Youth Development Arena
With Barnabas Akyenyi Usman
Youth And Community Service
Whether through leading a campaign against vices in the neighbourhood or becoming a member of a vigilante group, the role of youth in leading local development through community service cannot be overemphasized. Young people with or without formal education are like, are possess innate potentials, talents, and energy that need to be channelled for beneficial purposes, both for the community and for the individuals. Youths, therefore, are generally regarded as a key asset to the community. A key principle of community development is participation; everyone making contribution in building their immediate communities and contributing their drops in achieving the ideal community where people will and can live fulfilled lives.
Youths contribution to community service does not only complement the efforts of the government and that of private sectors, it also goes a long way in solving immediate community needs that bureaucratic process generally make it slow for the appropriate authorities to respond to.
In most places of worship, youths are sited taking part in volunteering activities such as clean up, traffic control and in some cases security. This usually comes as a result of a conviction from the holy books that this type of volunteering comes with special blessings for people that take part. Taking this as a typical example, the question that will always pop into one’s mind is; are there consequences that come, either on the youths or the religious bodies, in the absence of this type of service? When youths do not rise up to contribute to community development through service, does this leave the community with consequences to live with?
Community service is not negotiable. It is a necessity for building a community from where it is to where it should be. This involves identifying a need, a gap, designing a plan of action and taking steps to implement this, taking advantage of human assets in the community – YOUTH.
In 1993 John L. McKnight and John P. Kretzmann introduced a concept called Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). Just as the name implies, ABCD preaches and promotes the use of community potentials and strengths to achieve sustainable community development. With Nigeria’s youthful population, the greatest asset here is not oil, but youths.
Common Needs That Youths Can Address Through Community Service
- Bad access roads: lack of access roads to most communities affects not only the comfort of the community members but also opportunities for increased economic development. There are practical examples of markets in Nasarawa state that are no longer functional as a result of bad roads to the communities. Farmers therefore bear the consequences of carrying farm products to the closest markets to sell, which is not easy by itself. Youths can contribute to change this through collective efforts and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) methods, e.g. the use of sand-filled bags to create access roads for motorcycles.
- Bad Governance: Young people can address the issue of bad governance by exercise rights and holding duty bearers (both public and private) to account. Although the process of holding duty bearers to account is generally said to be hectic, it needs to start from understanding rights of the people and the responsibilities that lies on duty bearers. Exercising voice on issues that are clearly is obviously pressing to community members needs to be non-confrontational. It can be as little as visiting the office of the duty bearers and office holders to advocate for these issues or as big as voting out unresponsive leaders and voting in promising ones.
- Increased crime rates: Everyone in a community is usually affected by crimes when they happen. Theft, child abuse, cultism and crimes are like can be collectively addressed by an organized group of youths with support from the relevant authorities in the community. This can be in form of awareness raising on the effects of these crimes and also taking deliberate action and steps in arresting and handing over suspected individuals to the police for investigation and further action. The Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN) is a local structure that provides an opportunity for youths from all works of life to contribute to curbing crime in their communities of residence.
- Increased out-of-school rates: Nigeria houses the world’s largest number of out of school children, currently estimated at 10.5 million. This figure account for children who have never being to school or drop out for different reasons. Most common reasons are lack of income by parents, the value of education among parents and teachers’ attitude to pupil (corporal punishment). This presents a desolate situation and a horrible future. Campaigns on the importance of education to parents and alternative discipline methods to corporal punishment, advocacy for institutionalizing punishments for parents who have means and don’t send their children to school and skills training and supporting parents with income generating activities are examples of ways that young people can address this issue. Furthermore, youths can organize community learning centres to help out of school children learn how to read and write.
- Decrease in quality of education: this is caused mostly as a result of inadequate quality teachers in schools, lack of continuous professional development training for teachers in schools and inadequate teaching and learning aids in schools. Youths can organize and create learning and teaching materials for schools with locally available materials such as cardboard/manila papers, stones and other DIY methods. Training on how to use these will improve teachers’ methodologies for teaching as well as improve the students’ learning and overall academic performance. Community learning centres facilitated by youths can also be an avenue to improve students’ cognitive learning abilities.
