OP-ED: I’ve witnessed the resilience of young people. I know the youth of Somalia are ready

FILE: UNFPA Somalia Representative, Niyi Ojuolape

MOGADISHU, Somalia - A little over a year ago, I arrived in Somalia to lead the country program of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), fully aware of the country’s promises and challenges. But that was also part of the excitement of my new assignment. To be part of Somalia’s road to recovery, banding together with veritable partners to forge a bond of resilience that delivers the growth and development the country desperately needs. Arriving in Somalia, I was struck, not only by the enormity of young people’s needs but also by their desire to contribute their ideas on how these needs can be met. Their readiness to provide ideas, contribute, and volunteer when called upon has been remarkably impressive. 

It is common knowledge that youths are a major force for sustainable development and key agents for social change and economic growth. From tackling inequalities and gender biases, young people are in a pole position to use critical tools of educational, technological, and informational power to build peaceful, just, and inclusive societies. Yet, the needs of all societies are never quite the same, which is why I found Somalia to be a peculiar and heartwarming case. 

Recognizing the gaps in youth-friendly spaces in Somalia, we have been intentional in expanding at pace across various states in Somalia. Buildings are being erected to create safe and well-equipped physical spaces to accommodate the needs of young Somalis and spur their ambition. In July, work began on the Galmudug Youth Centre in Galmudug State. Upon completion, the space will vocational skills training and co-creating workspace where young people can network and share information and experiences while developing the capacity to identify or create opportunities for themselves. Yet, the story of the center will not be complete without the NEEDS assessment carried out by youth of the state and giving a voice to the community they wish to see. These Youth Centers are being constructed in eight other locations in different parts of Somalia and soon, the UNFPA would have supported the establishment of 11 of these Centres in total. 

Being a youth-focused UN agency, we are thrilled that these spaces are available and that more are being added, complete with the right personnel to optimize value for young people. The centre will remain open to all young people in Somalia across different geographical locations and we hope to see them be of particular use for out-of-school youth. That is, those with no formal education. The Youth Centers will offer literacy and numeracy courses, and provide digital skills and related life skills. Additionally, age-appropriate information regarding sexual and reproductive health is also shared in the space. UNFPA ensures the quality of service and learning in the centers by providing oversight on the recruitment of expert trainers and instructors. 

We are grateful for the strong and conscientious partners without whom some of our projects would not take off as strongly as they have. The generosity of the European Union (EU) and The Netherlands has been of particularly immense even as we continue to seek other partners to expand our provision of youth-friendly services. We have received strong encouragement from government officials and the respective ministries. Starting from the Prime Minister, His Excellency Hamza Abdi Barre to state presidents and authorities of key ministries, government officials have remained open to discussing ideas and actionable plans to benefit young people in Somalia. The Prime Minister has also briefed the UNFPA on his plans to implement responsive policies to build the capacity of youth in the country through his Innovation Lab Initiative. 

Moving forward, I feel an even stronger sense of excitement for UNFPA’s recently unveiled Somalia Youth (SoYo) Fellowship, our attempt to bring young people in Somalia as close to the United Nations as possible. Through this initiative, we will be positioning select candidates to gain the critical skills necessary to become changemakers in their communities, while also contributing ideas that will enable the UNFPA to serve Somalia even better. 

As an organization trained towards identifying the needs of young people and helping them fulfill their potential, we appreciate that we are stronger when young people themselves are able to come into the organization with their own ideas on how we can best serve their needs. Therefore, this occasion of International Youth Day is a good time to appreciate once again, the resilience and tenacity of young Somalis. There is so much to expect and be hopeful for and I have seen enough promise worth celebrating.

Niyi Ojuolape, is Country Representative, UNFPA - Somalia

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