Lessons learnt by Totally Youth
Kofi has just graduated from Legon with a BA degree. His parents are both on retirement. Having spent 22 years taking care of Kofi from nappies to graduation gown, they have deservedly been looking forward to this special day – Kofi’s graduation day. Now he can work and bring money home to help maintain the family lifestyle they have built over a period of 40-plus years. They can now mend the leaking roof and pay for Mom’s knee operation. Kofi’s siblings are also happy. Congratulations pour out freely from family, friends, neighbours and acquaintances, close and far.
Kofi now heads on to National Service. There is basically no room for negotiations. You are lucky to get a placement. Insisting on where you want to go is an invitation to stay on the “waiting list”. At best, you will be tossed around a few times and at worse you may end up on a “floating list”. So Kofi accepts the first placement offered and goes off to do his National Service. Mom and Dad are now basking in a sweeter aroma of blissful retirement. They can now spend some money on themselves and ensure that their utility bills are paid regularly so that any “dum s” can rightly be placed at the doorstep of the electricity company.
All too soon, Kofi completes his National Service and starts the hopeful journey of looking for a permanent job. After all, he is a qualified, confident and determined young man. Being Internet savvy, he hits the job search engines, Asks, Yahoos and Googles his way to interesting job offers. He submits various online applications and uploads his one-size-fits-all CV. This is the electronic age, so he is bound to strike oil sooner rather than later. However, after four weeks, his confidence starts to ebb, so he turns round and wades through numerous ads of the paper kind, including the specialised job magazines, for more vacancies. He religiously writes and sends off hard copy and e-copy applications and CVs for the ever-changing requirements of each ad. However, for lack of experience and mismatch of qualifications, Kofi’s efforts perish. He is getting nowhere. The third month is on the horizon, Mom and Dad are still hopeful, supportive and encouraging. By the sixth month, out of 50-plus applications, only two got Kofi to the interview stage, but he never got the call. It’s a year now and Kofi has officially become an unemployed graduate. Next year, 70,000 newly graduated youth will join him on the job market.
There must be something wrong somewhere. Some evil spirit, witchcraft, fetish or juju must be interfering with the divine interventions meant for Kofi. Pastoral assistance must be sought. Frequent visits to the pastor, intensified prayers, diligent fasting, thanksgivings, offerings, tithing, retreats and letters to God, all become part and parcel of the daily life of Mom and Dad, Kofi’s siblings and above all, Kofi is now the first to volunteer for church projects. He even does weekend-cleaning in the pastor’s house. His faith grows stronger and his hopes are high again. God’s time is the best. His time will come. However, slowly but surely, Kofi’s activities in the church become just a conduit for getting a job and not a means of worshiping God. He soon becomes disillusioned and easily finds excuses for not getting involved in church activities. Frustration sets in for the whole family.
A year and a half after National Service, Mom and Dad (M&D), are extremely worried. They start consulting with influential friends and acquaintances to “see-what-they-can-do”. Sometimes, Kofi tags along with them to see some of these potential employers/facilitators. After several of these who-you-know projects, it becomes clear that some other options need to be explored. But which one? Tensions mount at home. Kofi thinks that M&D do not understand his plight and that they are putting too much pressure on him. M&D are sure that Kofi does not understand their financial constraints and does not appreciate the fact that they are simply not in a situation to continue paying for the rent, utilities, meals, etc. as well as for Kofi’s clothing and “leisure”. A vicious cycle of hide-and-seek and Family Feuds over Kofi’s continued unemployment ensues. Advisors are brought in, mostly to get Kofi to try harder! What are they thinking? Kofi has been and is still moving heaven and earth to get a job. He is totally stressed out from the stares of the “neighbourhood watch” and their continuous noise of “Have you got a job yet? Where are you working? Are you working in the same place as Ama? Are you still doing your national service? ”. He is doing his best, the best way he knows. He is using everything he has been taught by our educational system.
