How young Namibians can gain the skills to succeed
In Katutura, a township lying to the north of Windhoek, Namibia, jobs are hard to come by. Meat stands, pubs and hair salons sporadically dot the semi-paved roads - but there is little formal employment for Katutura’s population, which is growing by the day as rural Namibians stream into the city in search of a better life. This employment crunch is felt particularly acutely by the young. Namibia has the highest youth unemployment rate in Africa and one of the highest in the world, with as many as 80 per cent of young people out of work. The danger of such a high number of idle and impoverished young people giving up hope and giving in to desperation is a danger that must be addressed in order to preserve stability in Namibia.
“Without work, they will just be in the street,” explained Anni Wahlroos, the daughter of Finnish missionaries in Namibia, and a youth social worker in Katutura. “Maybe they’ll be involved in troubles, like alcohol or drugs or criminality. There is so little possibility to work.”
Ms Wahlroos, along with her husband Kaj, oversees the ETEMO Youth Project, an initiative that aims to stave off this unsavory fate and help the young people of Katutura seize control of their futures in the best way possible – with a job.
Learning and doing
Funded by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs since 2011, ETEMO provides free job training in fields that offer the possibility of lucrative work - for example, in welding, woodwork, tailoring or jewel design.
It has achieved concrete results. Under the motto “learning by doing”, training courses are offered to men and women aged between 19 and 35, largely from the poorest areas of Katutura, and are designed to provide participants with the tools that they will need to compete for the scarce jobs in the area.
Participants are also given lessons in entrepreneurship and first aid.
In addition to training students, the project benefits the local economy. As students learn to ply their respective trades, their output is sold to local craft shops. The items produced by ETEMO include dresses, necklaces, stools, tables and jewelry, which are sold to partner stores and are increasingly finding their way into the homes of Katutura.
“We are finding out that the people are taking the project in a positive way,” Ms Wahlroos said. “Now, because my husband is there almost every Saturday, people know him, they know the project, and they are coming to ask ‘what else do you have for sale?’”
ETEMO has also begun a new plan of donating its sewing machines, welding tools and other machinery to its graduates, to help them get started in their new professions.
Continuing to grow
Since its establishment in 2011, ETEMO has trained dozens of students, many of whom are now employed or self-employed. It takes on about 25 students for each three month session - and loses only a few of them, largely due to migration back to the rural country. Samuel Penda Shatipamba, a Katutura local and coordinator at ETEMO, has seen at first-hand the effects that the project has had on the community - and the growing demand for its services.
“We have experienced a lot of change,” he said. “A lot of people are coming here asking for the project. It’s only because we have a limited space and we cannot just accommodate everyone that we haven’t expanded further. But people are very interested in the project and we are having we are making a difference in young people’s lives.”
This difference is made obvious when visiting the projects headquarters. Jessica Kaufilwa, one student, described how learning carpentry would augment the skills she learned in school, and help her provide for her five month old daughter.
“I’m studying how to fix cars,” explained Eric, another student. “I’m hoping to set up my own business – that’s the master plan.”
Eric was also confident that this master plan would one day come to fruition. He said, "I think I’ll be able to do it because the only thing that’s stopping me is the financial thing.”
With respect to finance, ETEMO itself is facing a new, daunting challenge. Its funding from the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs is due to expire at the end of 2013. Despite this, ETEMO's organisers are confident that the momentum that the project has built will sustain itself and that the training will continue.
“Our plan is to continue though funding is coming to an end,” Mr Shatipamba said. “We have invited a lot of organisations and companies and media people, so that we can come and tell the nation about this project and the benefit and impact that it is making in the community.”