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Rebuilding History - a New Approach to Youth Unemployment in Senegal

  • Fid Thompson

Unemployed youth in Senegal are restoring historic buildings in the city of Saint-Louis as part of a training program funded by the Spanish government. It is meant to help people find work in their own community and discourage illegal immigration to Europe.
pulls a mask on and starts work scraping layers of paint off a wall of historic colonial administration building in Saint-Louis.

Two years ago, Toure, desperate to leave Senegal, bought a place on a fishing boat headed for Spain. The boat broke down after two days at sea and washed up in Morocco. Touré says with no money and no friends, he worked carrying bags in the market until he had enough money to get back home.

Now he is one of 15 young men working to restore historic buildings in Saint-Louis.

Touré says he joined the training program to get a job, but above all because he wanted professional training. You can find short term work in the streets or the market, he says, but what you need is the know-how and the technology of a trade.

Almost half of Senegal's population is under 20 years old and a third of young Senegalese are unemployed. With only 5 percent continuing on to higher education and relatively few professional schools, many young Senegalese enter the job market without adequate qualifications

The coastal town of Saint-Louis is well known for its colonial architecture dating back to the 19th century when it was the capital of French West Africa. But only nine years after the island was listed as a World Heritage Site, many historic buildings are crumbling and some have serious structural problems.

The youth training program is helping to restore Rogniat South - an immense three-story building built by the French in 1830 as an army barracks. It sat unused and decaying for more than 50 years, but now the building serves both as a classroom for the students and as their workplace, as they begin to put their new skills to use under the guidance of their trainers.

Gora Gueye, who directs the training program, says what is innovative about this project is that it is based on a study of the local market's needs. From that, he says, they identified which sectors needed skilled workers and then set up professional training schools to equip the youth with skills in these specialized areas.

The project has five workshops where students learn by doing and are provided with the tools of their trade. One of these schools focuses on historic-building renovation and trains students in masonry, plumbing, electrical work, carpentry, metalwork, and painting.

Gueye says that eighteen months from now these students will leave with a qualification and the skills to find a job or set up their own business. This qualification, he says, will also help bring a shine back to Saint-Louis' neglected colonial architecture.

The School-Workshop project will train 300 young men and women for jobs in agri-business, tourism, community development, as well as renovation of historic buildings. Students are taught French language and entrepreneurial skills and will be helped to find a job or set up their own business.

But at the price of $3,800 per student, Gueye says the training project will require a much greater investment from the Senegalese government to continue.

Touré hopes his new professional skills will lead to work after the renovation project is over.

Touré says he won't go to Spain again on a fishing boat. But, if God wishes, he says, he will go by plane.

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