By Pi James
NEW YORK, USA, 12 August 2010 – According to UNICEF, nearly half of the world’s population, some three billion people, are under the age of 25, and nearly 70 percent of them live in poor nations.
International Youth Day, 12 August, kicks off the International Year of Youth, which aims to advance the full and effective participation of youth in all aspects of society.
To mark the occasion, UNICEF podcast moderator Amy Costello spoke with two guests, 25-year-old Carvarinho Magalhaes Jeronimo Bento living in Timor-Leste, and Radha Rajkotia, Senior Technical Advisor for Youth and Livelihoods at the International Rescue Committee in Washington D.C., about the challenges for young people in conflict and post-crisis nations in accessing and participating in quality education.
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Youth often overlooked
Ms. Rajkotia recently returned from Haiti where she observed the “stark difference” in the services available for younger children and youth.
“I have to admit that I was pretty startled to see that there are very limited options for youth in those settlements,” Ms. Rajkotia said. “These youths have for six months now been sitting idle really with nothing to do,” she added.
According to Ms. Rajkotia, this situation is not unique, as often in times of crisis the immediate focus of education or protection is on younger children, and “these older children and youth are overlooked”.
Carvarinho Magalhaes Jeronimo Bento, a 25-year-old student living in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, has been actively involved with youth in his country, which has been devastated by years of conflict and violent unrest.
Bento said that there are limited options for young people in rural areas in Timor-Leste to access education, particularly secondary schools and universities.
“Some (young people) have money so they can come to the town to continue their studies, but for those who do not have money, they just stay in their place and sometimes they just get married early, …become mothers… [or] sometimes they just stop their studying and go to get some work,” he said.
Preparing “for the reality of their lives”
Ms. Rajkotia said there has been a recent move among youth programming practitioners towards ensuring education is relevant and flexible, that it takes into consideration the employment opportunities available, and “prepares young people for the reality of their lives”.
“We don’t want young people to think, ‘Right I’m trained as a tailor so that means I should be a tailor for the rest of my life’,” she said. “We want young people to be able to say, ‘I’m learning skills and I’m gaining knowledge that is going to help me progress, and I’m going to be a tailor for a couple of years and if that doesn’t work out then I’ll move onto something else’.”