16 March 2011
Government leaders in countries like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, etc. are currently kicking themselves for not acting well and strongly over these past few years. Their youth, especially those who have been out of meaningful employment for years now, have taken to the streets, are rebelling and actually destroying the old government structures. Within a twinkling of an eye, these so-called poor, frightened and powerless young people have ousted national leaders many of whom have dominated the political scene for more than 30 and 40 years.
Other nations in the Middle-East--Suadi Arabia, Yemen--as well as those further afield--China, Zimbabwe--are pushing their own panic buttons. Yes, local corruption, growing poverty levels and mis-rule have contributed to the weaknesses of these countries governing systems but at the core, youth's lack of sufficient and proper job opportunities, lie at the heart of their troubles.
Our own young people are also feeling the pain. They have spent years in the classroom, some have already gained an undergraduate degree, but meaningful paid employment escapes them. It's a cruel joke to offer them work which asks them to swing a bush knife, pick up paper and plastics and stuff the rubbish into old copra sacks. It's not that this kind of work is beneath them but an insult to their training, years of study and hard work. They can swing a bush knife as well as any one, clean Honiara's streets and roads but a youth doesn't need a degree or a Form 7 certificate to perform such tasks.
The face of today's youth job market must be the kind that can pull the nation out of its deep information/education poverty gap. For instance, although the last two national governments spoke glowingly and had public signings of villagers allowing their precious land holdings to be converted into palm oil plantings or opening up new overseas shipping ports, nothing has gotten off the ground. Of course land disputes are part of the problem but Olos Adult Education classes, for instance, where these issues should be discussed, argued over and worked on are simply non-existent.
I go back to my 1980 days when SIDT began operating throughout many of the nation's provinces. For almost 30 years now, SIDT's emphasis has been to "Strengthen the quality of village living" which called for 230 part-time village animators who conducted hundreds of village level "Development Education" workshops, 13 full time provincil coordinators, 14 office staff who published bi-monthly LINK magazines, featured two touring theatre teams (one for men and another for women), ran an Eco-forestry team and finally an admin group which ran the organization.
Some of these workers have been with the orgnization for more than 20 years, extending SIDT's original work patterns and creating new ones like Radio Reachout, Restorative Justice Programs and others. The point in all this is to show a way where new, exciting and fulfilling work, jobs and employment opportunities can root.
With the present government's acceptance of the Growth Centre idea (Not economic Growth Centres, please! That's something else!) in many constitutencies with an emphasis on becoming communication hubs,.services locales, research teams base and FM radio broadcast spot then these information/education realities would attract investments. They would also become powerful magnets for youth's need for new and an expanding job market. Investments follow the information/education pattern!
Growth Centres, as was SIDT's experience, act as job creators and most importantly, such jobs would not be found in urban centres but in rural areas where more than 80% people currently live. A distinct strength of rural job creation over ones created in the urban area is that part-time employment becomes a real option. The SIDT experience employed many part time workers because living in one's home village meant no monthly rents, the use of local foods, no water, power or transport bills on pay day. Although a village-based SIDT worker earned about $150 monthly, at the end of the month, he/she had almost the entire pay packet as disposable income. The urban cousin, on the other hand, earning more than $500 monthly, found that far less of his pay packet belonged to him/her since rent, electricity, water, food and transport expenses ate into the monthly income. In reality, then, the urban worker could count $100 of his $500 monthly salary as disposable income.
For social stability, youth must find worthwhile work in today's world. The Middle-East nations are learning this basic lesson the hard way. Our own nation need not go down that path if the present government remains true to the Growth Centre concept and places communication/ education with the highest priority. Failure to do so or to count on grass cutting, rubbish removal and clean up work as the best and only job for our educated youth will work against our national interests.