How to address the challenges faced by rural youth aged 15-17 in Mali?

By Philippe Remy and Elena Pietschmann, WCA

By supporting vocational training and microenterprise development, the Rural Youth Vocational Training Employment and Entrepreneurship Support Project (FIER) in Mali aims to facilitate rural young people's access to employment opportunities and attractive, well-paying jobs in agriculture and related enterprises. Everyone between the age of 15 and 40 living in the targeted villages is entitled to take part in the project’s activities. Young facilitators from local NGOs work with 4 groups of youth (girls 15-17; boys 15-17; young women 18-40; young men 18-40), showing them different possible professions in their rural area to help them choose their path. At the end of this 6-months process, youth under-18 have the possibility to choose among a range of education options, while young people over-18 can apply to receive the micro-credit and professional training that will help them set up their own (individual or group-based) economic activity.

The repartition of youth in 4 groups allows us to identify the specificities related to working with youth in the 15-17 age range, as well as the challenges of working with girls in particular. It is too early for talking about results or impacts, but the challenges encountered, and some of the approaches adopted, are still worth sharing:

It is proving harder to reach 15-17 years old than it is for the 18-40 age range. This is especially so if the households are required to choose one youth within the household to take part in the project’s activities. In that case, older youth are generally selected by the households. To counter this problem, FIER adopted an inclusive targeting strategy where every youth in the selected villages is entitled to benefit from the project.  
Even when the project targets every youth in the village and there is no need to choose among different young people within a household, parents tend to be reluctant to let under-18 take part in the project’s activities, preferring to keep them at home. To promote under-18 participation, the facilitators conducted door-to-door sensitization with parents.
Youth aged 15-17 tend to have greater difficulties in expressing themselves, especially in the presence of older youth. For this reason, working with separate groups of under- and over-18 proved helpful.
15-17 years old are often already running an economic activity and express interest in applying for the microcredit like the youth in the older group. However, this is not possible as minors cannot access credit. The approach used was to encourage them to open a bank account anyway and start saving in the meantime. Under-18 youth was also allowed to become part of a group-based economic activity that included over-18 youth able to access credit.
Adolescents easily get bored. It proved harder to retain 15-17 years old if the animation sessions were monotonous. The facilitators talked about the need to engage them with dynamic, participatory approaches and to develop games to share information in an interesting way. Approaches such as participatory photography or the staging of performances and sketches seem to work well.
At 15-17, youth are particularly vulnerable to migration. That is the age where both boys and girls often move to urban centers or, in the case of some regions in Mali, to do hazardous work in gold mines. This makes it harder to get them involved in the project activities, as they are often away from the village. The project also has to compete against dreams of easy money they hope to make in the city. The youth’s coming and going from the village also makes it harder to ensure continuity in the 6-months process. To counter these difficulties, it proved useful to carry out an intensive information campaign involving radio stations, local authorities, and the targeted communities so that even youth that were not present in the village could get information on the project. It also seems important to have a relatively flexible schedule of activities where youth can fit in even if they missed the first sessions.  
15-17 years old tend to be particularly impatient. The approach used was to develop a clear time plan and explain them the whole process and exactly how long each step takes.

On top of such challenges, working with 15-17 girls is particularly difficult because:

Girls – especially married girls – face restricted mobility and their families are less inclined to get them involved in a project that might require them to take a training far away from home. The approach adopted was to identify training opportunities close-by, or even mobile units that go to the villages, and to explain to the families from the start of the project that girls will not necessarily have to move.
There is a reluctance in investing in unmarried young girls, since they might move away from the village and certainly will move away from the household. Sensitization with the parents is thus especially important for girls.
The category of ‘youth’ is generally understood as referring to men. Girls become women as soon as they marry, independent of their age. They are thus often put in the over-18 group (even by some of the NGO facilitators), where they face greater difficulties to express themselves given the presence of older women.

In conclusion, some of the main lessons learned so far are:

Involving the families is crucial
To avoid the risk of households selecting older youth to take part in the project, targeting should be either very inclusive (every youth is a potential beneficiary), or very specific (e.g. only 15 to 17)
Dynamic, new activities are helpful to retain youth that might easily get bored
For girls, it is important to take their restricted mobility into account and identify training possibilities nearby