How would you advise the youth who have no clear vision of their lives?
Its appropriate to hear about what the youth of Rwanda expect from the Government and UN considering that they are the majority of the population. If Rwanda is to develop and meet its Vision2020 goals, they have to invest in the youth—that is a given.
What concerns me are the youth who are saying that they don’t know what they want for themselves. How do they see their future? When they know this, then they can ask about what role the Government of Rwanda can play through it’s donors and the international community to support the youth’s vision for the future.
As the youth, they should be able to know what they wish to do, and then the Government can support their vision by looking for other people who have the capacity—financially or technically—to help them do what they want to do.
Why must the youth attain an education?
Education is key: I always say, ‘literacy is a disease.’ It is important that the youth at least attain basic education. In my view, for a country that is re-building itself, It is important that we identify where the gaps are in terms of knowledge and skills and make sure that the youth are tailored to acquire those skills to work within the public and private sectors without necessarily having a college education and masters degree. There are several technical schools that can train youth in skills that allow them to acquire technical jobs so that they can establish themselves as young entrepreneurs and work in companies. This way, they can earn a living from doing things that I know are needed in Rwanda.
Of course, there is need for formal education because we need people who will work in the public sector, in ministries . But considering that majority of the people are semi-illiterate, we need to consider how to incorporate their skills in the workforce for the development of the country.
Why is youth employment a vital component of the country’s labor force?
Youth employment is the biggest preoccupation of this country. We have discussed in detail with the Ministry of Youth to make sure that whatever programmes we embark on are changing the lives of the people for the better. We as the UN are committed to doing so and that is why we are reviewing our programmes to attain maximum impact. Since we cannot cover the whole country, we focus on particular areas like the Western Province. We make sure that girls benefit as well, that its gender sensitive, that both the educated and uneducated benefit and involve the rural youth who don’t have these employment opportunities. And hopefully, when we see concrete impact, the Government can assume these projects and scale them up to other regions.
What is your take on the low reading culture?
With respect to the reading culture, I know that Imbuto Foundation is doing a lot in that area. Even though Rwanda is an English speaking country, several youths are still struggling to speak it. This is because they have three languages of choice, and I believe in order to place English as the lingua-franca, there has to be a time when the youth are empowered to speak and write the language confidently. I appreciate the fact that there are several people who are coming back from the Diaspora and as result, there is a mix of languages. However, there has to be a strategy where people are really equipped to speak in English, whether its at a meeting, workplace or school among other places. The establishment of more libraries, will enable them to read, learn faster and communicate eloquently in other languages besides Kinyarwanda.
Additionally, free literacy progrmmes should be introduced to enable those who cannot afford to pay for language courses to enroll. These should be done in the evenings to allow those who work during the day to attend.
Concerning the health of the youth; Abortion is a hot topic in Rwanda today. What is your advice to the youth affected by this challenge?
The issue of abortion is a controversial one; its illegal in this country and there is an on going debate. I must say that UNFPA does not support abortion. However, if there is a case of an abortion gone wrong, we do provide equipment to the Government of Rwanda (GoR) that they can use to help rectify the problem to save the lives of these women and girls.
To avoid the issue of unwanted pregnancies, we are working with the GoR to promote sexuality education. We have established youth friendly services in health facilities. These are places where the youth can feel free to seek advice on contraceptives, including abstinence without worrying about being ridiculed. As much as we do not want to be seen as encouraging promiscuity, we believe that knowledge is power and the youth should have options to decide on the best way forward.
We want to expand these programmes not only in hospitals but in youth centres, to build awareness on reproductive health in addition to providing counseling without cost. This way they get empowered to choose rightly about their lives