Jobs for Zambia’s next generation

Peter Chongo Lufungulo used his earnings to improve education in his village. Photograph: Francois D'Elbee
Alice Kalumbu (left) in her tailoring shop in Lusaka. Photograph: Francois d'Elbee
Alice Kalumbu (left) in her tailoring shop in Lusaka. Photograph: Francois d’Elbee

With employment prospects failing to keep up with demand, it’s up to young people to make their own opportunities.

In the roadside village of Chongwe, the door to one hut stands apart from the others – an exasperated demand of “WHY ME?!!” is scrawled across its corrugated-iron surface, a scar of anger and dark-green paint.

The young resident, Desire Sibanda, recalls with embarrassment the desperation that compelled him to express his feelings in such a way. “Life was difficult,” he says. “I asked myself: ‘There are many rich people passing by with their expensive cars. Why wasn’t I born to a president? There are many people, why me?'”

Sibanda, 17, an orphan, lives with his elderly grandfather, who is almost completely blind. He wants to finish his schooling, but cannot find adequate employment to cover his fees. Odd jobs around the village, 60km outside the capital, Lusaka, may be poorly paid and physically demanding but are a necessary source of income for him.

Youth unemployment is a serious global concern. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that as many as 73 million young people will be unemployed by the end of 2013. This is an alarming figure for the developing world, where 90% of the global youth population resides, and for Zambia in particular, which currently has its highest-ever number of young people.

A scarred generation

Zachary Mulenga, 27, who worked in a shop for five years, found himself without any prospects when his contract ended. Unable to pay rent, he lives with an aunt and prays each morning before searching for work. “There are no jobs,” he mutters sadly, “because I’ve been looking.”

According to the United Nations, this persistent cycle of unemployment overshadows the strong economic growth that Zambia has experienced in recent years and threatens to leave a “scarring” effect on the young. The United Nations in Zambia’s recent paper, The Condition of Young People in Zambia, describes how job creation is becoming one of the most pressing development priorities. Approximately one million new jobs will be needed every year for the next decade in order to keep up with youth population growth rates.

Annie Sampa, child rights officer for Unicef Zambia, explains that job creation is a long process, requiring patience, but says that, “during that gap, youths need to survive. They can’t wait.”

In an attempt to fill this gap, Unicef and Barclays entered into a partnership and created the Building Young Futures initiative in 2008. The programme, now in its second phase, delivers business training to young people across six countries. It teaches all aspects of starting up a business, including financial discipline, networking and marketing. In addition, many of the young people involved receive mentoring and startup capital, and are encouraged to open bank accounts.

In Zambia, the training is delivered by local Barclays volunteers and a range of instructors countrywide. They are aided to extend the programme’s reach by several implementing partners, including various government ministries, the Zambia Development Agency, and local NGOs such as Africa Directions and the Trauma Healing Centre.

Isabel Kachinda, 29, runs a tailoring shop in Lusaka’s bustling Bwafwano market. At 21, she started her business from scratch with only a sewing machine donated by her father and a spool of black cotton, costing one kwacha (roughly 12p). She remembers her first customer fondly, having made her a skirt, and remarks, “on that first day, I knocked off with seven kwacha!” Since then, her business and its client list have grown dramatically.

After receiving her Building Young Futures training in 2008, Kachinda noted huge improvements to her business model, and has realised her entrepreneurial ambition to train prospective tailors. Having recently graduated from a teaching methodology course, she laughs as she muses, “The next time when you come here, you will find me at my own training institute. It will be very difficult to see me, because the first people you will find will be the students! I am very positive on that. I will do it.”