Who would ever think that something as simple as bananas could provide opportunities to break the cycle of poverty? In the village of Chongwe in Zambia, a banana plantation has become a symbol of hope.
The teens and young adults in Chongwe are among a booming sector of the population known as the “youth bulge,” which is concentrated especially in the developing world. Outnumbering adults disproportionately, these youth (ages 15 to 25) face an extraordinarily tight job market.
With support from ChildFund, the village of Chongwe is defying the odds. By bringing the community together and offering resources and education, ChildFund has helped the youth of Chongwe transform a growing problem into lasting change. Through its Youth Empowerment Program, ChildFund challenged these young people to envision a collaborative effort that would mobilize their skills and create a long-term opportunity for employment.
The program applied ChildFund’s Youth Employment Model, which is designed specifically to prepare young people to enter the workforce. The model takes participants through a five-part process: a market survey (to ensure job training is demand-driven), technical skills training and production support, basic business skills training, life skills training and ongoing mentoring.
Through these activities, the youth in Chongwe realized that their community offered a perfect environment for agriculture, and they suggested trying to establish a banana plantation. Soon, the idea moved toward becoming a reality.
A ChildFund grant paid for seeds and a state-of-the-art, solar-powered irrigation system. A local chief donated land, and the Ministry of Agriculture taught the young participants how to grow bananas and maintain their equipment. A fertilizer company provided the training to farm the plantation.
The result is a flourishing farm of more than 1,500 banana trees and residual employment opportunities for the youth.
Since the program began in 2010, many youth in Chongwe have become prospering entrepreneurs. They have learned to run a business and follow how bananas fit into the larger world economy, daily checking commodity prices. Some of the boys and girls who care for the banana plantation are laying foundations for other businesses, like one young man who started a vegetable garden and parlayed it into a grocery business.
What began as a challenge has become an opportunity. The Chongwe youth are a testament to the kind of change that can happen when potential is tapped and resources allow it to flourish.
By Abu Bakarr Conteh, ChildFund Sierra Leone
As part of ongoing efforts to tackle unemployment in Sierra Leone, some 3,000 youth have started an intensive 12-month training program supported by ChildFund.
Years of civil war in Sierra Leone have robbed thousands of children and youth of a complete education. With few opportunities for employment, this generation of youth has been languishing in their villages with very little to offer and dim prospects for the future.
ChildFund, with funding from the World Bank, is rolling out the Youth Employment and Support Project (YESP) in five districts including the capital city of Freetown. And young people are eagerly enrolling in carpentry, masonry, auto mechanics and welding, among other vocational programs.
After completing the YESP training, the youth expect to improve their prospects of getting jobs.
“My dream is to become one of the best female auto mechanics in the country, so I can work for the big companies,” says 18-year-old Mamadi, who has been on the street and suffered exploitation.
Musa, who was struck with polio, is seeking to add value to his life. “I will become self-employed and be able to provide for my family once I complete the training,” he says.
In a country where unemployment remains a huge challenge across the population, these youth are highly spirited and determined to carve their own destinies.