By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma

With support from the United Nations Development Programme in Sierra Leone (UNDP SL) Volunteers Involving Organization Network (VIONeT) has ended a three-day youth empowerment training programme for 200 young people in the Moa Wharf,  Susan’s Bay and Kroo Bay communities on the theme ‘’ transforming the young generation for meaningful engagement through the integrated community Action for recovery and empowerment project.

The training was geared towards raising awareness and increasing knowledge (civic engagement) among community members including youths on psychosocial counselling, disaster management, SGBV, and mental health management in the three slum communities. 

 National Coordinator of VIONET, Samuel Turay, said that they as an organization have been working in these communities and have coordinated with them during their fire disasters thus they know the challenges they are faced with adding that the three-day workshops and pieces of training held in these communities is a continuation of their interventions in psychosocial and awareness raising for deprived youths in that part of the country.

 ‘’We have a working relationship with these communities already. It is an extension of our programmes, we have been doing emergency response programmes here since last year from the fire disaster, they experienced.  Providing them with food, psychosocial and other support.  Young people living in urban slums especially women and persons living with disabilities faced several challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying lockouts, ‘’he said,  thus VIONet is implementing the Integrated Action for Recovery and Empowerment Project through the funding of UNDP for youths in these slum communities of Kroo Bay , Moa Wharf, and Susan’s Bay.

He said that as part of the training, they have selected youths in these communities especially the vulnerable, like youths who are in the ghettos, whom he said they know are liable to get into violence thus adding through the training they will help them to release their minds from the stress so that they began to think straight and become productive and meaningful citizens in their different communities.

Samuel Turay added that through the training, young people can become active citizens thus making a pathway to building conscious youths whilst also trying to position them into productive youths that will be able to support their communities and become a meaningful supporters of the country’s development.

‘’So training them with all of these skills, we are getting youths that are well informed. We are getting youths that are more progressive. We are building a nation where the young are building their own development that is what we want to get out of this training,’’ Samuel Turay explained.

The VOINET National Coordinator went on to say that young people should be law-abiding and should work towards transforming their lives, especially with issues that have to do with sexual and gender-based violence that is common in these three communities thus stating that they as organization believed with this trainings they will help solve some of these problems.

Facilitator of the workshops, Bob Lamin, in his presentation underscored the importance of youth empowerment and the role youths play in society stating that as young people they should be agents of change in their communities whilst urging them to stay out of violence as it crippled any country’s development.

He said that the use of harmful drugs by youths in order for them to forget about their challenges is not a remedy to solving their woes but said that young people should be ready to face life’s challenges, through critical thinking and innovative ways and not any other way that does not bring any positive impact on them.

‘’ Let me tell you life’s skill gives you the ability to better yourself. The important thing in life is holding to your decision. Problems cannot be solved by themselves but only through confronting them. Your wise decision and choice will determine who you will become in the future. So make good choices in your life,’’ he urged.

Bob Lamin added that decisions must be backed by actions, pushing towards learning the life skills that will enable them to succeed in life adding that they should have a goal each day of what they want to achieve in life.

‘’Sometimes I know it is not easy to grow up in these communities but it’s your goal and decision in life that will make or break you. You can say because I have seen how drugs have destroyed my fellow youths in my community, I am making a decision not to join them. Some of your colleagues that you all grew up with here have become better people and you are admiring them,’’ Lamin added.

The facilitator of the workshops lamented to youths that when making decisions they must consider family and personal values in every decision encouraging them to remember the decision of their families.

Speaking on gender-based violence, he told the participants about the effect of SGV’s on their communities and how it has cost some of them their lives and livelihood adding that violence against women is a crime and perpetrators of it will be punished by the state.

‘’ As I can see that some of you have an idea of what SGVB means, but some of you have experienced it first. The question do you continue to suffer at the hands of a wicked husband until you lose your life? You must report this to authorities so that the law will take charge of it and your life will be better,’’

One of the participants of the training, Musampa Sesay thanked VIONET for organizing the empowerment training for them as young people, appreciating that he has learnt a lot on issues of gender-based violence, leadership and the need to stay away from drug abuse. 

 ‘’I believe that, what they have taught us today, I  will be able to go out there and teach my friends, my mothers and sisters in the community . During the training, I also learnt a lot that whenever I am faced with a problem, I should know how to cope with it rather than indulge in drug taking and substance abuse to kill out the stress in me. Thank you VIONET for this training. I feel blessed to be part of this training,’’ he said.

Musampa Sesay promised that he would serve as an agent of change in his community and inspire his fellow young people to stay away from violence as he said violence stifles development thus urging young people not to indulge in drug abuse as it is dangerous to their health and the community in general.

Sesay called on other organizations to follow the steps of VIONET in reaching out to more youths as he believed that if more people are given this empowerment training and awareness workshops, their minds will be liberated and will in turn have positive effects in these slum communities.

Aminata Sesay another participant in the training, said the exercise was timely as she said sexual and gender-based violence issues still remained a challenge in their community adding that people still fear to make these issues known to the community stakeholders as she said it is the responsibility of everyone in the community to report whenever these crimes occurred to the necessary authorities for action.

‘’We should speak out on issues like drug abuse, many of our children have been affected by tramadol, Kush to name a few. They say they are taking these illegal substances to forget their worries instead it’s killing them and it’s destroying their future. I am happy many young are here with us, they will tell their fellow young men to desist from taking harmful substances. I will also teach people about leadership and not to engage in drug abuse, ‘’ Aminata Sesay lamented.  

By Bah

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