Turning Sierra Leone’s young people into the leaders of today
‘Young people are the leaders of today, not tomorrow,’ says 34-year-old Joseph, project manager at the Queen’s Young Leaders YMCA project in Sierra Leone. ‘Invest in them, and you invest in the nation.’
The YMCA project works with 1,230 young people across Freetown, Makeni and Pujehun, giving them the essential skills they need to grow or start their own business.
Many are accessing training through Youth Entrepreneurship Hubs, made from solar powered Zuba boxes (old shipping containers) such as the newly opened Youth Entrepreneurship Hub in Makeni – which has been fitted with computers and the internet.
The training aims to give young people access to quality jobs and the ability to build up their own business ideas – helping them to give back and support their communities. Training includes literacy, entrepreneurship, leadership, ICT and business skills. It also includes psychological support, a service essential in post-Ebola nation building, and workshops to increase their confidence and speaking skills, as well as the use of mobile phone technology to expand the business and training support to young people in the most remote areas, who are unable to attend in person.
Joseph explains that YMCA are delivering vital work in communities hit worst by recent catastrophes, such as Ebola and the Freetown mudslide; and that within this, the project is also tackling high crime rates, teenage pregnancies, low literacy and numeracy levels, as well as staggering youth unemployment.
‘Young people are faced with many issues, such as the peer pressure that comes from being in a gang to not achieve the goals they wish to achieve, crime, teenage pregnancy and prostitution,’ he adds.
‘But whilst young people have little access to opportunities, they have the will and the grace to get to where they want to go to, they just need the training to access their goals. The YMCA project helps them to develop essential skills to start their own businesses in order for their communities to prosper.’
One visible success of the project is the improvements seen in young people’s literacy and numeracy skills, particularly in Makeni and Pujehun. Many couldn’t read or write before but now have a solid understanding of entrepreneurship and business concepts and are able to put their ideas together and collaborate creatively to carry through businesses ideas, helped by the financial support the YMCA offers to the most successful business plans on the programme.
Through the project’s ICT course, one young person has learned how to design invitations and now creates and sells his own, including wedding and event invitations. The project has also empowered young people to develop a variety of other businesses – from selling cosmetics and medicine, to buying motorbikes to taxi people around, and cars to hire out, having a huge impact not only on the young people themselves but also on their local communities – something that simply wasn’t possible before.
ABOUT THE QUEEN’S YOUNG LEADERS GRANTS PROGRAMME
The Queen’s Young Leaders Programme has awarded grants to eligible organisations in selected countries across the Commonwealth.
These projects are led by, or focused on, young people and provide opportunities for them to learn new skills, secure employment, create enterprises or have a say in decisions affecting their future.
The Programme is working with young people in Bangladesh, Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, the United Kingdom, and Zambia. Our grants aim to ensure that young people are better qualified and able to articulate their needs, so they can influence key decision makers and create lasting positive change in their communities.