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In Somalia, youth centres provide young adults with crucial life skills

© UNICEF Somalia/2011
Young Somali women get career information online at the Burao Youth Multi-Purpose Centre.

By Mike Pflanz

BURAO, Somalia, 9 February 2011 – Glancing down from the computer screen, 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 stream 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,” says Ms. Suleiman.

The computer she is using is one of four humming quietly in a newly built I.T. room at the Burao Youth Multi-Purpose Centre, which is run by the Somali Youth Society and funded by the Government of Japan through UNICEF. 

Career guidance

The Burao Youth Centre was established five years ago to provide career advice to young people who are nearing or just beyond school-leaving age.
“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,” says 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 in 2010 as part of a life-skills based education project funded by the Government of Japan. This project supports a total of 10 newly constructed or rehabilitated youth multi-purpose centres across Somaliland (north-west Somalia) and Puntland (north-east Somalia). 

Centres of support

Key among their aims is to give young people not only options and ambitions, but the confidence to work towards achieving them, explains UNICEF Youth and Adolescent Development Officer Hussein Osman.

“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 stresses. “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.”

“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,” adds youth centre director Najah Adem.

In the I.T. room, Hibaq Abdillahi, 23, updates photographs on Facebook, while waiting for a web 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 says. “Now I have been inspired to find more information about computer programming, and one day I know I can do this for my profession.”



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