It’s 7:30 in the morning, and already classes have begun at the Soufouroulaye youth camp about 500 km from the Malian capital. For the 60 young women and men who have come from all parts of the country for intensive training in sewing, electrical or mechanics, these courses are a means to develop skills that will lead to gainful employment.
"Before coming here, I didn’t know what a good cut was, yet it’s the foundation of tailoring, isn’t it?" says Fatoumata, who has been working on her sewing machine for several hours despite observing the Ramadan fast. "I’ve learned many things. The pace of the courses is intense, but when I see all that I can do since arriving here, I want to keep going," she adds.
In Mali, more than half of the population is young – the fertility rate is the second highest in the world after Niger – and 50 percent of 15- to 39-year-olds are unemployed or underemployed. These young people are often targeted by religious extremists seeking new recruits, a situation that has been exacerbated by the crisis that hit Mali in 2012.
The training at Soufouroulaye is part of a regional programme to strengthen human security and community resilience in the Sahel implemented by UNDP, the UN Population Fund, UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Labour Office.
Funded by Japan, the programme aims to create quick and temporary jobs for 3,000 young people and promote income-generating activities for about 4,500 youth grouped into associations or economic interest clusters.
In the mechanics class, two young women are learning a trade often regarded as men’s work.
"I chose mechanics first of all because I do not think this is a job reserved for men," says Maimouna Kane. "It's all a matter of will. My father was a mechanic on a boat. When I was small, he often took me with him and I would watch him work. He would be proud of me today. With my job, I really hope I can establish my own business and earn a living with dignity."
At a special ceremony, the young trainees receive start-up kits that will enable them to launch their businesses. “The issue of youth employment is a priority for UNDP and its partners,” Deputy Country Director Jean Luc Stalon says. "Without intervention, a demobilized and idle youth, without real prospects for the future, could be a factor of unrest and conflict aggravation.”
In a country where conflicts have often had regional and ethnic dimensions, the Soufouroulaye youth camp helps reinforce national unity by demonstrating that youth from all different backgrounds have common concerns and ambitions. "Young people here come from all over Mali," says another participant. “The training is also a space of tolerance and friendship for us.”