In Conversation with Nerima Wako

Active Youth for Community Development in Africa

Nerima is the Co- founder & Executive Director Siasa Place

The Founder Visionaries Aloud

She tweets @NerimaW

Q1: What inspires your work? The resilience that young people have; at the end of the day youth want to have a good job, a home and live in a safe community. We are all aspiring for the same things but using different avenues to achieve them. We want access to education, food and shelter and hope to leave something for our future children. African youth are very creative, persistent and jovial and it inspires me that they are also optimistic about being successful.

Q2: How does an active youth look like? One who engages with the events that happen in their community. Being concerned about what they see on the news, or hear on the radio that is related to their community and speaking about it. Active youth ask questions about what is happening around them, why it is happening and why it is happening in that particular way. They think in terms of “does it have to happen? Can it be changed? Can I change it?”

Q3: What makes one an active youth at the community? Taking part in community events without getting extra marks for class, or being paid to do it. Participating because you can and you want to. There are so many activities that young people can take part in at the community level. Religious institutions like churches and mosques are always looking for volunteers or mentors. Young people have time; which is a valuable asset. We need to encourage our youth to give back to the community with their time. This allows them to learn responsibility, time management and planning.

Q4: What are the major factors hindering the youth from being active citizens? A lot of young people do not know the importance of being involved and engaged. Many are not informed and some really don’t know what to do to be active. Or they do not see the need or importance of being active citizens.

Q5: How can we address these factors? Having other young people encouraging the youth to be more active. Know issues – be informed and involved. For instance youth can influence leaders in their communities but they have to exercise this power. Making things relatable to young people; for instance by holding leaders accountable. Young people need to understand why we have representatives in the different counties for instance – what are they there for? When should they approach a leader on a certain issue? How can they approach them?

Q6: What is the biggest resource that the youth in Africa have? Creativity: the creativity that youth have is always mind blowing. They are filled with ideas that many times are not encouraged to venture into. Many youth do not have the self-confidence to try and achieve certain things. Several just choose to let ideas pass by.

Q7: In what ways is participation in community development gendered in Africa? Leadership positions are often male dominated; therefore several young women find it intimidating to enter leadership positions. Not only that, in rural areas issues are normally discussed by men and women are not really involved in development solutions due to cultural traditions in several areas. This causes women to take a back seat in participation.

Q8: How can we make participation in community development more inclusive? Through capacity building; what are the goals that young people want in their communities? What is the vision for their community? Drawing people together in different levels is important. Allowing people to be in ownership of solutions and working together is essential. Young people often view each other as a threat instead of unifying actions for a common cause.

Q9: How can we make politics more accessible to the youth in Africa? Politics is very accessible in Africa but what several youth do is separate themselves from it. The time has come when we can no longer run away from politics. We are directly linked to the decisions that we leave our governments to make on our behalf. It can be as simple as youth talking about one story they heard on the news that day with a friend.

Q10: Last words to the youth out there:  You may not be interested in politics, but politics is very interested in you. I meet many young people with amazing ideas when it comes to innovations or business ideas and I say to them: All these are wonderful and probably needed causes- but if you establish a new clinic in your community (that government is to provide in public budget) that is phenomenal, build a solar powered television (in places without power, that government is supposed to provide with taxations) that’s great! But in all honesty, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy these things if you do not have a stable state. If through bad governance, we have left whoever to run our states- government can’t be stable and keep you safe- soon you may have no home if things get worse. Especially after an election, many countries become unstable after that. We need to be concerned about who we let lead our countries.

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