Arua, in the West Nile region of Uganda was the host of this year's International Youth Day celebrations, which was presided over by His Excellency General Y.K. Museveni, President of of the Republic of Uganda. Youth groups and adults came from all over the country for the event, including members from BRAC Uganda who travelled to Arua to join in and see how lessons from BRAC could fit in with this year's theme, Accelerating Youth Empowerment through Skills Development.
The day commenced with cultural performances from youth across the country who filled the stadium with color, dancing, and singing. Youth delegations came from far and wide and were joined by fellow youth, politicians, senior civil servants, foreign diplomats, donors, NGO staff, and members of civil society. Participants also included local celebrities Dorcus Inzikuru (aka the "Golden Gazelle," Uganda's fastest runner) and Bobbi Wine (aka the "Ghetto President," a popular singer) to inspire the youth with their success.
Uganda has the world's youngest population and the highest prevalence of poverty among its youth. Over half of its population is under the age of 18, and 94 of its young people live on less than US$2 a day. Skills development was chosen by the government as this year's theme in Uganda to help address the youth unemployment problem in the country. Youth face large barriers to securing stable employment given limited job opportunities and for many, inadequate skills and education. Skills development, therefore, is critical to assist youth in in the transition to work, equip them with the skills to become job creators, rather than seekers, and to allow youth greater participation in the social and economic transformation of Uganda. One of the many questions asked on the day was what strategies and programs do we put in place to do this?
BRAC Uganda has been developing the skills of young men and women in Uganda since 2008, when it launched its Empowerment and Livelihoods for Adolescents (ELA) program, offering adolescents and young girls a safe space in which they can socialize and be provided with life skills training, financial literacy training, livelihoods training, vocational training, and access to microfinance. The clubs, launched in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation, reach nearly 28,500 adolescent girls through the 743 clubs in 26 districts of Uganda. More recently, BRAC has launched two additional programs for youth skills development and empowerment, making youth one of its key focal areas. In 2010, BRAC supported 278 young men and women to undergo vocational training at registered institutes under their vocational training program, offering them assistance afterward with job placement, tools to generate self-employment and formal certification of their course. In addition, 2011 marked the opening of 120 Youth Centers in partnership with UNICEF in the Karamoja Region of North Uganda. Through this initiative, nearly 3,000 young women will have access to skills training and some initial input supply for becoming self-employed in the trade they have learned. To celebrate International Youth Day, UNICEF has created a video to highlight how youth supported by BRAC's initiatives are overcoming various barriers.
BRAC's work with youth has led us to recognize the need for a deeper understanding of the complex challenges they face as they negotiate the transition to adulthood. In light of this, the Research and Evaluation Unit has undertaken a large nation-wide research study on youth, to be launched soon in November 2011. Combining a nationally-representative survey of 5,000 youth with in-depth qualitative research methodologies, the report will provide a dynamic understanding of the experiences and aspirations of youth, and identify the forms of support that have allowed youth in Uganda to overcome these challenges, providing important lessons on how to adopt policies and programs to the needs, preferences and priorities of youth.