Building Blocks

Building Blocks

A man cooks over a wood-burning fire in Kibera. Over 1 million working poor live in Kibera, with few opportunities to make a comfortable living. Photo: <a href=http://www.flickr.com/photos/islandgyrl/119453524/">Crissy Olson (flickr)</a>
A man cooks over a wood-burning fire in Kibera. Over 1 million working poor live in Kibera, with few opportunities to make a comfortable living. Photo: Crissy Olson (flickr)

Even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was surprised by the large number of people who greeted him in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya. But his surprise quickly became concern when he was told so many young people came to see him because they couldn't find work.

Inspired to act, Ban donated $100,000 of his own money to a UN-sponsored program that helps unemployed youth acquire vocational skills like carpentry, masonry, electrical wiring, plumbing and management. It's called the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP).

Students learn their trade through hands-on activities as they build a training facility that will allow YEP to expand its participant ranks. After graduation, many of the youth are placed in jobs or apprenticeships with private companies or UN-sponsored construction projects in Kibera.

The training program is part of a greater state- and UN-sponsored initiative to upgrade services and infrastructure in Nairobi's slums. Youth skills training also complements another UN-funded effort, the Urban Entrepreneurship Program, that helps to establish construction collectives and aid them in bidding on contracts.

Linus Sijenji, a youth coordinator in Kibera, notes that the combined efforts of the two programs are inspiring the youth and have opened up opportunities for them.

Our aim is to form our own companies that could competitively bid for such contracts on equal level with big companies. Much as this might seem far fetched, the idea is viable, especially with more training opportunities and resources like bank loans.

If these programs work as advertised, Ban will get an even bigger reception next time he comes to Kibera.

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