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Opinions of Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Baying The Youth To Productive Lives In Ghana


As we inch or worm towards summer, I can?t help but to worry about majority of the youth in Ghana. Once school breaks out, each kid will head back to his place of abode. Then what next for our youth? For those who come from good or affluent homes, they get to go overseas and hustle for some foreign exchange. Not bad! What about the vast majorities who can neither get jobs or engage in any fruitful mind nourishing adventure? Yeah, what about them? What about those who graduated a few years ago and have not landed their first job yet? What about those who go to the villages and are faced with less experientially challenging activities? How, in general, are we preparing our youth to take over? The current hordes of senior age leaders are at their wits end and we need much more youth in leadership than we have now. We need young and vibrant leaders with much more brazen ideas to take us forward. Of course, we will need the guidance and input of the older generation, but not the over cautiousness and inaction that we see today. Unfortunately, we are investing in palaces instead of our human resources.

Our youth hold the promise to our future. Time and time again, the youth of any generation in Ghana end up being shortchanged by older folks in power. This cyclical occurrence happens because we do not crane or necks to see what is up for the youth. Now that the ministry of youth is either gone, or tacked under employment and manpower, what next? At least we allegedly have some office that deals with the matter. Hopefully, whoever is in charge will not just draw benefits but work seriously on the matter of the youth. We invest very little in our youth while the elite pot bellied old men frolic in the lap of luxury. Majority of the youth are totally unemployed. The little employment that is available belongs to the older folks who have no plans of retiring because retirement is often a death sentence. Sooner or later, we will have to discuss retirement for the old and how we can help them lead productive lives instead of seating them at the gate every morning to drool their life away. Retirement should not be a date with misery. I am sure it is not such fun to be old and poor in Ghana. Not too long ago, we revered our older ones and treated them extremely well. Now, things are fast changing and only God knows!

A visit to any of the major cities in Ghana paints the same picture. A dejected youth gaggle, struggling to make something out of life. Joblessness and lack of education is rife. Never mind miseducation!! The first sign of trouble point to those that sell dog chains and other petty stuff to make a living instead of going to school. The latter goes on in a country where education is constitutionally mandated to be free and compulsory. A country where 30 million dollars is spent to house one elite (president) and his family. Talk about hot rhetoric!! Those that are in school strive to earn supplementary income. In certain households, it is expected that the youth be either breadwinners or plays that role partly. Those that are not in school are unemployed, mostly uneducated and without any significant life skills. Often, the latter are the kind that ends up in crime and other deviant activities. Ironically, these are the same young adults who are fathering kids all over the place and the women, having babies without daddies or out of wedlock. Note also that, the stories in the villages are equally grim. A life of Dark Age wretched farming and drudgery is not exactly the way any young adult must spend his or her life. If only their calluses could speak to the pain that continues unabated.

No matter how you look at it, we need a vigorous youth policy and strategy that will equip these fine young men and women to become productive citizens. We have a much bigger challenge with the current youth than we did in the past. What we need going forward is a well-crafted youth policy that address academic work, work experience (Job training), full time jobs, and basic life skills. Our youth need internships, volunteer work and other training opportunities to prepare them for a productive life. I know it is hard to do some kind of unpaid volunteer work in Ghana, but what is the alternative? Sitting around or partying recklessly is not an option. A hodge-podge policy is not the way to go. Some kind of ad hoc policy for political expediency will not suffice either. We need a well-crafted and systems oriented national plan that breaks down into regional, district, town and village plans. All these plans must be adequately funded and utterly viable. Development of the plan must include youth leaders and other organizations involved in youth development. It is only through such concerted and deliberate effort that we can stop this apathy and bleeding of local talent into the abyss. Start the process now!!

Let me use a story to illustrate how we waste our human resources in Africa. A young woman, about the age of 12 years, lives with her mum and dad in the village. She has very little classroom education but is very smart. Her parents want the best for their child. So given the opportunity that their child could stay with some wealthy family or even an upstart couple in the city and learn some skills, they oblige willingly. Of course occasional drinks and a few cedis for the parents fall within the parameters. This fine young woman is escorted into the city and literally turned into a slave. Her chores are as tall as the empire state building and if she is not lucky, serious abuse may be in the works. Education, in most instances, is out of the question. Is it a far cry to say that Ghana lost a potential doctor or lawyer? What is wrong with this picture? Why must somebody?s daughter be denied education at the expense of educating another?s daughter? This is the kind of system that continues to lay to waste the talent that God willingly showers on us. Recently, my Nigerian doctor was jailed 7 years in the US for engaging in such arrangement. She and her husband brought a child from Nigeria to the U.S. to take care of their 6 kids. Not only that, the child is alleged to have been raped repeatedly by the doctor?s husband who is now awaiting extradition from Nigeria to the U.S. We must stop wasting the lives of innocent people to prop up our own.

