“Youth unemployment or underemployment is a huge problem in our country. Youth are unemployed because they lack qualification in skills or education to earn a decent job in the job market,” said Hon Njie.
Added to this, there is a stigma attached to having a trade, instead of being a professional with a tertiary education. So this is a barrier to skills training in The Gambia as people look down on you and sometimes laugh at you for being in a trade. For example, if two young men seek a young woman’s hand in marriage - one a mechanic and the other a civil servant – both the woman and the family would prefer the option of the civil servant over the mechanic who has a workshop. Peer pressure was also seen as a barrier to youth development in entrepreneurship and skills training.
The Gambia YMCA is tackling this problem by advocacy to the authorities for more attention to skills training – both sensitization to it and provision of it. Part of this involves promoting that skills training is not for school drop-outs or for ‘stupid’ youth. The government’s role is to work NGOs to educate Gambian citizens to know the importance and the effect it would cause on the economy - so youth understand they are partners in nation development.
“We are also building partners with other organisations and NGOs to help in the development of youth so they can develop their skills and contribute as citizens to this country,” said Sam Thorpe, National General Secretary of The Gambia YMCA.
The YMCA provides skills training in all regions of The Gambia to help youth acquire skills and equip them for work, especially entrepreneurship. The YMCA is then provides micro finance and assistance in setting up businesses for those who qualify for the loan, and helps others to get a job. The number of youth trained is about 900 a year in skills like hair dressing, tailoring, carpentry, welding, catering, etc.
“I was pregnant and sent out of school so I couldn’t finish my schooling. I went to YMCA and did a catering course. I am now taking care of myself and family. Bravo to the YMCA and if every institution is doing like them, then Gambia would be a better place,” said Eli.
Another beneficiary commented, “We are proud of the YMCA for educating us with skills training because it is really what we need to earn a living. I dropped out of school because of finance, and I am now proud to say that I am earning something unlike before when I used to beg.”
For the government’s part, the Hon Njie said, “The government is planning to increase the number of intakes at the national youth service scheme from 200, knowing the number of student who graduate from secondary schools is increasing.” He added that the government is monitoring training institutions, so youth can work hard to acquire certificates either in skills training or in educational aspects. Any institution that does not live up to standards or expectations will be closed.
The Hon Njie said the government was proud to partner with the YMCA in youth development and committed continued support. He encouraged youth to be determined to move forward and ask “what do I want and how can I get it?”.
Commenting on the change in mindset of youth who are involved in the YMCA skills training, Rose Sambou, member of the National Youth Council, said, “Youth are moving from depending on their family to acquiring skills that would help them be somebody in society. They are ready to face the challenges and move ahead.”
Also present were the Deputy Ambassador to Spain, National Assembly Members, and leadership from Senegal YMCA. A march pass was also done on the highway with about 130 youths, holding posters and banners and led by a scout band to highlight the issues affecting us as youth.
As a youth leader myself, I encourage all youth to tap on any resource that can help us change. Let us advocate in the right way and involve people in power and channel our problems productively. We need to listen and be listened to. Giving up is not an option. Africa is ours and we are African so let’s develop Africa as a nation and as nations.
By: Daniel Ceesay, Youth President, The Gambia YMCA