Looking for Meaningful Content at Youth Centres
Fida’s youth centres are engaged in a global battle against young people’s distress. The youth centres have reached hundreds of thousands of young people.
More and more young people are growing up in a world, where it is almost impossible to find your own niche. The problem of unemployment and alienation is huge, especially in the poorest countries.
- There is so much idleness. Without education and work, the young people drift to the streets, crime, drugs and prostitution", says Olli Pitkänen, the former Director for Development Cooperation at Fida.
- What could you do with them?
To answer that question, Fida established a youth centre in Tanzania about twenty years ago to offer the young people new and meaningful content for their lives: education, hobbies and meaningful entertainment.
The youth centre was a success. Since then, the concept has been copied in numerous countries around the world: Kosovo, Laos, Maldives, Bolivia... In just the last three years, over 250 000 young people have participated in the youth centre activities.
How did it all start?
Fida's first youth centre was established in 1996 in the previous capital of Tanzania, Dar Es Salaam. It was Fida's employee, Kyösti Frestadius, who had the idea of a youth centre.
A place for the centre was found on the outskirts of the Dar Es Salaam city centre.
However, it was only later that Kyösti Frestadius realised that Muslim extremists occupied the area. The bomb that exploded in front of the United States Embassy in Dar Es Salaam in 1998 was built in that suburb. Eleven people were killed in that attack.
- The focus of the youth centres was and still is the distress of young people", Kyösti Frestadius says.
Kyösti Frestadius wanted to alleviate exactly the same issues, which later led to radicalization of youth and even revolutions in the Islamic countries.
Unemployment erupts as discontent, and discontent as riots.
Keys to success
The challenge in Tanzania was that it was practically impossible to get youth from a Muslim background to come to a church. It was necessary to find a neutral place where it was easy to invite people to. For this reason, the centres were established as separate from the churches.
Olli Pitkänen believes that this is the key to the success of the youth centres.
- The church needs to realise that the youth centre is not a church. A Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and a Christian must feel at home at a centre. Only then a language is found to talk with the young people.
Olli Pitkänen remembers well an event, where thousands of young people came to the Dar Es Salaam centre to watch a rap competition. In the competition, both Christian and Muslim youth performed items on topics they were given.
"The centres have an atmosphere of acceptance."
Information, skills and things to do
Helping young people is at the core of Fida's work. One of Fida's main goals is to help those living under the threat of marginalisation and the most disadvantaged. In particular, education and employment of young people are important goals in many countries.
- In practice it would be best for the young people to get training, which would help them to get work, Olli Pitkänen says.
The courses have had visible effects. In Tanzania, the young graduates of the courses started to organise their own courses to share what they had learned.
- In Zanzibar, those who had completed the computer course, started their own internet cafes, Olli Pitkänen explains.
But how to attract the young people to the centres?
Elementary, says Olli Pitkänen.
- In many countries, the young people have nothing to do. When they hear that there is something to do, they will come. The word gets around.