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Stephen Nyaga, Founder and Director, Urban Volunteers Organization (UVO)
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“The Nairobi One Stop centre is very important – it promotes social cohesion and integration.  Youth need a centre, a place to meet, share and learn together.  Having such a space shows that youth are cared for, and it’s a platform for their self-development.

“In terms of my own organization’s youth-led development projects, I would mention treeplanting as one of our great successes.  We approached Green Belt for seedlings to be donated, and visited ten schools in Kenya where we facilitated interactive learning experiences that touched on the themes of environmental health and peace.  The events were great successes that the children enjoyed and actively participated in.  We received support from Nairobi City Council and from Community Based Organizations, who provided digging and planting tools, as well as the correct information on how to correctly plant the seedlings.

“At UVO, as Director, I lead an executive of 8, and we have a permanent membership of 20 with a pool of 150 volunteers whom we recruit as needed on each contract.  We typically provide transportation and food, and occasionally depending on the project can pay a small stipend.  However we focus on the spirit of volunteerism and have been able to mobilize large numbers of youth for a variety of community service events in the years we have been in existence.

‘In terms of how I see Kenyan youth, I would start by saying that each and every young person is unique, with different potentials and gifts.  Kenyan youth are generally very knowledgeable, despite the challenges they face – they are creative because of the challenges.  There is a lot of competition, even just for access to education, in Kenya, and the pitfalls of drugs and HIV are very real. In order to realize their potential, Kenyan youth really need people and organizations and spaces to nurture their innate talents – there is an immense amount of talent here, but certain key resources are scarce.  It seems that the corporate sector shuts out the majority of youth, youth who come from less affluent backgrounds. 

“What urban youth here share in common with youth from around the world is definitely their vibrancy, their youthful energy.  And there are challenges that all youth everywhere share, even if some of the specific issues may be different from place to place.

“What I’d like political leaders here in Kenya to really hear is that we need to be treated as full partners.  They sometimes see youth, for instance in the context of youth councils, as a potential threat, especially when the activities going on are truly grassroots and genuinely represent the youth’s ideas and interests.  Leaders need to really grasp that youth are the pillars of society today, they are the future.  Society needs to invest in the youth and actually empower them socially, economically and politically.  We need to develop a new culture, without this fear of powerful youth. We need to give youth a real platform from which to lead.

“On the global level, provisions for youth rights and roles and responsibilities exist within the UN framework, and they are well articulated.  So when the G8 and other influential bodies and groups make their policy, they need to refer to that framework and truly consider youth as a central focus, as a real priority.  Youth need training and tools to help them become fully engaged and meaningfully employed, and that needs to be provided for in policy. 

“I also have to stress that African poverty is an issue that needs to be tackled head on – the world needs to invest in Africa and nurture the talent here. 

“Lastly, the institutions and organizations that form policy at the global level must control the drug and weapons trades that have such a huge negative impact, particularly for youth in areas where there is limited access to decent and meaningful employment and education.”

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