Imagine being a young man responsible for a large family but with very little income. How would you cope? What do you think your future would look like? Musa Sheriff doesn’t have to imagine, this was very much a reality for him. A young family man from the Mano community, he had four young mouths to feed and a wife to support, yet until recently he had no vocational skills and almost no income. He was unable to feed his four children. But with his lack of skills, he could see no future that didn’t involve poverty and the reliance on handouts from family and friends.
For people like Musa, life can be difficult. With no means to support his family, he had little respect from his family or the community at large. However, Musa is one of the lucky ones – he was given the opportunity to gain some valuable vocational skills and change his future.
Expanding our work to make a greater impact
The project that helped Musa was an expansion of a larger project with our partner MAPCO. With support from the Turing Foundation, it focused on the development of vocational skills for disadvantaged young people in Sierra Leone.
Musa was one of 255 young people selected by project staff and local leaders from 12 communities of six widespread districts of Sierra Leone. The project also identified 24 artisans and owners of existing local businesses who were invested in the future of the local economy and who were willing to train young people. These business owners were engaged in taking the students under their wing and providing them with practical experience and technical skills in their field of work.
Skills for life
Musa chose to undertake training in motorcycle repair with one of the local businesses, in the hope that one day he would earn a decent living repairing motorcycles, and perhaps even run his own business.
For the last 12 months, Musa, together with nine other trainees, has gone to work every day at the small motorbike repair kiosk at the crossroads in the village, where the passing motorbike trade is most concentrated. He is now nearing completion of the motorbike repair training. This has involved vocational training as well as training in business management and functional literacy, which encourages and enables the trainees to start up their own businesses once they have completed their training.
Musa’s story is a positive one. He now feels that he has gained useful skills in motorbike repair. And, as a result, he earns enough income from his share of the bike repair business to buy fish from the market. Now his family can afford three meals per day and afford to make ‘good sauce’ to go with their rice – a small benefit perhaps, but something he couldn’t do before his training. Moreover, with his newfound skills, Musa enjoys more respect from his family and is recognised in the community as a skilled person.
Musa now has prospects for his future. He hopes to find a paid position in a larger garage, but presently he is proud of his achievements and enjoys working with his fellow motorbike apprentices in Mano.
A positive future
It is projects such as this that are so vital to vulnerable communities and individuals such as Musa. If he didn’t get the opportunity to train in a vocational skill and learn the skills necessary to provide for his family, and to gain the confidence to make something of himself and earn the respect of his peers, then who knows what his future would hold.
Vocational training plays a critical role in equipping young people with the right skills to meet labour market needs, fuel competitiveness and reduce youth unemployment. But for Musa it was also a means to support his family and give him hope for his future.
Just one small project has a significant impact – vocational training has also been shown to help individuals develop social competencies and improve health-related behaviour. It can have a positive impact on a person’s motivation, attitude, self-esteem, and self-confidence especially among the unemployed. It is also linked to increased membership of voluntary organisations and taking part in civil society.
Thanks to this project, vulnerable young people in Sierra Leone now have opportunities, choices and control in their lives where previously they had little or none. And, once the MAPCO project ends the young people involved in this project can continue to feed their children and improve their lives. The economic and social benefits of projects like these are huge and are vital for the sustainable future of young people in Sierra Leone.