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Feature Article of Thursday, 5 July 2012

Columnist: Samuel Paulos

The Youth - The Salvation of Tomorrow

(plant the right seeds, respect the growing progress and watch great things happen)

Tomorrow seems far away for this vulnerable and yet energetic group particularly those within the age of 15 – 35 who are day in and day out toiling around to make ends meet forget about meeting their life aspirations.

One could easily conclude that such situation is impossible to witness in a country like Ghana which happens to be blessed with all the positive indicators and opportunities. This does not mean that there are no grey areas but the positives outweighs the negatives thus the purpose to dwell on the former. The impression and some facts indicate that Ghana is where:-

• Democracy and political stability is at its best • Highly educated manpower is in abundance both in country and abroad • The majority of the population is within the productive age • Rich natural resource is in its making • Fertile land are open for cultivation • Open door policy for foreign investment • Non interference attitude is practiced in the affairs of aid agencies and international NGOs. • One can find peace loving, accommodative and tolerance society • National interest, sentiment and integrity comes first • The Country’s image and credibility both in Europe and North America is in excellent standing. • The millennium development goals is said to be moving in the right direction.

Given this favorable impression, it is unfortunate to note that the above group find itself in a very desperate situation. The following can possibly provide a rough picture as to the nature of the problems young people are exposed to every day.

1. There are those who drop out particularly from high school idling in the streets aimlessly or selling sweets and packets of water at traffic lights, bus and toll stations for meager income. Others act as beggars to benefit others. 2. Others out of desperation get involved in undesirable or criminal activities and later on find themselves in detention or correction centers. 3. Some are also employed as helpers in informal businesses and activities getting the least benefit and if that is not enough are exposed to various types of abuses. 4. A good number of young people are engaged in small business ventures but they suffer from financial constraints thus remain static with no hope to grow or expand. 5. Significant number of graduates from various institutions and universities are either unemployed or underemployed.

These problems being too obvious, of course, the government is doing its best but considering the magnitude of the problem, it is doubtful that it has the capacity to reach out and respond to all the needs.

The investment by Aid Agencies and International NGOs towards various development sectors like health, education, water and sanitation, advocacy, food security and infrastructure is quite significant and highly regarded because of the difference this contribution makes in the lives of those affected.

In spite of all the positive indicators highlighted above and the various gestures and support coming from interested and concerned sources , what have been invested so far on youth related activities is far from adequate. The constraints may not be associated to financial constraints but the focus is more elsewhere or scattered in different direction. Therefore little attention is given to the core issue that matter most.

What makes development initiative more worthy, constructive and meaningful is its commitment towards sustainability, self sufficiency and social responsibility. However such objectives are unlikely to be achieved unless (1) those destined to be the leaders of tomorrow are not fully equipped to shoulder this heavy and demanding responsibility (2) there exists strict working linkage between infrastructure and technical expertise , leadership capability and accountability and (3) there is consistency in the implementation of existing policies. These, if accomplished will go to great length to guarantee that tomorrow will be a much better, more safer and secured day for all particularly to the young generation.

Turning the situation around to help young people become actively productive, resourceful and responsible citizens is not a difficult task. This conclusion is arrived considering all the positive indicators and opportunities expressed earlier coupled to the positive assumption that there exists good political will and sound commitment on the part of government as well as Donors, Civil Societies, Corporations, Religious institutions, etc. No nation can be at ease where most of its populated citizens particularly those in productive age suffer from lack of self esteem, confidence, opportunity and capability to earn a decent living.

Citizenship does not have to remain just an identity but to serve as a ticket to opportunity, progress, prosperity , happiness, security, pride, etc. These happen to be birth given rights to every individual no matter the color, nationality, race, distance, up brining, ethnicity etc. Realizing this, we need to exhaust all possibilities to help young people get utmost benefit out of these given rights and opportunities.

Though not considered complete, the following can provide possible solutions to address the problems highlighted above.

