By Cyril Barnes
Apart from the precursory developments spouting from the 2021 budget concerning youth empowerment, there has been a tremor of youth projects undertaken by the Youth Ministry since 2018. Like a pressure cooker gathering steam, the Youth Ministry has uncoiled test ground-breaking initiatives with the intention to send youth unemployment, violence and crimes on the edge of extinction.
In less than 3 years, the gains made by the Youth Ministry have been quite astonishing. President Bio’s youth empowerment scheme has been a far cry from past governments who, in their lofty promises, gave them false hopes while dashing their destinies and letting their hopes adrift. In those dark and uncertain moments, the untrained and unemployed youth-only relied on robbery and other crimes related to violence and abuse, and like dried leaves aiming for the ground, they slowly fell off the leadership and development ladder of the country.
An extract from the New Direction Manifesto unravels a sad state of affair and provides a suasive synopsis of President Bio’s vision for youth empowerment relative to human development in Sierra Leone: “The real challenge now confronting us is unemployed and underemployed youth; a phenomenon which started as a little tremor is now a full-blown youthquake posing a serious threat to national stability if future prospects for education and training and productive and gainful employment are not assured.”
Addressing this full-blown ‘youthquake’ which is largely due to unemployment, the zealous and high-reaching Minister, Mohamed Bangura and Deputy Minister, Luseni Kallon, escort a sense assurance that youths—constituting over 30% of Sierra Leone’s population—can propel the needed change in Sierra Leone. A deep dive into the activities of the Youth Ministry unearths a rave review of tacit developments that have not been given the much-needed publicity they deserve.
National Youth Service
In September 2018, the Vice President, Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh launched the UNDP sponsored National Youth Service and commissioned the first batch of 200 graduates for the project. Being one of President Bio’s vision to tackle the age-old unemployment challenges faced by youth, the NYS was created with a view to promote youth participation in governance and provide newly qualified graduates with opportunities to obtain practical job experience in the public and private sectors of the economy, thereby lowering the rate of unemployment amongst graduates.
To date, the National Youth Commission, which is an offshoot of the Youth Ministry, has commissioned the third batch of graduates into the youth scheme.
Youth in Car Wash Project
Unlike the NYS, which caters for skilled youths to advance their respective careers, the Car Wash Project has astonishingly cushioned the effect of unemployment amongst unskilled youths in the Western Area. The Ministry of Youth Affairs, in December 2019, handed over 10 newly constructed Car Wash Centres to help alleviate the burden of unemployment among unskilled youths in Sierra Leone.
Today, what appeared to be ghettos and hotspots for crimes, violence and armed robberies have become sources of livelihood for many unskilled youths in their respective localities. Tested and proven successful, the ministry intends to construct more car wash centres nationwide.
Youth in Fisheries
Launched in July this year, the Government of President Julius Maada Bio disbursed over a billion Leones to the Youth Ministry for the construction of local fishing boats in Bonthe, Pujehun, Kambia, Port Loko, Western Area Urban and Rural districts.
In fulfillment of the government’s plan to empower the youths in the fishing sector, the President commissioned 70 fishing boats with machines, fishing nets, and life jackets provided by the Youth Ministry. The Youth in Fishing project stands to benefit approximately 1,400 youths directly in the riverine areas.
Youth in Agriculture
During the turning of the sod for the construction of a Farm Gate Market in the National Youth Farm at Masiaka, the Deputy Minister of Youth Affairs, Lusine Kallon re-echoed President Bio’s vision to use agriculture as the engine for sustainable youth employment, economic development and food self-sufficiency, and in fulfillment of that dream, the Ministry of Youth Affairs has established four Youth Farms in Tonkolili, Kono, Kenema, and Koinadugu Districts.
In July 2020, the Youth in Agriculture Project disbursed One Hundred and Eighty-Eight Million, Nine Hundred and Fifty Thousand Leones (188,950,000.00) as stipend 451 farm workers in Tonkolili, Port Loko, Koinadugu, Kono and Kenema Districts. Similarly, the Ministry intends to give stipends to 501 youth farmers in the districts highlighted.