Kofi somehow finds money to attend a number of inspirational and empowerment seminars. He experiences the rush of the “can-do spirit” flowing through his heart and veins. He can do whatever he sets his mind to. He is fully energised, but months after the last seminar, with several complimentary cards in his possession, his situation remains the same; he still hasn’t found a job. Finally, with the last spurt of the can-do-spirit, Kofi heeds the advice of his peers who have started their “own business”. His peers “enlightened” him to the projects they have completed, especially in Events Management and e-Business. Some of them are quite successful. Kofi is hooked. He now tells M&D that he is going to set up his own business and sweetens the message with the enticing information received from his peers. His confidence is peaking. He registers his single-proprietor business and becomes the CEO. He has arrived and is looking for his first “project” to bring in the money. He starts the “business hustle”. He comes up with a good business idea which he guards with his life, because someone might steal his great idea. He however knows that he now has to look for capital, because he has not got a pesewa to finance his idea. M&D are sceptical. They know that it is not easy for individuals and entities to donate to just any business. Unfortunately, M&D cannot give Kofi any money to start the business. They listen to his resource mobilization plans, which are based on the “success” of his peers, and they hope to God that Kofi knows what he is doing. Kofi’s business idea after all, has potential.
M&D continue to struggle with the utilities, rent and other payments and Kofi’s clothes and shoes begin to tell the story of stress. Kofi knows that any new request for money from M&D will give them yet another opportunity to start the hide-and-seek and Unemployment Family Feuds. He does his best to keep up appearances, but he has been missing from too many outings with peers because of clothing deficiency and inability to pay T&T to “chilling” venues. The Peer Gossip machine goes into gear and soon Kofi is bombarded with questions: “Chaley why u no come de show? The 553+ thing e big waa, Chaley. Chaley, u go portey tonite?” Kofi tries to find some safe hide-outs to get away from prying eyes and wagging tongues. On his lucky days, he locks himself up in his room and he is left alone; on difficult days, he has no option but to walk the streets. His precious mobile phone goes off regularly now, first because he wants some peace and later because there is no juice in it. Kofi has done the best he can, given his training, the limited jobs on the market and the limited support for youth businesses. He moves to the next inevitable hustle of visiting adults-you-know for T&T and meal tickets. Sometimes he strikes enough cash for the week.
The home front is crumbling fast. Sibling Feuds erupt regularly, because resources which should now be going to them are still being shared between them and Kofi who has had his share already. Kofi should be bringing in his quota so the older siblings with low-paid jobs or intermittent jobs can start saving some money towards their future; Younger siblings still in school can have all the support they need, so they can hold their heads high in school, in hole-less uniforms, with paid-up fees and money for lunch. They nag at Kofi at the least provocation – “why can’t you be like Akweley? She’s with the Employ Bank. She’s even got her own apartment and she’s getting married next month. Wasn’t she your classmate?” M&D invariably sides with them because of mounting financial constraints. “Just get a job like your peers”, they say, “and your siblings will stop nagging you”. Which peers out of the 75,000 are M&D referring to - the 6% with jobs or the 94% unemployed? But M&D are dealing with their home front and times are hard. The family fortunes are dwindling fast. Kofi is too old to be at home. Kofi must look for an out, any out.
Kuku lives in a rented one-room with shared facilities. Things are not easy, but he is getting by. He agrees to share rooms with Kofi with the hope of sharing the related costs. Without any notice, Kofi packs his dwindled-down belongings and moves into Kuku’s one-room. It is a big relief, even though he sleeps on the hard floor. He puts together his business plan and starts going round for loans from banks and financial houses. He very quickly learns that it takes more than his “great idea” and a “self-acclaimed” business plan to get a business loan from banks and financial houses. His business plan does not cut it and he has no collateral. More importantly, there are virtually no resources or grants for young start-ups like his. There must be a way out somewhere. Kofi falls back on the popular advice of his peers – “find individual ‘mentors’ who will give you money to put your idea into business; write a proposal and take it to companies to sponsor you; make big promises to media houses to partner with you so the sponsors will come; team up for an event organized by another peer and share the proceeds”. Unfortunately, these strategies work for only a limited few or only for a period, if they take off at all. More often than not, after such projects, there is very little or nothing to share and every so often, debts are accrued instead of profits. Unfortunately, when the occasional profits are made, percentage shares turn into disbursement riots. Invariably, tensions build up among team members and the business team breaks up. After several failed or barely sponsored events, Kofi’s confidence and hopes plunge to the lowest level.
