African academy empowers youths
Girls in Uganda learn how to teach others to realize their visions, create jobs and wealth in rural areas.
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Ms. Mbaime graduated in May from URDT's African Rural University (ARU), which opened in 2006. She's part of the first crop of graduates and recently finished her one-month placement in a nearby village.Skip to next paragraph
"The most important thing I learned was that I can't force them to do what they don't want to do," she says. "You can't just come from school and tell them what to do. You have to encourage them to have their own vision."
Before Mbaime finished her month's service in the village, they had pooled enough money to construct a basic building for the school, which has expanded to include a seventh grade. Villagers also worked together to build roads, which aren't yet complete, and to lay the brick foundation for half a dozen houses.
"If people stay committed, it will be a very beautiful village," says Mbaime.
Creating jobs for young people is not a new focus for those who've dedicated their lives to fighting poverty. But it's not easy, either. "There are no magic bullets, no panacea," says Jorge Arbache, an expert in youth employment at the World Bank.
More often than not, Mr. Arbache says, the key to a poor country's development is steady agricultural growth in the countryside. But, he notes, this is one of the least sexy areas for donors.
"The focus needs to be on steady growth, not fast growth. But people don't want to wait for slow growth," he sighs.
He points to Brazil, where 60 to 70 percent of rural jobs there now are in services supporting the country's booming agricultural sector. Had the government not poured money into high-tech agribusiness solutions and helped rural people obtain lines of credit throughout the 1970s and '80s, many more young Brazilians would have flooded the cities.
In addition to recognizing that job creation should focus on practical training in rural areas, more and more experts are helping poor youths maximize what assets they already have, rather than pour in aid money.
David James-Wilson, a leading expert in youth employment at the Education Development Center in Washington, says, "Some organizations think, 'We need to get kids a job.' But kids have three or four informal [jobs] already. The first step is recognizing that young people have assets and aren't just passive."
Financial literacy and training are key, Mr. James-Wilson says. He points to a pilot project in rural Uganda by Save the Children, which is teaching teenagers how to save and invest the money they already have in order to increase their assets.
"When we did the research, we found that kids were asking for knowledge, not money," says Julie Bayiga, a youth program officer with Save the Children-Uganda. "So we asked ourselves: 'How can we build their assets without adding any?' "
Musheshe was onto this approach about 20 years ago. But now he's seeing the fruits of his labor: a university where Africans from all over the continent can learn how to transform rural communities. "When I see 1988 versus now, I feel we made a leap into the future," he says. "We've demonstrated that the methodology works."
Since the late '80s, Kagadi has changed from a two-street trading town to a bustling town with 24 streets, and URDT has been the engine of that growth. According to local government statistics, the population below the poverty line has decreased from 57 percent in 1986 to 31 percent in 2005. Literacy levels have increased from 24 percent to 69 percent. And where apathy once reigned supreme, political participation is up to 80 percent.
There's a long way to go. Most people are still peasant farmers living on less than $2 a day. The nearest paved road is hours away.
"We are doing a hard and complicated thing," says Musheshe. "You must give it time. If it were easy, someone would have done it already."