Helping young Yemenis fight unemployment
Taiz, Yemen — Twenty-five-year-old Tahani walks along a row of trees that she and her work crew planted earlier in the day.
- Recent instability has left Yemen with a weak economy and a youth unemployment rate of over 50 percent.
- Over 1,200 young people have been trained through a UNDP project. Many are now more financially independent and able to start new careers and businesses.
- The approach is helping the community by giving them access to water, creating inclusive markets, rehabilitating schools and other infrastructure affected by conflict, creating agricultural terraces and planting trees.
- The project is funded by the Government of Japan, which contributed US $2 million, and the Government of the Republic of Korea, which contributed $200,000.
“It is good to have work,” she says. “And planting trees makes me feel good. These will be here for many years to come.”
But life hasn’t always been so good for Tahani. Her father died many years ago and she must work to support her younger brother who has epilepsy — and the drugs to treat it are expensive. Although she left high school with an 86 percent pass rate, she was never able to achieve her dream of going to medical school.
However, a UNDP-supported project that is contributing to the community is also helping her to earn an income and save for the future. And one day, her dream may become a reality.
Tahani is part of the UNDP Youth Economic Empowerment Project, which follows the "3x6 approach" that proved to be successful in Burundi. The project is providing her and more than 1,200 other Yemeni young people with two to four months of employment to improve rural access to water through the digging of wells; construct markets; contribute to environmental sustainability and reduced water consumption through tree planting and the creation of agricultural terraces; and rehabilitate infrastructure, such as school buildings, that was damaged by the country’s recent conflict.
At the same time, the programme is training Tahani to open a sewing business. It’s not medical school, but she says that the income she will make from her new business is a first step towards achieving this expensive goal.
One third of the salary that workers receive through the scheme is paid into a savings account at a micro-finance bank. When the temporary work ends, they are able to use this money (which UNDP tops up) along with training and start-up advice to partner with other beneficiaries of the programme and establish small businesses. Besides sewing shops, young people are now setting up enterprises such as farms, welding and carpentry workshops, and catering kitchens. Many of the businesses are giving women the opportunity to work in areas where they couldn’t normally work in Yemen. Graduates of the programme have already established more than 50 businesses in its seven months.
The scheme is also reducing the chances of further conflict in Yemen, where recent violence has led to a contraction in the economy and an increase in unemployment. More than 50 percent of Yemenis between the ages of 18 and 24 are unemployed, which could be a time-bomb for future violence, says Gustavo Gonzales, UNDP Senior Country Director in Yemen.
“The protests and conflict in 2011 were led by young Yemenis demanding decent jobs, better livelihoods and more opportunities,” he says. “Ironically, the short-term impact of the transition has been to increase unemployment. The conflict and instability were bad for the economy – and this of course increases the risk of further instability and violence in the near future.”
Mr. Gonzales’ opinion is reflected in the street: “People are angry,” says Taiz taxi driver Hassan Mohsen. “No one likes violence – but rampant unemployment will set things off again, and this could be a disaster for the country.”
UNDP is hoping to prevent a repeat of the 2011 violence through the scheme that Tahani is taking part in.
While she is saving for the sewing business, the approach has helped her and other women gain financial independence.
“For the first time in my life I feel that I am not dependent on my aunt, as I am able to help with the household daily expenditures,” she says. “The training I have received opened a new door and changed my life.”