By Tsitsi Matope
MASERU — Priority should be given to programmes that build the capacity of young people to become the drivers of economic development in Lesotho, the Acting Director for Youth in the Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation, Matseliso Letsie said this week.
Talking tough in an interview on Monday, Letsie said various stakeholders should understand the country’s future would be doomed if there are no multifaceted interventions that would ensure meaningful empowerment and development of the youth.
The department, which classifies the youth as anyone between the ages of 17 and 35, says it is concerned by high levels of poverty among young people and yet responsive efforts do not all reflect the urgency required to ensure a bright future for the country.
Letsie explained that weak support systems that are ineffective when it comes to tackling the challenges faced by the youths have given birth to some of the social ills associated, generally, with young people.
She said while some youths are blamed for committing crime, prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse and abortion, these should also be viewed as signs of systems failure on the part of all stakeholders who are supposed to participate in preventing and reducing vulnerability.
Letsie said the ripple effects of having young people who are incapacitated to participate in the development of the country are devastating and costly.
This, she explained, is seen from the amount of pressure exerted on various government departments and other support organisations.
Large numbers of those affected by HIV and Aids, she said, would mean large spending in the health sector while high crime incidence would also mean big budgets for the police, the judiciary and correctional service.
These factors, she added, would also generally have a negative socio-economic impact.
“It really pains me each time I come across young people struggling to make anything meaningful out of their lives.
“I feel responsible for their hopelessness because I know my department should be doing more – but also as a department, we need the crucial support from both the government and more so, the private sector to turn the tide and make provisions that could help improve the lives of the young people.”
She said high unemployment among the youths is a result of failure to put in place adequate measures that support quality skills development and create entrepreneurship financing opportunities.
“We are at the cross-roads and the route we opt for would determine the future of this country. If as a people we choose to ignore the challenges of the youths, we should then be prepared for the consequences that can further impoverish our society.”
She said the way forward was to ensure proper coordination of all youth programmes to avoid duplication of efforts.
“We also need to financially strengthen the current youth development programmes to make them more responsive to challenges, beef-up the numbers of youth development officers in the districts and at the same time, amend the National Youth Policy of 2003 to bring it in line with current demands.”
She explained currently, there is only one youth development officer in each district and these operate with very limited resources.
“Our structures should reflect an inclination to the advancement of young people. At the same time, it is also important that we have clauses in our National Youth Policy that can stimulate the participation of the private sector to take responsibility and also become part of the solution.”
She said for many years, there has been a disturbing trend that has seen some stakeholders pledging support for youth development but with other ulterior motives.
“Meaningful interventions are those that can provide economic independence and not expose young people to exploitation.”
She emphasised the need to seriously confront challenges through a review of youth development programmes.
“We need to take stock of our current programmes and gauge their effectiveness. Let’s ask ourselves: How many young people are economically independent as a result of the training programmes we are offering under this department? What are the standards of qualification and is that good enough to help them become independent?
Would we want our own children to get such training? If the answer is not positive, then it’s time we make some good changes.”
She said her department, through the Ministry of Gender, is currently implementing the National Volunteer Corps Programme, which attaches graduates from various tertiary institutions to various government departments and the private sector for a year.
The programme, which has been funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) since 2009, seeks to address challenges faced by many graduates who fail to get employment due to lack of experience.
Letsie said the graduates are paid an incentive of M2 000 per month with the hope that after a year, they would have acquired the necessary experience and would be incorporated in the organisation, since their contracts are non-renewable.
“However, this is not always the case and that is our biggest challenge in this programme.”
She explained that currently more than 5 000 youths have registered for the volunteers programme and some have also registered with the Public Service. “Currently 625 volunteers are working at various organisations.”
Letsie said another programme, the Youth Employment, provides the youths with entrepreneurship skills for them to have capacity to start and run sustainable businesses.
“The aim is to provide skills that can help young people create decent employment and promote social cohesion. We believe an empowered youth is a progressive movement that cannot be easily badly influenced because they are hungry.”
She said many young people are eager to start projects but lacked the start-up capital.
“We had hoped that the Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme launched last year, would have a component that supports youth development but later we realised that the majority of our young people do not qualify for such support.”
She said the establishment of a Youth Development Fund could be one of the immediate solutions to the current lack of projects financing.
On the other hand, the Young Ambassadors for Positive Living is yet another programme targeting high school students.
Under the programme, 10 resource centres were established in all districts and 120 youth leaders were employed.
The youth leaders provide various training in the areas of HIV and Aids, anti- alcohol and drug abuse and also computer literacy.
The leaders are paid an incentive by the Global Fund while the Commonwealth also supports some components of the programme.
“The resource centres are a positive start but we still need to do more to ensure the services reach out to all young people. We should also add components that realistically address poverty in this programme.”
She said a boost of the Social Compact Programme to ensure meaningful participation of the youth in food production can also help alleviate poverty and improve food insecurity.
“This programme oversees the training of young people in various agricultural technologies and practices and also ensures they access inputs such as seed and fertiliser. We have established greenhouses at the districts resource centres of Berea, Qacha’s Nek, Quthing, Mafeteng and Mokhotlong.
Through our youth development officers in those areas, the youth can utilise these facilities.”
The programme, which experienced some inputs hitches last year, is expected to resume this farming season.