Here is what really gets my goat about the narrative above. Often, some of us either stumble or watch on while this abuse and neglect continues. If our livelihood depends on the abuser, we just shut up the typical Ghanaian way and say nothing. So what if our livelihood does not depend on the abuser? Can we now confront somebody who is wickedly abusing another human being?s child? I know these are tricky situations that must be handled with care because you have varying interest at stake. However, we must find a way to question our friends and relatives who engage in such irresponsible behavior. We must tell them in no uncertain terms that maids, houseboys and garden boys deserve just as much education as anyone. We must let them know that it is not ok to waste talent. Yes, the person is not your child and came from the village but how do you help him or her get an education? How do you help him to get life skills? These are legitimate questions that must be answered. I know one fellow who now holds a Phd because someone had enough sense to provide him with an opportunity and he never looked back. We have gold and silver right before us but we can?t get the gem in the rough and actualize its effulgence.

In addition to a firm and well-planned youth policy, we must have strong legislation that speaks to the kind of domestic injustice that we are all aware of. For example, anyone who goes to the village and brings a young lad to the city must meet certain specific standards. First if the kid is less than 18 years, he or she must be in school. Yes, this must be the law. If he or she is not in formal school, she should be actively training in some kind of trade or vocational work. In some instances, our men impregnate such under age girls while their wives look on helplessly. Such men must be held to account. I am yet to hear of a woman raping an under age house boy so I wont go there. However, if that happens to be the case, she must obviously be dealt with as well. Often the husband will seeks retribution anyway. On a more serious note, we have to have laws that ensure that we are not wasting talents and everyone is given a fair shot given their capabilities. Life is about opportunities so why waste someone?s opportunities by denying them a fair shot? Poverty must not be a route to slavery. We should know better and set the standards by treating our people well.

Here is another appeal that I want to make. I know there are countless folks in the diaspora who don?t mind teaching a class or running a workshop when on vacation. May I ask that these folks seriously contemplate doing some workshops that are youth related? Please have some glow in your heart for our youth who seem to be lost and left behind. I think more practical stuff like, how to run a business, how not to get a girl pregnant or how not to get pregnant if you are a girl (sex education), personal hygiene, crop rotation, bottling vegetables, parenting, dressing or grooming for success, malaria prevention, how to save and invest, how to become a leader, taking advantage of a library and even how to swim may be more useful. We have to endow our youth with all the life skills that we can impart so that they will have a vast array to choose from. For example, some may laugh at the notion of teaching our youth how to swim in a country where food could be a challenge but if your sibling has died from a swimming accident because they did not know how to swim, you will see where I am coming from. How many of us know how to swim? Did you know that swimming is one of the better exercises? Knowing how to swim can save lives. You can even become a lifeguard at a pool. I will personally caution about the overly theoretical academic stuff. I think what we need more of, is the applied knowledge that can be used the next day. Hopefully some of us will find our way to the villages and towns help our needy folks.

Now, this call on diasporans to find time for our youth does not leave our brothers and sisters in Ghana off the hook. Indeed, they may be doing far more for the youth than we care to admit. However, we encourage them to go that extra mile. Especially, at a time when the youth have a lot of down time. We can relate to some of the challenges that you face in Ghana but please don?t give up the fight. If there is any way of teaming up with diasporans, please find ways to do that. In fact, this brings me to a previous call that I made about the need for a co-coordinating office in Ghana that can bring folks together to do all kinds of volunteer work to help lift this dear country of ours. We need an office that will identify where the needs are and how interested folks can be directed over there to make their contribution with the least amount of hassle. This should be a small investment with a lot to be gained. All you do is fax your resumes to this office in Ghana. The office reviews the resume, validates the person and them pairs them up to organizations or localities that could use their services. They arrive in the country knowing exactly when and where they can go and give back to mother Ghana. Can our government do this for mother Ghana? How about private NGOs too? We have to find ways to get this done sooner rather than later.

Please help make the dreams of our youth come through and true. This upcoming generation must do better than those that came before them. The only way forward is to invest in our human resource steadfastly. A Ghanaian life is a terrible thing to waste. Let us team up to make a difference. I am ready! Are you?

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.