5 stories of youth unemployment worldwide

By Eric Johnson

Right now one-third of young people around the globe, between the ages of 15 and 29, aren’t in school or in the workforce. What are the factors driving this unemployment crisis, and what could help address it?

In 2013, the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT led this interest when it published a paper with rigorous evidence supporting youth development interventions. Well researched and widely distributed, this paper formed an important evidence base in favor of youth development programs. It was added to major studies by USAID, 3ie and the World Bank.

In 2016, we joined that effort.The GroundTruth Project, RTI International and the Global Center for Youth Employment launched a YouthVoices initiative and platform to give young people a space to tell their stories. The platform gives the media, policymakers and researchers a way to understand what young people are going through.

Just four months old, the YouthVoices platform has gathered more than 400 submissions from young people around the world – and although this is a limited representation, analysis of the text and video submissions are essential additions to researchers’ evidence base.

For example, researches have looked into the issue of family influence on youth education and labor market outcomes. Family dynamics can affect youth outcomes in a wide variety of areas, such as nutritional and cognitive development, education or career choice, social or geographic mobility, personal finances and household responsibilities.

To understand the perspectives of some youth on these issues, I searched the YouthVoices platform for the terms “family,” “parent,” “sister,” “brother” and “children.” The search returned 237 mentions by youth who had submitted text or video in response to the question, “What is your dream job? What is standing in your way from achieving it?”

Here are five of those submissions. Their emerging themes clearly indicate issues with family responsibilities, family-related financial constraints and family influence on career choice. They also show how family can be a motivating factor – several submissions discussed the need to support one’s family and make them proud.

1. Jonathan – Guatemala

l am Jonathan Daniel Tote, l am 24 years old, l live in San Lucas Sacatepéquez, lt is a beautiful and small place in Guatemala, it is located far from the city, so this is a little story about my life when l started to study English, so l learned to speak English in a foundation called Juan Francisco Garcia Comparini. It is in Santiago, very far from the city when l was studying there it was so difficult for me because l did not understand any English it was hard because l had to work in the afternoon every day, so l slept at 11 pm and l woke up at 6 am every day but it was interesting for me because l wanted to learn this language and now l can speak it, l am sad sometimes because my mother is sick and l usually cannot help her with some money because l do not have a job still but l am studying in a program that is created to increase our level of English then we can get a job opportunity in that company, Telus is a call center and it is one of the best companies in the country.

So after l get a job, l am going to study in a university because it is one of my dreams, to study a career because l have not studied yet. That is because my parents did not have many resources, but now l will get a job and l will would pay my career. l want to study to become a lawyer or architect, because one day l would help my family and some poor children who don’t have parents and l think that building a foundation, where l can give scholarships in my town is good because there are a lot of children that do not have an opportunity to study. That’s why l want to achieve my dreams and help them, then l’m going to buy a house where l will be able to live with my family and buy a car, and my house will have a beautiful garden, soccer field and a swimming pool, where I’m going to play with my siblings, and live happily.

2. Ruth – Zambia

Like anybody else has dreams, as a young lady I also have a lot of dreams but most importantly that of studying Mass Communication. Ruth Nyambe is my name, I am 18 years old and I live in Lusaka Zambia. As a young child, seeing journalists on television made my heart beat and glued to the screen to see how the programmes were run, this made me realize the interest I had in journalist. Most young people have dream careers because of peer pressure but as for me, I have a lot of reasons as to why I chose Mass Communication as a dream career. I have come to appreciate the role the media plays in society, that of educating, entertaining and informing, I want to be among the people to keep the masses well informed about what is going on around them, for I know that an accurate story leads to a well-informed nation and world at large. Through this career, I want to be the voice for the members of the public regardless of their status in society as well as reveal the hidden truth of national interest.

In my community, a lot of girls have given up on their dreams due to various reasons like early marriages and peer pressure, this makes me want to stand out with my education and later inspire young people who will then be growing up to be leaders of tomorrow. I successfully completed my high school with the help of Children International Zambia, the agency provided for my academic needs. I now dream of studying at the University of Zambia or any other university outside the country. I live in a single parent household, I am a single orphan, my mother does not work making it difficult to cater for my tertiary education as she is still struggling to provide academic needs for my siblings.This has made it difficult for me to apply to higher learning institutions despite having good qualifications. I am in a life challenging situation, but given an opportunity to study at high learning institution, I can make use of it as it would be a life changing opportunity. I want to be a living testimony that dreams can come true. Through mass communication I want to be the change I wish to see in my community, country and world at large.

3. Nadya – United States

Techno music streamed from local bars into the dimly-lit streets, signaling the awakening of Portland nightlife. I sat shivering on the cold concrete stoop of an abandoned office building, waiting for the next bus to take me home. Beside me lay a homeless woman swaddled in a pungent sleeping bag, her head cradled on a pillow of plastic bags. I just wanted to get home, but I was only halfway through my two hour commute from school.

