Friday, March 19, 2010

Youth issues: It's not easy to be young in Yemen, but now young people help themselves through peer education

Source: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
Date: 18 Mar 2010
By Zahra Sethna

ADEN, Yemen, 18 March 2010 - It's not easy to be young in Yemen. At least not according to Yunis, who is 20 years old and has six brothers and sisters. Yunis's father died several years ago and his two older brothers had to support the family.

"I was lucky," says Yunis, a university student in Aden, a port city in the south of the country. "Most young people are not encouraged to finish school."

Even if they do go to school, adolescents in Yemen face enormous challenges in finding a job when they graduate and in finding productive ways to fill their spare time. "There is nothing interesting to do," says Yunis, "so they chew qat," a mild narcotic that is regularly used throughout the country.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, and about half of the population of nearly 23 million is under the age of 18. Overall unemployment is estimated at 16.3 per cent, but may be as high as 34 per cent. According to the United Nations Development Programme, more than 40 per cent of young people in Yemen will face unemployment in the next ten years.

High unemployment rates

"High rates of youth unemployment and economic hardships put youth at risk of being recruited by fundamentalist groups," said UNICEF HIV/AIDS Specialist Buthaina al-Iryani. "It is urgent that huge investments in youth development and youth civic engagement are initiated to secure a safe and promising future for Yemeni young people."

UNICEF has devised a strategy of youth engagement that involves training groups of peer educators on HIV awareness and life skills. More than 84,000 young people in Yemen were reached by UNICEF-supported peer educators in 2009.

Abdulhakeem, 27, is a peer educator. He says that many young people drop out of school not just because of economic issues, but also because of the quality of education, which is low.

"Many people in this country don't believe that young people have anything valuable to contribute," says Abdulhakeem, who is a university student. "That mentality has to change."

Increasing self confidence

He hopes that peer education will help. Along with messages about protecting against HIV, educators work with other young people to develop communication and negotiation skills and increase their self-confidence.

At a recent training workshop for peer educators from Aden high schools, a stuffy second floor classroom came alive with youthful energy as dozens of students brainstormed ideas.

"In our community there are some taboos. One of them is talking about sex, but this is one of the things young people want to know about," says Reem, 16. "I hope that my classmates will feel more confident to talk to me about things that they can't discuss with adults."

The programme extends to Yemenis affected by the country's civil war, which began in 2004. More than 250,000 Yemenis have been displaced since then. To help them, UNICEF has launched an "Adolescent Participation in Emergencies Programme" in the al-Mazrak displacement camps, which will focus on HIV prevention, life-skills, and peer education.

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