Youth Centres inspire Somalia’s adolescents to broaden their horizons
By Mike Pflanz
BURAO, Northwest Somalia “Somaliland”, 20 January 2011 – Glancing down from the computer screen only occasionally, Fathiya Suleiman taps swiftly at the keyboard, firing off Google Chat messages to a relative thousands of miles away in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The 23-year-old Somali from Burao town wants to know how best she can train to be a nurse.
Messages of encouragement and links to helpful websites are streaming back from her cousin in Kuala Lumpur.
“This is something very amazing to me, to be able to communicate for free when before, all I could do was call on the telephone which was too expensive,” Ms. Suleiman says.
The computer she is using is one of four humming quietly in a newly-built I.T. room at the BuraoYouth Multi-Purpose Centre, run by Somali Youth Society and funded by the Government of Japan through UNICEF.
Outside, boys sprint after a mis-passed football on one sports pitch, while on the next, teams are preparing for a fresh round of shooting hoops on the basketball field.
Beyond that, the library windows are open to the cooling breeze while inside, three teenage boys are engrossed in a donated book about world geography.
The Burao Youth Centre was established five years ago to help young people nearing or just beyond school-leaving age to find advice and help for the next steps of their lives.
“It is often the hardest time, when they have worked hard and done well at school, but what comes next is not clear to them,” said Mohamed Aden, the Youth Centre coordinator. “Jobs are not easy to find, and it is tempting for them to fall into idle ways because there is no clear guidance for them. We aim to plug that gap with very productive advice and activities.”
The Centre was rehabilitated and expanded earlier in 2010, as part of the “Life-skills based education” project funded by the Government of Japan. The project supports a total of ten newly constructed or rehabilitated Youth Multi-Purpose Centres across Somaliland (northwest Somalia) and Puntland (northeast Somalia).
Key among their aims is to give young people not only options and ambitions, but the confidence to work towards achieving them, adds Hussein Osman, UNICEF’s Youth and Adolescent Development Officer.
“We arrange activities which the young people lead themselves, like debates and tournaments, and we make sure girls are very much as central to these as the boys,” he said. “We want all of them to know their rights, to be able to question things, to have self-esteem and to speak out on subjects with the government, for example, or at home.”
Among the most popular sessions are those on youth participation in local politics – followed closely by training on how to write clear CVs and how to use basic word processing and accounting software.
“Before the Centre was here, young people gathered together at school, or in informal playgrounds on waste areas in town, or in tea shops, to talk about their concerns,” said Najah Adem, the director of the Youth Centre.
“These were not places where they could get professional guidance or encouragement, but here that is available everywhere.”
In the I.T. room, Hibaq Abdillahi, 23, sits next to Ms. Suleiman, updating photographs to Facebook, while waiting for a page about diplomas in computer programming to load.
“I was not aware that making computers work like this was a job people can do,” she said. “Now I have been inspired to find more information about computer programming, and one day I know I can do this for my profession.”