UNHCR programme provides young Somali males with a toolkit full of skills

Making a Difference, 30 June 2011

© UNHCR/R.Gangale
One of the many settlements for displaced people in Galkayo. The UNHCR vocational skills programme picked youth from these settlements.

GALKAYO, Somalia, June 30 (UNHCR) Barely a year ago, life was a constant struggle for survival for 18-year-old Barre Abdirahman in the central Somalia town of Baidoa. Limited employment opportunities, intense fighting and the threat of drought had reduced the local population to poverty and a bleak future.

"There was no good life there; it was just full of troubles," Barre told recent visitors in Galkayo, which is located to the north of Baidoa in Somalia's Puntland region. He fled here in search of a better future and has since found hope in a training programme organized by UNHCR and funded by Canada.

Barre said that finding work in Baidoa was a desperate business. "You had to know someone who would help you get that job, and afterwards give him some money as a sign of gratitude. My family had little money; my parents each earned three [US] dollars a day from washing and ironing clothes, which was not enough to meet all our basic needs."

When the young man headed to Galkayo he left behind his brother, sister and parents. It took five days by bus and cost eight dollars to reach the town. On arrival, he moved in with an aunt, who now lives in the Al Aamin camp for internally displaced people (IDP).

His initiative was soon rewarded when he was one of 40 young men selected to take part in the five-month vocational skills training programme. The UN refugee agency and its local partner, the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development, visited IDP camps all over Galkayo to find suitable candidates.

Many of them were engaged in low-paying jobs like shoe shining or garbage collection, but lacked the skills to sustain a long-term livelihood. Barre and his classmates learned skills such as welding and carpentry during the course, which wrapped up earlier this month. Each participant has been given basic, essential tools to help them secure work and ultimately set up their own businesses.

"The course has changed my life in many ways," Barre said. "I come from a poor background just like the other young men in the camp, but I'm determined to be successful. I dream of owning my own garage where I can practise my welding skills.

He added that when he had raised enough money, "I will definitely bring my family here and give them a better life than the one they know now. I am forever grateful for this opportunity."

Bruno Geddo, UNHCR's representative for Somalia, hailed the positive impact of the programme. "Skills training is an effective way to empower Somali youth in order to secure a better future for Somalia. These young men, who could otherwise have fallen prey to recruiters or pirates, have now been given a future and are determined to be the force for change their country needs," he said.

The programme aims to equip the male participants with readily applicable skills, thereby enabling them to generate income to support themselves and their families. It also provides a social base for advocacy, protection monitoring and mobilization work on a wide range of issues.

There are currently almost 140,000 IDPs in Puntland, with 60,000 of them living in 21 settlements in Galkayo. Meanwhile, drought and continuing conflict in south and central Somalia is driving thousands of people to flee to neighbouring Kenya.

By Faith Kasina in Galkayo, Somalia