Sunday Oyella sits patiently working away at her sewing machine. It’s an old-fashioned Singer and requires a fair bit of foot pedalling to keep it running.
But for the 17-year-old, this machine is a lifeline – a chance to build a much brighter future for her and her child.
Sunday Oyella dropped out of primary school during the conflict in South Sudan. But she’s been given a second chance as one of 422 young people selected to enrol in the Torit Vocational Training Centre, supported by UNDP and the Netherlands.
“I had a child at an early age and hope that this will enable me support myself,” said Sunday, who dreams of opening her own tailoring shop one day.
The training centre specialises in teaching vulnerable and marginalized youth people new skills, including engineering, tailoring and construction.
Sunday and other trainees had the opportunity to demonstrate those skills to the United Nations Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, who is visiting South Sudan to promote efforts to build the capacity of young people and to ensure they fully participate in the peace process.
She praised the work of the training center, supported by the state government, to encourage youth development.
“But I would plead and also encourage you to do more and to do that within the conscious mind of looking at these things from a young person’s perspective and the best way to do this is to embark on these initiatives in partnership with the young people,” she said.
“Not necessarily within these rooms that we all meet in, talking about young people, but going out there and talking with young people and bringing those young people into your conversations and into your rooms and that is how we make policies and programmes future proof.”
The Deputy Governor of Torit Dr. Margaret Itto outlined a host of programmes for youth that the local government has in place.
“We have to look at programmes that also bring in those who are illiterate and school dropouts. This project, the Torit Vocational Training Centre, looks into all those aspects.”
Ohucholi Patrick Oromo, the Chairperson of the Torit union of artists and a youth leader, welcomed the Envoy’s visit as an opportunity for young people to share their concerns with her so she can lobby for more funding for youth activities.
He is also particularly concerned about the low participation of young people in politics and is urging the country’s political leaders to put their differences aside and form a government next month so youth get the opportunities they deserve to reach their full potential.
“We really need a government to be formed because the youth are suffering,” he said. “We need to enjoy peace as youth in this country. We are growing up and it’s not good for us to live in a country where there is a lot of conflict. We need peace for ourselves as youth, we need programmes to empower youth, so they have the skills they need.”
A major highlight of the day’s events in Torit was the youth engagement session that came as though in answer to Oromo’s wishes. Young men and women of the area articulated their concerns and shared their hopes with the visiting delegation.
The visit also had a significant impact on the Youth Envoy who says she is touched by the resilience and positivity of the young people she has met despite the challenges they face.
“When I landed here in Torit, the Hon. State Minister for Youth came to me and said, ‘This is the place where the first bullet for the liberation struggle begun, but this is also the place where the first bullet for peace began and the fighting ended’,” said Jayathma Wickramanayake.
“Torit has been the first in many things, as I can see, so I hope and I really look forward to Torit also being the first state to capitalize on the leadership of young people and become the first state that actually puts young people as the logo and at the frontline when it comes to development and peace”.