Three weeks before, when my younger sisters and I were called to dinner, we found suitcases and boxes stacked about the living room. We laughed at the ridiculousness of the sight, but stopped when we saw our mother’s face: her eyes were swollen and tears traced her cheekbones. She solemnly nudged us to our seats and over baked broccoli and polenta, explained that we could no longer afford our home. Four days later, our belongings in storage, we moved into a friend’s attic across town. My life was reduced to a backpack and a single suitcase. Suddenly, in the spring of my freshman year, I found myself “legally homeless.” 

Sitting on the cold concrete step in Old Town Portland that night, with five homeless shelters within a two-block radius, I felt confused: Was I really homeless, even though I had somewhere warm and clean to sleep? Though I attended an exclusive private school on scholarship, I had no legal address. I had to give up dance and piano, take a job to cover expenses, and spend four hours a day on buses. Though I worked harder than ever before, I witnessed my grades dip and social life suffer.

In an ironic twist, my sophomore year began with a history class that focused on quality of life. It explored the relationship between privilege and happiness, and how financial stability, health, and social relationships contribute to wellbeing. The class made me reflect deeply on the wizened faces of homeless women as I travelled to and from school. As days passed, I started talking with these women as they visited social services and shelters downtown, or with those I served volunteering at a local soup kitchen. I learned that though I was legally “homeless” like them, unlike them, I was blessed to have physical safety, a supportive family, and an educational community. Most significantly, I was shocked to discover an unaddressed need of the homeless female population: menstrual hygiene. These women told me of using paper bags, discarded clothing, and toilet paper during their monthly cycles, all strategies that carry a high risk of infection and toxic shock syndrome. I began to purchase feminine hygiene products with money I earned through work to hand out to the homeless women I encountered.

My despair at my family’s living situation slowly transformed into a determination to address this social need. As my family regained stability, I founded Camions of Care, a nonprofit organization that strives to address the natural needs of all women. Camions of Care is now a global youth-run nonprofit that strives to manage menstrual hygiene through advocacy, education, and service—through the global distribution of feminine hygiene products and development of youth leadership through campus chapters. In the last year and a half, our network of 1,700 volunteers has distributed over 12,000 care packages of feminine hygiene products to 32 nonprofit partners in 10 different states and 6 different countries, and is expanding our chapter network from 24 established at university and high school campuses around the US.

In observing and facing prejudice, and working to understand the roots of discrimination, I am filled with motivation to create sustainable systemic change in my life that works towards a more equitable and just future. What stands is my way is connecting with larger audiences for my advocacy platform, and continuing my learning process as a growing adult. My life mission and goal is to create positive sustainable social change and I believe the best way to enacting this change is through changing the system itself–which points me in the direction of politics and advocacy.

4. Lucille – Philippines

My name is Lucille Mae S. Ariola, Electronics Engineering student at Technological Institute of the Philippines-Manila. I came from the province of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, Philippines and my family depends only in agricultural products (rice crops). They can’t afford to send me in school that’s why my auntie helps me pursue my studies in college. For me this is a challenge to be motivated and be productive in attaining my dreams. My dream job is to build my own business to design and manage my own stuff pertaining to electronics. I was really amazed in technology and other gadgets that others have. I really like to discover new things and experience incredible things. Robotics interest me when I watch about it on the television.

I was wondering how machines were created to do the same thing a true person does. When these things came out, I imagined what if I will do the same thing and more than what they did. I will make my own company and build these interesting things. A company that will open many job opportunities to those qualified workers in the Philippines. When this business becomes profitable, it will contribute and help jobless persons and will give the chance to be part of my electronics business. Given the opportunity to help is a privilege and accomplishment for me. That’s why I want this dream job to happen. The things that stop me to attain this dream job are the lack of capital that I will be using in building this kind of business. It is also important to plan where can I invest and locate this in the Philippines so that it can help many people. I will also need partners who will help me to make this dream come true.

5. Ntipa – Zambia

My name is Ntipa Chola, I am 17 years old (in Zambia) and just completed my senior education. I have always thought of helping people in any way possible, while at school, I always enjoyed math and Biology, the subjects contributed to me picturing my self-working as a surgical doctor. The compassion I feel when I see someone in a bad state builds up my passion for this career.

During my time in school, I served as an Aider for 3 years in the Red Cross club, it was in this club where I learned how to treat casualties with different cases. During my journey to fulfill the dream, I have encountered a lot of challenges like funds to carter for my academics, my parents are unable to pay and afford the requirements. I have siblings who go to school but my parents face challenges in paying the fees. Because of that, I face a lot of negative encouragement from a lot of people claiming that I am just wasting my time. Thinking of changing my career is the advice I am getting from everyone, an alternative offered is that of being a police man of which is the opposite of everything that describes me. Life is becoming tuff after finishing school as it is hard to find a job to help me save for my university costs, the levels of unemployment are overwhelming, while on the other hand, few companies offering employment are looking for people with experience which I am yet to acquire. Getting a chance to be enrolled to the university is what I have been wishing for, as I am convinced that a beautiful future awaits me in the health sector.

For more personal accounts, visit our YouthVoices platform.

Eric Johnson is the Senior Workforce Development Advisor at RTI International, a YouthVoices partner.