Youth Employment- stories of hope and faith

Youth Employment and our global community

My fellow YEN Associate, Katherine, recently wrote a brilliant blogpost entitled 'Youth unemployment and civil unrest' (click here to read the blogpost) wherein she cited the role of Youth Unemployment in the youth-led riots and protests that plagued the United Kingdom these past weeks to highlight the importance of Youth Employment initiatives in the present international security landscape.

I completely agree with Katherine’s view that “…the riots in London have demonstrated that youth unemployment, not always front page news, will continue to dominate headlines as the repercussions spread across countries and thematic issues”. In addition to the civil unrest Katherine discusses, it is important to note that unemployment has been at the centre of protests and unrest around the world throughout 2011 (and earlier).

It was the spark that ignited the self-immolition of 26 year-old Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia which in turn ignited the toppling of the Tunisian government. Unemployment was also a major thematic issue fueling the 'Arab Spring' the term coined to describe the ripple effect of uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa (you can access related stories here and here). 

In light of the aforementioned events, the sheer power of youth-led organizing to bring about positive- and negative- change cannot be denied. Social media websites like Facebook and Twitter have been central to the aforementioned uprisings and protests. Therefore, governments and civil society organisations not only have an obligation to pay attention to the voices of their youth, but to respond in relevant ways- that is, through both traditional and non-traditional political spaces. 

Youth Employment: The Ghanaian Context

Shifting the focus to the context of youth unemployment in Ghana, the government launched the National Youth Employment Program (NYEP) in 2006 to address the ever-increasing issue of youth unemployment across the country. In 2008, the newly elected National Dempocratic Congress (NDC) administration (You can check out the Government of Ghana's website here) took the commitment one step further by joining YEN's LEAD country network- if you've been following my colleague's and my work over the past few months you will know that membership in YEN is predicated upon members' commitments to make youth employment part of the national policy agenda (You can check out the YEN website here). 

You will also know that I am currently in the Northern Region for 2 weeks as part of a 5 month survey of the Operational Performance of the NYEP. I spent last week travelling to 4 districts wherein I conducted interviews with beneficiaries, staff members and module implementers from partner organisations in 8 of the 14 youth employment modules. 

Below, the view from the car en route to conduct interviews in the Gabanga district

Youth Employment and the power of faith

I can tell you that I have bore witness to the genuine and heartfelt commitment to youth employment in Ghana that is shared by stakeholders of the program. In my interviews, I am offered a candid look into the everyday experiences of those involved in NYEP.

I am privileged to chronicle the weaknesses, challenges, strengths and successes as they are told from those on the ground. Two crosscutting themes that underlie all the stories are hope and faith- hope for a better life and faith that it is possible. Across the board people make personal sacrifices every day in pursuit of the greater good- a Ghana wherein everyone can better themselves and provide for their families. I share two such stories below.

I speak to beneficiaries in the Community Education Teaching Assistants module-CETA- who have come to meet me during their vacation, some walking long distances to have their voices heard.  Because they are supposed to be assisting trained teachers, the beneficiaries are only given basic teacher's training. I am told that there are no other teachers in some of the villages beneficiaries teach so several beneficiaries undertake the full responsibilities of trained teachers. Their commitment means that, for the first time in many cases, children get to go to school.

Whilst education and employment are arguably two of the most important thematic issues on any national development agenda, I would suggest that their intersectionality is not always understood nor given the attention it deserves. I hope this story sheds light on that important relationship.

I speak to three NYEP District Coordinators whose offices were burnt down several months ago by disillusioned youth. While I have been given conflicting accounts of the reasoning for the fire, one explanation was that the NYEP offices were not directly targeted but were the unfortunate victims of party youth upset with the government's inability to fulfill their campaign promises. Whereas, another explanation holds the act was in response to high unemployment in the area. Regardless of the reason, one can't help but draw comparison to the aforementioned civil unrest around the world.

Below, the front view of the building that once housed the 3 NYEP Offices

Six months later, the building stands just as it did at the time of the fire because there are no resources to rebuild it, nor any free spaces to relocate to. The silver lining to the story is that the NYEP Staff whom used to work there now share the one room office of the Regional Secretariat. Everyday, approximately twenty people share one room, two desks, one computer and one printer. This may seem impossible but they make it work. After all, for them it's just another day at the office. If that isn't commitment to the greater good then I don't know what is.

Below, NYEP Staff Members observe the wreckage of the fire that burnt down their District Offices

I shared those 2 stories with you because of how they impacted me this week- they frustrated me but gave me strength- and because I think telling them together speaks to the inherently complicated nature of development

Until next time- LIVE WITH PASSION!

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Great post Saskia - looks like you're getting some good perspectives on the issue of youth unemployment (or underemployment) in Ghana. The links between what is happening in the UK and around the world surrounding youth are undeniable and it is so important to start acting and beginning some sort of dialogue with those focusing on youth work.