Our Director of Advocacy and Engagement Tom Burke blogs on his experience in Wales as he tours YMCAs across the UK to mark the launch of Y Care International’s Tools for Recovery campaign to help rebuild lives devastated by Ebola.
After our fascinating visit to the Irish YMCA movement, day eight took us to visit our Welsh colleagues based at YMCA Swansea. Tim and I led a session to share the reality of life in Liberia, about Ebola and about our Tools for Recovery campaign.
Tim talked about some of the main challenges facing young people in Liberia. Yet, in our discussions we could see the strong parallels with the issues which touch the life of young people in Swansea and the whole of Wales too.
In Liberia, a big challenge for young people is to get into work or to start a business. For many young people everyday survival is through what Tim called the ‘daily hustle’ – small one-off and irregular jobs to try and make enough money to get on by. Often living in slums, they would go around Monrovia and try to sell trinkets or chewing gum on the streets or work to unload luggage from a bus to earn a tip. It’s these irregular and informal jobs which so many young people need to make the money needed to live on. Yet, when Ebola struck people avoided the streets and didn’t want to buy from others. He shared stories of people vomiting on buses; the buses being evacuated and them being left abandoned for fear of Ebola spreading. As the crisis took hold; business remained closed, the Liberian economy stalled and people stopped moving around. For young people already on the margins of society; their everyday struggle became even worse as their source of income was shut down.
To help overcome this Liberia YMCA is restarting its outreach and support for vulnerable young people. It provides skills training and business support for young people to transform their ‘daily hustle’ into something sustainable which they can grow and develop. They offer computer training to give young people the skills and confidence to get a leg up onto the career ladder and move into formal employment. Their youth clubs and youth groups offer young people positive activities to avoid the risks inherent on the lifestyle of the daily hustle.
Whilst at first glance this feels so different that the struggles young people in Wales face; we could see the parallels of this ‘daily hustle’. Statistics from the Welsh Government show that youth unemployment remains high by historic standards and average earnings are lower than the rest of the UK. Social security for young people is set at a lower rate and have been frozen for years, yet their cost of living continues to rise. With the UK Government considers axing housing benefits for young people; housing options look to turn bleak. For many young people in Wales, they face real challenges everyday to get by.
Yet, just as young people in Liberia have been at the forefront of tackling Ebola; young people in Wales have been taking action. We heard stories of young people taking action with the YMCA to educate their peers on managing money well, to retrain and get into work, and to tackle discrimination in the community. Like YMCAs around the world – whether in Monrovia or Swansea – they are taking action to support vulnerable young people.
This action by young people is at the heart of our approach to rebuilding lives devastated by Ebola and the Tools for Recovery campaign. It’s about giving young people a chance to be able to lift themselves out of poverty. We provide them with the tools they need – whether training or ongoing support – to rebuild their economy. They provide the energy and commitment to build a better life for them and their community. All that is needed to your support to make it happen.
Please give to our Tools for Recovery appeal to support young people in crisis in Liberia and around the world today. You can also download our Fundraising Pack with ideas of how to raise money in your YMCA or youth group.
PS – a personal highlight of the trip was meeting to Phil Treseder, trustee of YMCA Swansea. Phil is a participation guru having written probably two of the best participation tools I have ever used (Participation Spice It Up and Empowering Children and Young People). Both of us had previously worked for child rights advocacy groups and have a background in participation work with young people. I had a real “fan boy” moment as I embarrassingly fawned over him as he gave me and Tim a tour of the huge Swansea YMCA building.