- Inadequate access to information: a common problem that faces most community members is inadequate access to useful information. Most young people are technology-savvy and therefore stumble on information that is useful to all and sundry in their communities. This includes basic information such as personal hygiene methods (e.g. appropriate way of brushing the teeth or washing the hands), information on harmful cultural practices etc. Most people, however, hold on to this information not knowing the appropriate channels to share. Through religious and other public centres, young people can volunteer to share information that is useful to all age groups. In this case, young people can also set up Information Centres in the community.
- Sanitation: a dirty environment has an impact on both the health of community members across all ages. This can lead to malaria, cholera among other common diseases associated with lack of sanitation. Youths can address this by leading in community sanitation efforts. This includes ensuring that waterways are kept clean, refuse are dumped at the designated places in the community and places where the community access drinking water is kept clean at all times. Youths can also be proactive in advocating for policies around punishment for defaulters and also reporting defaulters to the relevant authorities.
- Lack of entrepreneurial skills: with unemployment being a big thing in Nigeria as whole, peer-to-peer learning has proven to be the most practical way of lifting each other. Skilled youths can organize training on entrepreneurial skills for the unemployed. This skills training will not only help people to be gainfully employed, but it will also help in ensuring income security and also reduce crime rates in the community.
- Road Traffic Accidents: some communities are generally busier than others. An activity such as market days or worship days for Christians and Muslims generally brings out people in their large numbers, mostly with motorcycles and cars. This presents a potential risk of road traffic accidents. A planned action on controlling the traffic for days as these will not only reduce the rate of road traffic accidents and also save lives.
Community service initiatives can also be informed of showcasing and appreciating outstanding individuals through prints and online media. Showcasing individuals, organizations or events can create opportunities that could propel them to greater heights.
Benefits For The Youths
Volunteering helps in solving local and national issues, improve the socio-economic wellbeing of the community as well as contributing to the personal and professional development of the individuals involved. In particular, volunteering;
- Helps young people to learn valuable skills: communication, planning and teamwork are examples of skills that can be learnt through community service. These skills are of great importance to the youths but at the personal and professional space.
- Helps young people to be innovative in solving problems: the process of community service will involve exploring conventional methods that didn’t work and thinking of fresh ideas thereby forcing youths to put on their thinking caps to get a creative, innovative and a lasting solution to these problems. Over time, this will expand the thinking horizon of the youths that gets involved in the process.
- Helps youth to discover a career path: a common feature among most young university graduates is the uncertainty on the next step. Volunteering over time opens people’s thinking to opportunities that lies in the development sector and opens doors to working with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
- Gives youths the required experience: all over the world, most development organizations and agencies (e.g. DFID, USAID, Mandela Washington Fellowship etc) that gives youth opportunities such as scholarships for studies, fellowships, conferences etc. are kin on picking individuals who have verifiable and relevant experience in community service.
- Gives youths sense of fulfilment: Volunteering is generally driven by the sense of responsibility first and then there is always a sense of fulfilment that comes with knowing that you have contributed to the development of your community, for you, the generation before and the generation after you.
Creating Opportunities For Youth Involvement In Community Service
Youths can take advantage of local groups available in communities to volunteer in community development or take steps as organized groups to address issues. When these youth groups are set up, there needs to be definitions of purpose and members have to deliberately stick to the purpose of creation. Most youth groups set up nowadays don’t stand a test of time because of deviation from the objectives at the setting up stage and interests other than community service.
Government and Non-Governmental Organizations are creating opportunities for youths to take part and lead in community service.
National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is the major scheme by the government for young Nigerian graduates to contribute to Nation building. Asides posting corps members to institutions for their primary assignments, the Community Development Service (CDS) was designed to help corps members contribute to the development of their communities of residence for the service year. It is arguable that a lot of youths do not take advantage of this, and although NYSC is a compulsory scheme for all university graduates, it remains the best initiative of the federal government that encourages and promotes youth involvement in community service. Through personal community development projects, numerous youth corps members have contributed to community development in different parts of the state and the country at large. Recently, a corps member posted to Federal University, Lafia renovated a block of two classrooms that have fallen for two years without rehabilitation, forcing children to make use of one classroom. Children from Mararban-Akunza and Gandu depend on this school for their primary education.
The Nigerian National Volunteer Service (NNVS) was set up to complement government’s effort on national development through encouraging, harnessing, managing and effectively deploying volunteer activities and services of Nigerians both at home and in Diaspora. NNVS is currently coordinated by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The office is currently working on the National Volunteering Policy with lead volunteering agencies in Nigeria such as Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and United Nations Volunteers (UNV). The policy will provide guidelines, standards, approaches as well introduce initiatives and opportunities for youths to contribute to community building.
Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), United Nations (UN), African Union (AU) and British Council are few among numerous international development organizations and agencies that are promoting community service by youths through structured volunteering programs. Since 2012, VSO in Nigeria has given opportunities to over 2000 young Nigerians to contribute to the development of their communities (for community volunteers) and their communities of placements (for national volunteers). Structured volunteering programme such as the International Citizen Service (ICS), Global Xchange (GX) and the National Graduate Volunteering Programme (NGVP) are all youth-led programmes and have recorded tremendous achievements in Lafia, Nassarawa Eggon, Akwanga and Keffi Local governments in Nasarawa state by improving access and quality of education, improving income for rural community members and health outcomes for adolescents. These projects were carried out from 2009 to 2015 in partnership with local NGOs like NACWYCA, CECDI, YMCA, FAHCI and Project Agape all based in Lafia. At least forty (40) youths in Nasarawa volunteered across these programs in different years and have contributed to the development of communities and states of their placement.
NGOs in Nasarawa state are creating opportunities for youths to volunteer in bringing lasting change in their communities. Grassroots Youth and Community Livelihood Enhancement Initiative (GYCLEi) in Akwanga is a youth-led NGO known for creating opportunities for youths in contributing to community development through initiatives such as the Naturally High Anti Music Festival, an anti-drug campaign that brings youths in their thousands for peer-to-peer learning on the dangers of drug abuse through music and other forms of artistry. NGOs such as CECDI, FAHCI, NACWYCA, YMCA, Project Agape, and CBCSP are known for working with young volunteers across different project areas.
Socio-cultural organizations have also been instrumental in contributing to community service. Ame Wo Ba Eggon is a well-known example in Nasarawa state, with young people as most of its members have designed and implemented community development projects to rural communities in Nasarawa and neighbouring states.
Social media has proven to be an effective tool for campaign and advocacy that most people have neglected or misused for so long. Through advocacies on twitter, using catchy hashtags, groups of young people have attracted the attention of international bodies and NGOs to pressing issues and solving them. Facebook for instance has been used a great deal by groups of youths to plan and implement community development projects, just by knowing each other online through like-minds Facebook groups.
Different forms of arts can be used to raise awareness and pass information on community issues. Problems that are not known cannot be solved. Through music, drawing, painting etc. young people can raise awareness on community issues and work with relevant groups and authorities to solve them. This can also be a good medium to contribute in raising awareness over social justice issues in a society where the people affected are powerless to get external support.
Achieving sustainable community development requires all hands to be on deck to complement the efforts of the government and private sectors. Over time, youth involvement in community service has played key roles in improving standards of living, increasing health outcomes, improving access to and the quality of education and lifted community members out of poverty. The energy and potentials of young people need to be directed to the appropriate channels for the benefits of the community, the nation and most importantly, the youth themselves.
Government at all levels and private sectors need to realize the potentials of young people and take advantage of this by creating opportunities and funding youth-led community development initiatives. Youth groups and networks have a major role to play in community development; to lead change by exercising rights and holding duty bearers to accounts and also by contributing in solving identified community needs. The learning that comes with community service is immeasurable and can propel individuals and groups to unimaginable heights.
Celebrating Eggonnews At 20
Since Eggonnews was birthed as a community paper, it has consistently served Nasarawa State and Nigeria at large with quality news coverage of events and happenings in the State, the country and across the world. People seldom appreciate the place of Eggonnews in the development of our communities, but looking back at the journey so far, one will have no option than to applaud the founder for keeping the dream alive. Through advertising, news coverage, celebration of anniversaries/events etc., the newspaper has brought about connection and stronger bonds among people at home and individuals who are working away from home and also connected customers to business owners. I know of families that live outside Nasarawa State who make it a duty to purchase copies of every edition of Eggonnews.
Today we are celebrating 20 years Anniversary of Eggonnews. Twenty years of community service. Community service as demonstrated by Eggonnews is a responsibility of all and sundry, exploring all forms and using personal resources. It is a way of complementing the efforts of government and other private stakeholders in building resilient communities where people can live peacefully and fulfil their potentials.
Community newspapers serve as a voice for community members, as watch dogs to hold public office holders accountable ensure social justice at all levels. This and many more has being Eggonnews contribution to the development of the State, and we are proudly celebrating.