Against the backdrop of extreme poverty and limited opportunities for young people into the employment market, The Gambia YMCA is running two projects preparing young Gambians for employment and entrepreneurship.

The Gambia YMCA’s entrepreneurship and employment projects are a direct response to government direction and the needs of young people in the country. Aimed at reducing poverty and social exclusion amongst vulnerable and disadvantaged young people aged 16-30 living predominantly in rural and semi-rural areas of The Gambia, the `The Life Skills and Enterprise Development Project for Marginalised and Disadvantaged Young People’ is funded by Big Lottery Fund (BLF) and Y Care International.

The target beneficiaries of this project are female-headed households, orphans, school drop-outs, young people with disabilities and young people living with HIV/AIDS. In total, 2 400 young people will be trained by 2011 through vocational skills such as catering and food management, tailoring, tie dye and batik, welding, carpentry, interior decorating, bead-making, bee-keeping, bread-making, auto-mechanics, and aluminium design.

“To address the obstacle of entering the labour market due to lack of finances, The Gambia YMCA offers micro-finance loans to youth who successfully complete training and submit convincing business plans to the micro-finance committee,” said Sam B. Thorpe, The Gambia YMCA Director.

A total of 50 loans out of 90 applicants have been approved this year through the BLF Funded Project.

After completing her nine-month hairdressing and beauty therapy training, 21-year-old Aminata recently received such a loan. From a large family, Aminata had not been engaged in anything productive since she dropped out of school three years ago.

“I heard about the life skills project on the radio and from friends. Then I went to the YMCA to collect a form because I didn’t want to continue sitting at home doing nothing. I wanted to learn skills to develop myself and my family. I was interviewed and I eventually got enrolled.

“The YMCA has trained me in a skill area that I like doing, which my family would not have afforded to support. Upon completing the training, YMCA gave me a loan both in cash and materials (working tools) to start my own business of a hairdressing and beauty salon. This is beneficial to me and my family. The YMCA is helping youth by training them and providing employment opportunities in order to help their families and community,” she said.

The need to create awareness around legislation that supports youth employment is key in this project, as many young people consulted in the implementation of the programme felt discriminated against on the basis of their age, particularly in regard to securing employment.

Sam, who is also training at the YMCA, said “They felt excluded from decision-making processes and structures; not only political structures and institutions but also social and commercial structures such as local chambers of commerce, community development committees and education committees, where representation by young people could help push the issue of youth training and enterprise development further up the policy agenda,”.

By Joseph Taiwo Peacock, Project Coordinator, The Gambia YMCA

This article is an excerpt from the Africa Alliance of YMCAs newsletter, Siyahamba, Issue 16.