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The theme of International Youth Day 2021 is, “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health”, with the aim of highlighting that the success of such a global effort will not be achieved without the meaningful participation of young people.

Today, there are 1.2 billion young people aged 15 to 24 years, accounting for 16 per cent of the global population. By 2030—the target date for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that make up the 2030 Agenda —the number of youth is projected to have grown by 7 per cent, to nearly 1.3 billion.

East Africa has the youngest population in the world, with a median age of 18 and it is growing fast. We must be intentional. Whoever reaches the next generation, WINS. If we do not reach them, someone else will. Whoever is not working with youth in Africa is missing on 70% of the Demographic Window.

Building up the capacity of youth to be able to make their own decisions on career, leadership and life in general is pertinent. Young people are on the frontlines of the struggle to build a better future for all.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the dire need for the kind of transformational change they seek – and young people must be full partners in that effort.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres

According to Plan International Kenya, teenage pregnancy in Kisumu County in 2016 had gone up from 22% to 42%. Kisumu west Sub County and Seme Sub County were the hot spots for teenage pregnancy in Kisumu County. In 2020 Kisumu County recorded 17% of teenage pregnancy cases, a slight decrease compared to the 20% in 2019 as captured in the Kisumu health information system which is the number of those who received antenatal care.

Consider that most young people are NEET; Not in Employment, Education or any form of Training. This impacts on other social aspects of life. For example, according to statistics from a recent survey by the National Council on Population and Development during the launch of Mama Ida Odinga Trust, one in five girls aged between 15 and 19 in Kenya is either pregnant or has given birth already with Kisumu recording 3500 cases between January and June 2020.

Why give these statistics? There is something both the girl child and the boy child are looking for. It speaks of a sense of emptiness and a search for meaning that is making young people in this region actively indulge. It also points to some gaps in our education system. Comprehensive sexuality education is not offered in schools as a national programme despite global evidence pointing to its effectiveness in empowering adolescents to make informed decisions about their sexuality and sexual health.

Kenyan youth: finding solutions to their own problems

We recently attended a Kenya Secondary School Heads Association (KESSHA) Conference at The Grand Royal Swiss Hotel and another one at Ciala Resort. In both meetings, all these secondary school principals were in agreement concerning the challenges they face in their schools and the challenges facing their students. The biggest problem facing youth in the Lake Region is unemployment.

These challenges cannot be addressed by parents alone or school principals in isolation. Our Vice Chancellors will also agree that the university is not the guarantee for a job placement. Note that the youth constitute the highest population in Kenya, and they are the most vulnerable, less privileged, and unattended to in society. Many young people have become victims of negativity and unproductiveness because they are neither schooling nor engaging in economic activities. How then do we transition these NEET bulge in our region?

  • Trust them with work early in life

There is a common saying: “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” This is the reality behind many young people getting into the streets, and involving themselves in robbery, drug/substance abuse, violence etc.

  • Engage them with a sense of purpose

The lack of adequate youth employment has made them dangerous to society, leaving them with no alternative but to engage in terrible acts that will give them money to support their bad habits. In order to eradicate and/or reduce the high unemployment rate among the youth, the government, churches, NGOs, youth-based organizations etc. must help get the youth engaged in profitable activities such as educational programs, vocational and entrepreneurial skill training to make them self-reliant.

  • Challenge them to be leaders

Youth can be a positive force for development when provided with the knowledge and opportunities they need to thrive. Youth and teens (aged between 13 years to 30 years) are the most vulnerable population group to social circumstances that make them compromise their integrity and abhor their usefulness to society.

  • Right mentorship opportunities to curb dangers of early exposure

Young people are the most vulnerable group to deceptive liberal teachings that have no religious value, alcoholism, drugs, sex and clubbing experiences thus losing track of their ambitions.

  • Reach out to them in their hood; the learning environment

Young people are the most dynamic group that can be easily taught. They have the ability to make personal, social and career decisions without being hindered by stereotypes. The earlier these students discover what they can do to better their lives, the easier it will be to create a culture of commitment, integrity and spur them to hard work.

  • Invest in their education more than their fun

As youth are increasingly demanding more just, equitable and progressive opportunities and solutions in their societies, the need to address the multifaceted challenges faced by young people (such as access to education, health, employment and gender equality) have become more pressing than ever.

Youth, boy child or girl child — can be a positive force for development when provided with the knowledge and opportunities they need to thrive. In particular, young people should acquire the education and skills needed to contribute in a productive economy; and they need access to a job market that can absorb them into the labor force. Pay for their school fees, sponsor their educational goals, their tuition and see them through their learning struggles.

  • Encourage them to be job creators

Research conducted by TNS Global and Youth Dynamix Kenya between late 2015 and early 2016, showed that youth are more interested in turning their passions into professional careers than in parties. We are focused to teach youth to be dreamers for their schools and families.

The key implication is that, through exposure to the work environment, these young people will gain mentorship opportunities from successful business owners as they provide key financial and business planning skills that will build the confidence of young people to discover their passion or talent.

Author: ibrahim

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