1. First and foremost, exercise the habit of good listening. What this group needs is an opportunity to be listened to. The contributing factor to losing self esteem and confidence is when somebody feels ignored. It has a lot to offer to the society as there are hidden talents and aspirations that can be exploited to the benefit of all once the window for listening opens.”PEOPLE DON’T CARE HOW MUCH YOU KNOW UNTIL THEY KNOW HOW MUCH YOU CARE” By Mike Mcnight

2. Invest more on scholarship scheme to help those who drop out from school for financial or other related reasons but still interested to continue their studies be it high school, university or at vocational institutions.

3. The job market these days beyond technical expertise require more life skill capabilities. These, include good human relations, communication, networking, negotiations, problem solving, team work, innovations, customer relations, etc. Therefore this calls for government’s attention as well as educational institutions to look into the possibility of incorporating these desirable talents in the curriculum. If this for whatever reason is not possible, design a scheme for sponsorship where fresh graduates undergo a short term life skills training. To learn publicly that 50% of the graduates are not likely to get a job is not good news and more so very frustrating to those would be- graduate and to the hopefuls down below. Investment on early education is literally based with an assumption that children will in the long run be able to achieve their highest potential or life aspirations. The present indicators are not that flowery but at the same time not a lost cause. There is abundant opportunity to fix this. However, the sooner it is done, the better.

4. Design a scheme whereby Corporations and Aid Agencies , International NGOs collectively or individually get engaged in internship or placement program. They can take one, two or even more graduates not yet employed and put them “on the job training” program for 3-6 months period and without any financial or employment commitment. This is just to give them a working experience and no doubt adds value to their search for employment opportunity.

5. It will be highly appreciated if Aid, Financial Agencies and International NGOs pay serious attention to the need of the youth and invest more on youth enhancement program. These include, awareness building, the acquisition of technical and leadership skills, income generating activities coupled to micro finance and other livelihood program.

6. As mentioned earlier, Ghana is blessed to have fertile land but not exploited to the maximum particularly by the young. This is mainly for no other reason but due to lack of awareness, incentive and resources. It is a far cry to solve unemployment problem nor to alleviate poverty where agriculture does not play a key role. It is for the government to take a serious look and see how in collaboration with other stake holders come up with a program to incite the interest of the young towards this most rewarding sector. The financial institutions can also play a major role by creating flexible conditions for those who want to invest on agriculture. For how long can Ghana afford to continue importing food items is a pertinent question for all to ponder and be concerned about. If exploited adequately and smartly, what Ghana can produce and offer will for sure exceed its needs and no doubt can serve as a hub for countries around and beyond. Being able to supply raw materials to agro based industries does not only enhance the growth of the economy but also opens massive opportunity for employment. Two serious challenges that faces this sector include (1) the implications and complications involved in the acquisition and use of land (2) the strict implementation of policies. These are man-made problems and therefore, with the right attitude and determination on the part of the main stakeholders, they are solvable. This, being a sector that the whole nation depends upon for its survival, security and prosperity, no amount of problem should stand on the way to allow this rich, virgin and untapped natural resource lose its most deserving value. Therefore, no effort and resources should be spared to get the maximum benefit out of this sector.

7. Many young people are engaged in small and medium businesses and yet they cannot grow beyond their present situation. These, if supported and facilitated adequately can be the source for employment and growth. Even with the present condition, it is said that their contribution towards GDP is significant if not as near as 90%. No other proof is needed than this for anyone to conclude that this sector is worth investing on. What this sector requires to grow is nothing more than incentive of some kind and a little bit of flexibility on the part of financial institutions who seem to have little interest on the small businesses. One cannot imagine the passion, innovation and creativity that this young entrepreneurs display every day despite their frustration over the lack of support and understanding from those capable of helping. Similar to the above, this sector’s contribution is immeasurable to the well being ,security and growth of the country thus deserve considerable attention. One possible solution for this sector is the establishment of banks to cater for small and medium businesses.

