Joyce Gitao. Photo: Mika Niskanen.

Expert from Kenya: “I have seen a lot of young people change their lives through the support of Finland”

World Vision Kenya’s expert Joyce Gitao has seen how young people have changed the direction of their lives although they had already lost hope – as a result of Finland’s development cooperation. In this interview, she talks about the importance of development cooperation.

Text by: Mika Niskanen

You are Joyce Gitao from World Vision Kenya – your work focuses on youth employment. Would you like to share your own story in a nutshell? How have you found your way to work in this position?

It started long time ago before my university. After school I had to look for work, I needed to provide for my studies as my parents were not really able to take me to college. So, I needed to apply for student loans which are not very well available in Kenya.

Also, after graduation in Kenya, it is not automatic that you get a job. In that struggle I had to find my way. So, I know the hassle the youth go through to find employment.

In this process, I got interested in helping others to find their way into life and getting a job. So, I set up as a volunteer and for years I was working with youth groups: training youth for employment, career counseling and coaching. I have always been into advocacy, so I also advocated for different rights for the youths. That is how I eventually found myself in World Vision.

What is the situation of youth employment in Kenya?

It’s tough. Kenya is not like Finland in a sense that you advocate for the rights of everyone, youth graduate and gets a job. Even before you graduate there are summer jobs in Finland. In Kenya, the situation is not the same.

In Kenya, you find people with a master’s degree who don’t have jobs. It is a very tricky balance that really affects young people, especially those that have studied with loans. There might be parents who have sold everything to take their children to school, yet they are not able to get a job. Now with the economic situation and how things are going in general, life is becoming hard.

Many young people are getting depressed and even suicidal. They can’t pay their rents or buy food – and they are graduates. It’s not easy mentally. Again, you graduate, for example, in engineering and end up being a taxi driver, cleaner or a delivery person. Everyone else might mock you for being an engineer and still being there with them in the same situation.

Unemployment is high, especially in the capital. Everybody finishes school and comes to Nairobi to get a job and you find out all the other young people who are trying to look for a job. And there is no capital to start a business.

That is where our work starts.

What does World Vision you do to further youth employment?

One part of our work is to do life skills training where we have to open the minds of the young people to see life in a broader perspective. Like: you’re a trained engineer, there is no job, so what’s next?

The second part is that many of the companies and industries and employers are emphasizing 21st century skills. They are saying that they find it difficult to match the youth with the openings they have. So, we come in to fill the gap.

Another thing we do is that we support them with mental issues. We do things like counseling and just be there for them: we say that you’ll find a job or link them to opportunities. Part of my work is to scout for opportunities and then I tell them to check these opportunities out.

We are working with the government, universities and technical institutions in the education space and try to figure out how does this education system fit into with the job market. How can we locate more money into education or into youth empowerment and to things that work? How do we create spaces for young people where they can find work?

What has changed in the lives of this youth?

Through the previous round of Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs funding, we got an 88 percent transition rate. This means that of all the youth we engaged, 88 % are employed. We can say that through these funds, some youth got jobs and others found businesses. They are now living active lives and are not depending on anyone. In addition, 10 percent of the youth have started very successful businesses.

You know in Africa it’s not about me, it’s about us. These young persons can now, for example, support their parents. They can also provide food for themselves and live in a house. So, we have had quite good impact.

We have had people who were using substances whom we supported to rehabilitate and they are now sober. They are no longer using alcohol, marijuana or anything else. Now, they are not idle.

One of the major impacts MFA and World Vision Finland has had with Kenya is supporting youth to stop crime and use of substances and become productive for the society.

With this funding we were able to work closely with the government and support youth to get productive with life. We are talking about thousands of people.

What would happen if Finland would stop funding this work?

We would not be able to support the young people. We would not be able to build their skills to go and get a job or start a business.

Many young people would not be able to navigate with their issues. The counseling we are offering would not be available. Our advocacy work with the government would not be done. In a longer run, crime would probably go up – people would have to steal e.g. phones to sell. Many would draw into the state of fear and we would probably see suicides, substances and children who are not going to school because their parents could not cover the expenses.

Finland is a highly regarded partner in the international space. If Finland would turn its back on the international space, women would suffer. In Kenya we have seen a lot of economic empowerment of women through Finland’s development cooperation funds. I have seen a lot of young people change their lives through the support of Finland.

Meanwhile, we are seeing a situation where economic situation is not going well, many people have been impacted by COVID-19, many have lost their jobs and with the war in Ukraine life has become more expensive.

Would this impact your image of Finland?

I love Finland. I always joke that I am half Kenyan and half Finnish. My image of Finnish people would not change but I would wonder that if you’re able to help why would you not help?

With the Finnish funds, there are support for girls who are refugees and children that get clean water and access to school – that is the human dignity aspect I associate with Finland. The human rights aspect that Finland has been fighting for.

Finland has been in the forefront of advocating for women rights and women participation in the political sphere in different countries. Women economic empowerment, the work on anti- female genital mutilation (FGM), the vision of sexual and reproductive health services and the youth employment as part of development, which are key things in advancing the rights of children and women in the society.

I would love Finland to continue with the rights of people. Enabling participation of people to really stand up for themselves.