanjo Skills Acquisition College to grab their free application forms at the college’s campus in Newton just outside Freetown.

Bangura was among 1,500 applicants who went through the college’s rigorous process and was amongst the six hundred who finally got admitted to the college for a place to study social work for a period of seven months. UNDP provided 150 scholarships out of the 551 graduates.

When he started the course, the distance from his community to college campus was a huge constraint. So he had to rent a single room jointly with a colleague to save his meagre resources and alleviate the burden of travelling from west to the east of Freetown every day. 

At the Obasanjo Skills Acquisition college in a hot Saturday afternoon last week, well dressed in black suits, black gown, black mortarboard and blue tie matching majestically, all the 551 graduates received their certificate in different courses ranging from Media Studies, Business Entrepreneurship, Public Health, and Social Work making them the fifth batch to have graduated from the college.

In a similar component of the YEEP, less than 15 hours to the graduation, a joint team from UNDP, MoYA, and NAYCOM had just commissioned the Eastern Polytechnic Career Placement and Advisory Services (CAPS) center. This center, a one-stop shop for everything pertaining to career guidance and counseling, mentorship, coaching, networking, training, electronic library, internet facilities, photocopying and printing facilities for students, was commissioned on Friday, 16th November 2018 by the Deputy Ministry of Youth Affairs, Hon. Luseni Kallon in the college’s campus in Kenema district, 307 kilometers from the capital, Freetown.

“Today, my worries are gone. I have a certificate in social work. I just want to say thanks to UNDP for helping me pursue my dream at no cost.” Says Bangura, as he brandishes his certificate.