8. More than half of the working population is involved in informal sectors or businesses and the majority of these are run by single persons not because of choice but due to lack of capability. It is not difficult to imagine the magnitude of employment opportunity that will be created if this sector is supported to grow beyond its present condition. The transformation could be triple edged ie growth of the business; huge employment opportunity and creating additional revenue source to the government. In both formal and informal sectors, overwhelming no of young people rather than not being unemployed prefer to work at very low salary and condition but the fact remains that this in no way will lift them out of poverty.

9. The role of Civil Society in advocating and promoting the right, interest and protection of young people who in this particular case fall into the category of marginalized or excluded group is no doubt significant if not critical. The guiding principle of civil societies beyond harmonizing relationship between duty bearers/policy makers and that of right holders is also to ensure that existing policies and acts particularly those related to the youth are actually and adequately implemented. Civil Societies being neutral and champions for the right and protection of the less privileged society are believed to have an influence to advocate for change or divert attention or investment to benefit those they consider qualify and deserve it.

10. Fortunately, we are at a time when Corporations no more feel that they live and operate in an island but consider themselves as part and parcel of society. Their contribution to social initiatives and activities is growing by the day. As major source for youth employment, it makes good sense for corporations to invest more on youth empowerment and capacity building program to help young people become employable and economically independent.

11. The problems associated with the youth being diverse and complex, it is to the benefit of all for the youth focused organizations to create some kind of networking to learn and share from each other’s experience and best practices. The cause can be served much better if there is unity of purpose. This call is made with good intention and hopefully it serves the purpose.

12. There are also those among the young who are successful and have excelled in their profession and can serve as role models for others. Programs that are designed to introduce, recognize and award such achievements publicly should be encouraged. This will go a long way to inspire others to follow such good examples.

13. Last but not least, the youth themselves are not going to fold their hands and wait for miracles to happen. As much as they are part of the problem, they are expected to be part of the solution as well. They should work hard towards their life aspirations be it at school, work or in their communities or at the moment of their solitude. They need to advocate for their rights but in a responsible and orderly manner. They need to seek guidance to shape their future. Most important – they should not give up.”IN THE MIDDLE OF EVERY DIFFICULTY, COMES OPPORTUNITY “ by Albert Einestein

CONCLUSION

The cause for all mishaps in life is more associated to poverty, ignorance and greed. Unfortunately, those most affected by this include the youth who are claimed to hold the key to the future.

Today, most young people don’t have the resources, opportunity and support they need to succeed in this complex, competitive and challenging world. The only way to challenge these three chronic and destructive elements is through strong and true partnership. This calls for government, Aid Agencies International and Local NGOs, , Corporations , Religious Institutions and Civil Societies to come to a constructive understanding and work together towards progressive sustainable solution. The intention behind this is to build a society in which every young person has the right and opportunity to learn, work and lead a decent and responsible life.

The global financial crisis, the middle east uprising and the flooding incident that occurred and challenged the most sophisticated, developed and rich country like Japan are good but serious and worrying examples that no nation, country, organizations or individuals can afford to take things for granted. This is a wake up call to all. “EVERY NEW DAY BEGINS WITH POSSIBILITIES, IT IS UP TO US TO FILL IT WITH THE THINGS THAT MOVE US TOWARD PROGRESS AND PEACE”. BY RONALD REAGAN

Gateway 4 Youth is ready to work and collaborate with any interested and concerned party to lift up the confidence, capacity and livelihood of the youth. Solution being the outcome of constructive discussion, sharing, learning and then understanding, it is my sincere hope that this message will generate interest to warrant open dialogue among concerned parties.

Peace, Unity and Prosperity to GHANA.

Samuel Paulos is the Founder and Director of Gateway 4 Youth, a youth focused organization with the mission to create the necessary and enabling environment for the youth to discover, identify, explore and exploit new and existing opportunities. He has been Country Director/Representative of Plan International in 8 countries including Ghana in his over 26 years of work in development. E-mail address – gate.way4@yahoo.com

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