Kenya - Unlocking Opportunities for the Youth Through Vocational Training

Kenya: Unlocking opportunities for the youth through vocational training

When conflict, displacement and disasters become a fact of life in communities, education becomes a dreamer's trance for the youth in those communities. With no means of sustaining their livelihoods and no investments for the future, the pursuit of even the most basic education is stifled, steering focus onto more urgent matters of survival. This situation is sadly the reality for marginalized youth leaving an entirety of its generation of young people missing out on education. This has not only left them unemployable but with limited opportunities too.
Article 17 November 2022 Kenya

When the ICRC began responding to communities affected by the spillover of the Somali conflict, the community elders pointed out the lack of formal skills for their young men and women. A deadly attack in one of the border towns had forced non-locals away from the areas leaving the locals vulnerable with no one to continue with the skills that had been carried out. Working with the Kenya Red Cross under the economic security program, the organization began offering skills training to young people through a vocational training program.

The Vocational Training program is under the Economic Security Project and is being implemented in Lamu, and Garissa counties. Youth selected from the community are enrolled in vocational training institutes to economically empower them by building their technical skills, informed by market needs so as enhance their livelihoods.

These are their stories:

Bashir Abdi Ali – Welder

Bashir Abdi Ali in the welding room at the Lamu Vocational Training Institute
Bashir Abdi Ali in the welding room at the Lamu Vocational Training Institute Nariman Naufal/Kenya Red Cross

Bashir Abdi Ali is a young man who hails from the Aweer Community of the Boni Forest, an area riddled with conflict which predisposes populace to several social and economic challenges, especially the youth. His journey in education had gone as far as completing the primary level, after which he could not progress further due to a lack of funds. His dream of going to school seemed impossible until he heard of the vocational training program supported by the ICRC and Kenya Red Cross: which is when he saw the opportunity to realize his potential and earn a living to support his family.

"I was not among those listed to take up the training, but I didn't lose hope. So I went to inquire about this opportunity after I heard talks about it in the village. Lucky for me, a slot was left empty, and I was more than happy to fill it."

Muhsin Abdalla - Carpenter

Muhsin Abdalla in the woodwork room at the Lamu Vocational Training Institute
Muhsin Abdalla in the woodwork room at the Lamu Vocational Training Institute Nariman Naufal/Kenya Red Cross

Muhsin Abdalla, just like Bashir, experienced a financial roadblock after completing his studies in primary school. He had tried his hand in farming and some other petty trade ventures but was unsuccessful. Muhsin heard of the vocational training program from the village elders in Pandanguo and was lucky to get an opportunity to be trained in carpentry. After completing his second phase of training, he wishes to pursue an apprenticeship in one of the woodwork shops on Lamu Island.

Mazicha Hassan – Tailor & Dressmaker

Mazicha Hassan practising her acquired skill in tailoring and dress making
Mazicha Hassan practising her acquired skill in tailoring and dress making Nariman Naufal/Kenya Red Cross

Mazicha Hassan excitedly carries the badge of a fully-fledged tailor and dressmaker who, only about a year back knew little to nothing about the craft. The 30-year-old mother of two is a recent graduate of the grade three level of vocational training, thereafter qualifying to study at the grade two level. For her efforts, she got awarded a sewing machine kit to foster her newly-acquired skill, gain practical experience in her chosen trade and enable her to earn a living.

"Suppose someone brings me a piece of fabric or a dress to sew today; I will not sleep hungry because I will have earned my own money —it will not be borrowed money, nor will it be donated— and I am happy about that." 

Mazicha, Bashir and Muhsin are among 38 students from Lamu who recently graduated and were supported with start-up kits through the ECOSEC project, which come in handy to help them kickstart their careers and open doors to new possibilities. Others took up courses in carpentry, masonry, mechanics, beauty therapy and electrical & wiring. Five more youths from the batch that graduated in 2021 as motor vehicle mechanics, have received support to attend attachment sessions at Abson Motors in Mombasa. Since its inception in 2021, this initiative has seen115 students get enrolled at vocational training institutes in Lamu county to pursue a variety of courses.

Ahmed Sila - Electrician

Ahmed Sila working on one of his electrical projects at the Garissa Vocational Training Centre
Ahmed Sila working on one of his electrical projects at the Garissa Vocational Training Centre Anne Mucheke/ICRC

Ahmed Abdirahman Sila is the second born in a family of six children. His father is a pastoralist and owns a small shop in Ijara town, which is 4 hours' drive from Garissa. Ahmed studied for his secondary school exams in 2019 and after that tried his hand as a taxi driver. The business did not do well and for some time he was at home until he was urged to seek an opportunity to train in some handy work. Ahmed studied electrical connections and wiring for six months at the Garissa Vocational Training Centre.

When he started training, many parts of Ijara had no electricity, but now that it has been installed, Ahmed is using his skills and making enough money to sustain him. He received a start-up kit of electrical tools to enable him to be self- reliant. He is happy with the kits and desires that he can continue learning to the next grade and advance the learning he has received.

His skill is valuable to the community as they have someone they can trust for their installations in the different business spaces.

"The most lucrative days are during the month of Ramadhan where one can make up to 3,000 Kshs in one day. The rest of the days we make much less, but it is a skill that is quite marketable in Ijara today."

Fauzia Dekow - Make up Artist

Fauzia Dekow applying make up to one of her clients
Fauzia Dekow applying make up to one of her clients Anne Mucheke/ICRC

Fauzia Dekow remembers watching her elder sister deck herself out and put on make-up while still a young girl. She would watch in fascination and later on, apply her sister's eye cream and lipstick when she was gone. Weddings are a big deal in her Somali culture and everyone puts effort to look their best at social gatherings. This was where she developed a love for beauty and the art of applying make-up.

Her hometown Masalani didn't offer many opportunities to dream of participating in this kind of work, save for the traditional weddings that were taking place now and then. There were no teachers to pass on the skills or places to train as girls from her community often stayed home taking care of family.

In 2020, Fauzia heard of an opportunity to engage in vocational training offered by the Red Cross in Garissa and took a chance. Fauzia was fortunate as she met the selection criteria and was enrolled at the Garissa Vocational Training Centre for a course in beauty therapy. She trained on how to do manicure and pedicures, facial make-up and henna; an application used to decorate hands and feet in Islamic culture.

After completion of her training course, Fauzia took up an apprenticeship in one of the local salons in Garissa where she has been working. Like other young people, Fauzia receives inspiration on the latest henna designs and make up from the social media platform Instagram and Tik tok. From her phone, she shows me tens of videos she downloads to practice. In the absence of customers, she uses hand lotion to practice the designs on hands, while waiting for the next clients to come in.

Fauzia was one of 20 graduates who recently received start up kits to open their own businesses following the completion of their certificate course. Today, she smiles, knowing full well that the hair dryer machine she received will help her set up her salon business. Her dream is to own a full-fledged beaty parlor one day and become a woman of means.

ICRC's Abdirahman Maalim notes that the program has been a great support to the community as it empowers the young people by giving them skills which are needed by everyone. He cites the example of a 2018 beneficiary student who has been so successful, that he now employs 3 other tailoring hands in his business in Garissa.

"The skills training is changing the narrative in these areas and we are glad to be a part of it."

Together with the ICRC, the Kenya Red Cross implements educational initiatives such as this, tailored to the local needs of the communities and in the context of the crisis they may have gone through, to help communities get back on their feet.

Article is written by: Nariman Naufal/Kenya Red Cross & Anne Mucheke/ICRC