Over the Tana River, halfway between Nairobi and Somalia, the city of Garissa, Kenya, is home to about 230,000—mostly Somali pastoralists.
Camels, cows, and goats have been the lifeblood of this region for hundreds of years.
But drought, food shortages, and overgrazing perennially test the sustainability of that livelihood. And cattle rustling and violent banditry routinely rout families.
At daybreak on the dusty roads, a frenetic pace of commerce unfolds, with produce, commodities, and cooked food competing for attention at every turn. Almost everyone has a cell phone. There is an appetite for change, but a wall of obstacles—few job opportunities, lack of money, low literacy, and school dropout—persists.
Garissa residents freely comment on the countless “idle men,” some of them young people who have come to Garissa to escape the strife in Somalia. Word of the opportunities provided by EDC’s Garissa Youth Project (G-Youth) spread like wildfire through the community. With the program, the community is working to infuse the local economy with well-trained young men and women who can take on technology jobs and contribute to their community.
Focused on youth ages 16–30 years, G-Youth targeted 1,600 in- and out-of-school youth. Cohorts of youth were phased through the three-part work readiness program, which seeks to shift the mindset of youth from “I can’t” to “I can” by giving them the skills to be successful in their career planning, job hunting, and job creation efforts. For in-school youth, the focus is on exploring options, and key activities include career guidance, time management, parent involvement, and connections with community leaders.
“For youth, by youth” are the watchwords of G-Youth, says EDC’s Jacqueline Glin, project director. “Getting community support is the only way the program will succeed,” she adds. “If you don’t have that, you will be driven away.”
The four facets of the program reinforce each other: a career resource center for youth, a vocational technical training institute, work-readiness programs, and youth action and discussion. The interplay happens in many ways. For example, G-Youth participants study EDC work-readiness courses at a local technical training institute, while EDC works with the institute’s administration to boost enrollment. The career resource center at Kenya National Library Services offers tools for those who have completed training and are ready to job hunt.
“The whole purpose of G-Youth is to empower youth,” says Deputy Project Director Ibrahim Hussein Mohamed, a native Garissan.
One of the stars of the G-Youth program is Fatuma Mohamed, whose successes are featured on YouTube, USAID websites, and local media outlets. She enrolled in the work-readiness training first and then the entrepreneurship program, where she learned the nuts and bolts of running a business as well as how to conceptualize and write a business plan. A small grant from G-Youth paved the way to the opening of her own beauty salon.
“Some of my employees are school dropouts, and some of them have been loitering,” says Fatuma Mohamed. “I keep them busy, and they are now self-reliant.”
Originally published on October 18, 2010