At age 20, Joseph Foday found himself a high school dropout amidst financial constraints to further his education to university level. With other dropouts in his birth-district of Kenema, he joined a clique- perpetuating act of gangsterism in the township, and his life continued to spiral downwards. “Life was all about clique and gangsterism,” Foday affirmed. 34-year-old Daniel Gbani from Tonkolili District lost both parent in 2012 shortly after he had sat to the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), got 7 credits and was ready for enrolment into the University of Sierra Leone (USL). The demise of his parents filled Gbani’s mind with frustration together with very limited opportunity for rural youth, casting a slue to his passion. Unlike Joseph Foday, Gbani moved into volunteerism with the hope of seeking employment after certain period. He volunteered with many institutions in his hometown, but his lack of employable skills left him unemployed. Gbani opted out of volunteerism and started hanging out with ‘ghetto’ boys. Joseph and Gbani live in different regions of the country but have faced similar challenges as youth.
Today, both Joseph and Gbani are part of 60 youth which includes 34 males and 26 females enrolled in UNDP’s funded skills training program (welding department) at the Ernest Bai Koroma University in Northern Sierra Leone.
“I am almost two months old into this training program and now I have realized that I can solve my own problems without involving into gangsterism or any act of violence,” says Joseph, “and I hope to use my welding skills to mentor other young people in my district to help turn their lives around.”
Joseph’s attitude and self-esteem have also greatly improved. With a set a start-up kits which will be provided to the trainees at the end of the course, Joseph is already planning to transform youth gangsterism with his workshop which he intends to establish in his hometown and expand to other districts.
Gbani didn’t leave his passion behind either, UNDP’s latest opportunity to these set of rural youth has motivated Gbani to be a fast learner in the welding program. Gbani is also working hard for what he describes a ‘life-changing experience’ and wants to be an ambassador to other youth in Tonkolili District and beyond. “This training has made me understand the value of life with an employable skill, and given me a sense of purpose,” says Gbani, with a mixed feeling of pain and a sense of hope.
Aminata Bangura, unlike Joseph and Gbani who came from other districts, lives stone throw away from the EBK University where she is enrolled into the soap-making program. As a youth and single parent, she does not feel fulfilled with her current way of survival through petty trading. She finds inspiration everywhere, but her mind operates on a burning desire to make something, which the UNDP training program has offered. Her primary desire to be part of the soapmaking program is to be able to give a better life to her two young boys while making other people happy through her new skills.
Unemployed graduate youth are not left behind either
Blessed with a youthful population, with 7 in 10 citizens being below the age of 35, the impact is not only on young people who do not have qualifications, but increasingly, unemployment is common amongst those with diplomas and graduate level qualifications.
31-year-old Esther Mobombor graduated in 2019 with a certificate in Social Work and she comes from Kono District to be part of gara-tie-dying program. For Esther, she opted into the UNDP supported skill training program because her college certificate could not get her a job and now, she wants to learn and do something with her hands, gara-tie-dying being her best fit, which she also believes will give her more voice to raise her 3 children despite her youthfulness. With her new marketing skills, Esther dreams to establish her own gara-tie-dying enterprises to make money and to train other female youth in her district.
Increasingly, employers and policymakers are placing greater emphasis on the development of life and employability skills as a way to prepare young people for success in today’s rapidly changing and globalized world. Building on those competencies helps young people to be motivated, reliable, and confident decision-makers, who are able to overcome adversity and realize their full potentials.
With funds from UNDP Funding Window, the ‘Strengthening Youth meaningful participation in Decision making structures in Sierra Leone’ project was launched in 2020, an initiative that seeks to address the challenges, including capacity gaps, of government and civil society actors, in formulating, implementing and partnering for youth and gender-friendly policies that ensure meaningful youth engagement and contribution in decision-making processes at all levels as well as ensuring the meaningful engagement of youth in skills training and income generating activities.