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Young people transforming Somalia

Students in Somalia learn tailoring skills. Photo: Somalia / AFSC

Youth demonstrate what can happen when we invest in human potential in even the most challenging environments.

By: Patrick Gormley

Like many young people in Somalia, Shamso Jamaa Warsame and Ibrahim Mujan Abdi once struggled to find work.  

Shamso had recently returned to Somalia after living for six years in Kenya, where she’d hoped to find better economic opportunities to support her parents and siblings. But she was forced to come home when her father was killed in a clan dispute, leaving her mother a widow. Shamso had a hard time finding employment after being away so long.     

Ibrahim had recently returned to Somalia after living for seven years in Dadaab refugee camp, where he had fled because of the civil war. When he returned to Somalia, he worked as a porter at a nearby bus park. Every day, he would head to the bus park with his wheelbarrow very early in the morning and wait for work opportunities. 

Although Shamso and Ibrahim once had few options, today they are now creating new possibilities for their lives. They are among hundreds of young people in Somalia who have taken part in an AFSC program that helps youth build economic security for themselves and work for peace in their communities.  

 Learning vocation skills and peace building through AFSC-sponsored programs helped Shamso Jamaa Warsame start a new career and help her community. Photo: AFSC/Somalia

Somalia has suffered through more than two decades of severe armed conflict, compounded by drought, diseases, other natural disasters, and unstable access to food, health care, and clean water. An estimated 1.5 million Somalis are displaced within the country, and nearly 900,000 are refugees in Kenya, Yemen, and Ethiopia, according to UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee Agency.  

Young people under the age of 30—who make up nearly 70 percent of the country’s population—are hit especially hard. Nearly three-quarters of working-age youth are unemployed, largely due to lack of education, skills, and access to employment opportunities. Their economic situations leave them vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups that perpetuate violence. Others feel compelled to move to other countries to find work.    

These factors prevent young people from pursuing social change and becoming active members of their communities.   

“The lack of meaningful youth participation in the economy and in civic life is preventing Somalia from moving beyond conflict,” says Zaina Kisongoa, AFSC’s Somalia country representative. “Achieving peace in the country depends largely on a youth population that is part of the workforce and has means to provide for themselves and their families.” 

AFSC works with local partners in Somalia to teach young people vocational skills—including carpentry, electrical work, and tailoring—as well as conflict resolution so they can move beyond the daily struggle for survival and thrive. We also help participants learn to identify issues facing their communities and develop strategies to address them.  

Over the past three years alone, more than 2,800 young people have graduated from the program. Nearly 1,400 are now employed or self-employed, and many more are prepared to join the workforce and use their knowledge of peace building and conflict resolution to act as agents of change among their peers.  

“Today, we can see an emerging group of young leaders who are finding a voice for youth and taking control of their futures by becoming decision makers and business leaders in their communities,” Zaina says.   

“Today, we can see an emerging group of young leaders who are finding a voice for youth and taking control of their futures by becoming decision makers and business leaders in their communities,” Zaina Kisongoa, Somalia Country Representative    

Shamso enrolled in beautician training classes at Wardi Relief and Development Initiative (WARDI), AFSC’s partner in Mogadishu, inspired by the beauty salons she had seen in Kenya. She graduated first in her class of 90 students and now owns her own salon, works as an instructor in the beautician class, and is pursuing a degree in business administration. She’s also a committee member of the Mogadishu Peace ambassadors, a group that helps her community recognize nonviolent solutions to disputes.  

Learning vocation skills and peace building through AFSC-sponsored programs helped Ibrahim Mujan Abdi start a new career and help his community. Photo: AFSC/Somalia

Ibrahim enrolled in a carpentry class. After graduating in 2015, he opened his own workshop, which employs three other people, and teaches carpentry at the WARDI center. Ibrahim was recently elected Youth Leader in Dalhis IDP settlement where he helps other young people in his community embrace peace.   

As Somalia continues to face violence and instability, people like Shamso and Ibrahim demonstrate how youth can be leaders and positive forces in their communities.  

Says Zaina, “Providing youth with opportunities to support themselves and their families is one way that we can support their efforts to build peace and work toward the communities they want to see.” ■

Patrick Gormley served as intern for AFSC International Programs.

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