International Youth Day: social integration for vulnerable youth

By MS Alia Al-Dalli, SOS Children’s Villages’ International Director of the Middle East and North Africa Region
Young people across the Middle East and North Africa are facing a period of uncertainty. Political, economic and social factors have a direct impact on the availability of jobs, especially for young people.  Finding work is particularly daunting for those who have left alternative care and often cannot count on the networks, resources and guidance of their families.
 
SOS Children’s Villages has been providing care to the most vulnerable children for more than fifty years in the MENA region, currently caring for more than 1,500 young people at the age of employment. One of our challenges is ensuring that youth are prepared for life after the villages and are participating in society.
 
Children who have lost parental care are unfortunately subject to stigmatization. The stigma and taboo around these children make it very hard for them to be fully integrated in society. In addition to the societal stigma, there is still discrimination and lack of adequate laws to facilitate the integration of children who were born outside wedlock, such as measures regarding the right for a name.
 
One key challenge facing young people is employability. According to the Arab Youth Survey 2017, youth unemployment is around 30% and more than one in three young Arabs (35 per cent) believe that the biggest obstacle to the development of the Middle East is unemployment - with many not able to earn enough to build a stable and independent life.
 
The participation of young people in decisions relating to their present situation and future is integral for us to support them in the best way we can. It benefits their individual development and
builds awareness of opportunities, creating an increased sense of control over their life, their future – and for the region’s economic development.
 
Social integration and its impact on society
 
We simply cannot talk about societies’ development without talking about youth - they are the future and the hope of the world, and those who will carry the torch of its prosperity. Youth who were able to secure an income-generating activity or have decent work are active contributors to the economic development of their countries.
 
In the MENA region we face an increasing number of challenges - the lack of political and social stability in most countries in the region have a very negative impact on investment and the growth of the economy. Ongoing armed conflicts and the economic model are a burden on prospects for the economy in the MENA, as well as insecurity resulting from conflicts in the Middle East.
 
The quality of education is also a cause of concern for young Arabs, particularly in non-GCC nations. Nearly half the Arab youth said they were not satisfied with the current level of preparation of students for the jobs of the future. Of the 51 per cent[1] who said they were satisfied with the current education system, 80% are from the GCC nations.
 
At SOS Children’s Villages, a main long-term indicator of our success is youth integration in the labour market and their autonomy. At a larger scale, one of the main measures of a country’s development is the level of fulfilment of their youth, as well as actions taken by the states to enable that.
 
Creating an environment where youth can flourish
 
Youth integration is also very linked to the psychological wellbeing of youth, because it concretely makes them aware of their role in society, from a smaller scale within their families, to a larger scale in their countries.
 
SOS Children’s Villages 2030 strategy is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda for 2030 that focus on youth and children. As part of this goal we actively work on providing quality education for youth taking part in our programmes, and we also work on their development to ensure they have a decent work and they contribute in the economic growth in their countries.
 
As part of 2030 strategy, we have a strategic initiative that is exclusively dedicated to empowering young people. This strategy initiative focuses on preparing young people for decent work and helping them improve their living conditions requires greater emphasis on empowerment of young people, and this begins at an early age through enrolling them in education in external schools, external activities, and summer camps. We take all necessary actions for them to be integrated in their community, and to be active participants and actors of their society. At age 14, most of children in our care move from the village to youth houses that are integrated in the community. 
 
Mothers and youth leaders have the biggest role in youth integration into society and they are the ones who help integrate youth into society. They work on individual development plans for children in their care, regularly evaluate them, and coordinate with the National Association to receive the needed support to follow that plan. The mothers are also part of the team of youth care and development. Mothers also play an important psychological support aspect to encourage children and youth entrusted to them to be achieve their objectives in life and be active citizens in their communities.
 
Preparing youth for the workplace
 
There are a number of ways we introduce young people to the necessary skills and training needed for the workplace. Our programme YouthCan! presents an opportunity for young people to become ready for the job market and lead independent lives, by providing a platform for youth empowerment through impactful corporate engagement. For that, all partners jointly create uplifting and inspiring opportunities for young people that strengthen their employability and enable them to gain relevant practical experience, skills and knowledge. YouthCan! was first initiated in Jordan, it was then rolled out in Lebanon this year and is expected to start in Morocco as well.
 
Through working with National Associations, we are able to multiply efforts and develop clear operational strategies to build the capacity of young people to have decent employment and be autonomous.
We follow different approaches to effectively work on the integration of youth in our care. Every National Association develops strategies, projects and actions dedicated to youth care and development. We involve youth in the development of their individual plans, for them to have a clear idea of options they can explore to be better integrated in the community, and how SOS can support them achieve and follow the plan that was tailored with them, for them. We also work with public and private partnerships that will help youth gain internships, training and job opportunities. Additionally, we advocate for youth integration so that governments include them in their policies.
 
Tackling youth unemployment and helping to integrate them into society is critical to build the foundations for a stronger and sustainable economy. For many young people the support is not there, and more often than not they are victims of circumstance of political, economic and social factors that have a direct impact on the availability of jobs, especially for young people.