Kuku’s patience runs out and he starts a Roommate Feud. Kofi has not been able to contribute to the rent, utilities and food for quite a while. Kofi leaves the room untidy most of the time because he has to rush out to one meeting after another, with his “peer business team”. Tensions boil over. Kuku allows Kofi to leave his belonging in his room for a while, but will not allow him to stay over. Kofi starts sleeping-over at one peer lodgings after another. He does not want to go back home to face more Family or Sibling Feuds. His situation has not changed for the better. He cannot make a triumphant return home. Sometimes he is forced to sleep rough, because he cannot go home with anyone from his peer-support groups. Their parents, guardians or landlords have issued warnings. Kofi cannot go home to M&D either for obvious reasons. Kofi has no job, he has no business, but he is a CEO with a degree and a great business idea.
Kuku’s unemployed girlfriend was moving in with him. He asks Kofi to remove his belongings from his room. Kofi stuffs all his belongings into his backpack. He slumps down at the corner of Kuku’s street, dejected. Hours later, Kuku comes by on his way to town. Are you still here? Why don’t you just go back home? And say what? The prodigal son is back? What did they give me to go out into the world with? What have I squandered? Well, they gave you an education and you squandered it by not becoming employed. Go home and plead. At least you will get a bed to lie on. Kofi goes back home, after a furious Family Feud, he thankfully gets back into his soft bed. Weeks later, a family friend advises the use of an employment agency. Mom pays the fees, Kofi fills in the forms, goes through three days of “intensive” grooming, followed by two weeks of “hectic” placement attempts. After four weeks, the agency informs Kofi, he has exhausted all his options. They can no longer help him. It is the end of the road for Kofi, he has tried everything. He will do anything, anything at all, to end this nightmare.
So who do we blame for Kofi’s predicament? All of us: – parents, educators, employers and policy makers. At the end of such an ordeal, confidence is low, self-esteem is lost, pride is gone and trust is out of reach. There are several variations on the Kofi story and there are many Kofis in Ghana now. There are better-off Kofis, similar Kofis and worse-off Kofis and there are Amas too, all needing just the right amount of push to get them started. Many of them have great and practical business ideas and they are all employable through appropriate capacity building.
If the plight of unemployed young graduates is not tackled immediately with the utmost urgency, all the Kofis and Amas could easily turn into stressed-out, depressed, homeless, suicidal, drug-using, fraudulent, corrupt and crime-prone young people. The current official figure of unemployed young graduates, stands at 75,000 and 70,000 graduates are produced annually (ref: www.gebssghana.org). Consequently, there will be an estimated 140,000 unemployed graduates next year. There are many young graduates with practical business ideas and there are many more who are trainable for jobs. They just need a safe, transitional and productive haven between graduation and employment to become responsible and accountable adults.
Totally Youth is currently the only one-stop-shop incubator supporting young graduates in a holistic way. At Totally Youth, participants join peers who are confident, hopeful and hard at work, building their future. Some are learning how to develop their ideas into business concepts, how to develop business plans, how to develop business proposals to raise funds, how to sustain their businesses; some are learning how to research for appropriate jobs, develop requirement- and achievement-oriented CVs; how to write requirement-oriented job applications and how to sustain their careers. Some are incubating their businesses and steadily seeing results while others are in transitional internships. All Totally Youth participants have access to shared office space, Wi-Fi Internet, computers, tools, equipment, event space and secretarial support. They have access to dedicated professionals for capacity building, mentoring and counseling to ensure that they succeed at what they have elected to do. We also provide transitional accommodation to participants who may otherwise sleep rough. We are currently supporting 20 graduates at our premises and numerous others via the internet and telephone. With your support, we can help many more.
Totally Youth is the only complete resource centre of its kind in Ghana. Donating in cash or kind towards our programmes will go a long way to help us meet our target of supporting 5,000 unemployed youth into self-employment and jobs. Adopt a graduate for US$ 2,400 lumpsum or donate any of the amounts indicated on our Global Giving site to help us give young graduates the assistance they need to achieve success. Your benevolent donations can be made to our Global Giving account at: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/totallyyouth/. Thank you very much for your generosity and for understanding the dangerous consequences of youth unemployment
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