Note: Youth, as used in this blog, refers to the 18 to 35 age-range.
Many Liberian youth grew up as child soldiers. Schools did not operate in most parts of the nation during the 15 years of civil war that ended in the mid 2000s. Today the restless unemployed make up 80% of the youth generation.
In 2005 Liberia held it’s first peacetime election putting Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf into the office of President. This year – 2011 – two things happened: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel peace prize and the second peacetime election was held. Let’s look at that election in terms of the youth of the country.
A majority of the youth voted in the first round on October 11th. There was a 71.6% voter turnout overall. It was a peaceful event.
The YMCA had a hand in it. In advance of Election Day the YMCA organized peer led discussions of the issues that concern youth across the nation. Then they engaged all of the candidates for office in these issues publicly. They urged their peers to vote. Finally the YMCA youth became recognized poll watchers on Election Day. They influenced the national agenda and then followed through to the ballot box.
But the story does not end there. Since the first round did not result in a majority for any one candidate, there was a runoff scheduled between Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Winston Tubman for November 8th. Ten days before the election Tubman felt he could not win so he called for a boycott of the election and violence followed including the death of several people the day before the election. Voters were afraid to go to the polls. Yet on November 8th 38% of voters did go to the polls and elected Johnson-Sirleaf. But the results are not accepted by everyone, leaving many youth uneasy and uncertain about the future. The international press suggests that things will get much worse before they get better. Liberia is back on the edge.
The response of the Liberian YMCA is that now is the time for the YMCA to redouble its efforts to engage youth in livelihood programs, to demonstrate commitment to individuals and small groups, to teach advocacy through real action, to strengthen communities by increasing assets for all, and to expand apprenticeships and micro loans!
In the midst of conditions that scare others, and when it is understandable to want to stay home and wait and see what happens next, how significant it is that people like Edward (National General Secretary) and Tim (National Program Director) and the rest of the Liberian YMCA leadership team do the opposite. They continue every aspect of their work with youth. They fight the return of violence with the highest level of youth development work.
Now is the time for you and I help David in Gbarnga, Jamestta in Ganta, Moore in Kakata, Vivien in Monrovia and Annie in Zorzor (the front line staff working with youth) by making a donation to one of the loans they have posted on Ymicro.org. Micro finance is not the whole answer to the Liberian challenge but it is an important piece. It is one small step that we can take to be a part of empowering the youth of Liberia to lead their country away from the edge of violence.
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