Amid great fanfare, the president of the West African nation of Mali, Amadou Toumani Touré, launched a new national program to address youth unemployment through education and training. Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), will implement the program known as PAJE-Nièta (“Support to Youth Entrepreneurs Project”), which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development under the portfolio of youth development programs known as EQUIP3.
“In which family—even my own—in which village, which commune, which region have we not had youth without jobs?” President Touré asked the 300 people in the audience. The launch of the program was held at the International Conference Center in Bamako.
Advancing youth livelihoods: a ‘strategic issue’
U.S. Ambassador Gillian A. Milovanovic said the nation’s out-of-school youth, ages 10–24, comprise 30 percent of Mali’s population. “We have to listen to these youth and their aspirations and offer responses to the problems they encounter in their search for employment and their development of economic activities,” she said. “Integrating these youth into the economic life of the country is a strategic issue of extreme importance for the future of Mali.”
The PAJE-Nièta program will provide 12,000 rural out-of-school youth, ages 14–25, in four regions—Sikasso, Kayes, Koulikoro, and Timbuktu—with improved basic education, work readiness and technical training, social and leadership development, as well as accompaniment as they undertake new livelihood activities. A key focus is agricultural enterprise development, with training in agriculture and animal husbandry, to help youth create successful agro-enterprises to respond to the U.S. food security initiative Feed the Future.
The five-year program has a unique implementation strategy: it will be delivered through a volunteer corps made up of Malian youth who have received a formal education and earned a diploma from secondary school, trade school, or university. “It is rural youth to rural youth—rural educated youth to rural uneducated youth,” explained EDC’s Mamadou Samake, PAJE-Nièta’s Youth Volunteer Corps Manager.
“PAJE-Nièta offers a double advantage for us,” said Cheick M. Coulibaly, who represented program volunteers. “We, the PAJE-Nièta volunteers, salute these efforts that combat youth unemployment, which is becoming increasingly difficult, and . . . help stop the rural exodus slowing the development of our communities. Today, we are ready to help our brothers and sisters who were unable to attend or complete school.”
Two hundred educated youth will commit two years to the project as participants, with the goal of preparing other young people for jobs or self-employment across Mali. They will have high-level support, according to the corps manager, Samake. “What encourages me the most in this work, it is the vow expressed by the President Amadou Toumani Touré, who said that the job he would like after his final term in office is to be a volunteer,” he said.
While the President may not be joining their ranks just yet, he had some parting words for the volunteers: “It is with pride that today I look at my youth, eye to eye, and tell them: I wish you much success.”