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UNFPA enables national youth corps volunteers to reach their full potential: Abu’s story

7 August 2019
Abu Kallon, a national youth corps volunteer at UNFPA in Sierra Leone

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 7 August 2019 - “Volunteering can help people out of poverty by giving them new skills, confidence, and enabling them to socially integrate into different social groups,” said 27-year-old Abu Kallon, one of three national youth corps volunteering at UNFPA in Sierra Leone. “I would like to encourage every young graduate to see the National Youth Service Scheme as an opportunity to realise their dreams. Being a volunteer can transform your life,” he added.

After studying at Njala University in Bo District and being awarded a BSC with honours in sociology, Abu was selected as a national youth corps volunteer, and is now working at UNFPA in the maternal health and family planning cluster.   

Sierra Leone has a population of just over 7 million, of which approximately 2.7 million are young people aged 15-35 years old. According to the 2014, World Bank Sierra Leone Labour Force Survey, the unemployment rate is higher among young people than those aged 35 and above. A lack of skills and experience is cited as one of the main reasons. As a measure to reduce the high youth unemployment rate in the country, the Ministry of Youth Affairs established the National Youth Service Scheme. The scheme is designed to equip young graduates with the necessary skills and work experience to make them attractive to employers, and will contribute to achieving the demographic dividend.  The demographic dividend is the economic growth potential that can result from shifts in a population's age structure, mainly when the share of the working-age population (15 to 64) is larger than the non-working age share of the population (14 and younger, and 65 and older).  UNFPA supported the official launch of the National Youth Service Scheme by the Vice-President in September 2018. UNFPA provided sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) training for the first cohort of 200 national youth corps volunteers.

Advocating on youth issues

“I’ve always been a young leader in terms of mobilising the community. I was a public relations officer for the Nyandeyama Youth in Action for Development Group in Kenema District before I went to university, informing the public about the work of the Group and representing them at youth forums. After university, I worked as an intern writing human interest stories for Kiss 104 FM, a local radio station in Bo District,” explained Abu.

Having volunteered at UNFPA since January 2019, Abu has seen just how important the mandate of UNFPA is in tackling the high rates of teenage pregnancy and maternal mortality. Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with an estimated 1,360 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

“With my sociology degree I wanted to create positive changes in society.  We have a lot of societal problems in Sierra Leone such as gender based violence,” remarked Abu.  “Working for UNFPA gives me the chance to work for an organisation whose mandate includes ending gender-based violence and other harmful practices against women and girls,” he added.

Abu assists a group of health care staff at a UNFPA-supported Quality Improvement workshop in Freetown.

Educating children in local schools

During their placement at UNFPA, the three national youth corps volunteers are expected to raise awareness of teenage pregnancy, gender-based violence, and other aspects of UNFPA’s work in local communities in Freetown.  Abu and his fellow UNFPA volunteers visited students at local schools in the eastern part Freetown where there was a shortage of teachers, and the subject matter of SRHR was not being taught in the schools. The volunteers mentored and provided information on SRHR and how to prevent gender-based violence to children aged 11-14.

Contributing to innovative projects

At UNFPA, Abu has been undertaking research for an innovative project called Firefly, an initiative designed to help end the unmet need for family planning. Firefly is an SMS-based platform for better inventory tracking to prevent stock out of life-saving family planning commodities, so women in the last mile are reached.  Staff from the maternal health and family planning cluster submitted their Firefly initiative to the UNFPA Innovations Department and was selected along with seven other UNFPA teams around the world. All eight UNFPA teams participated in a UNFPA Innovation Boot Camp in Munich, Germany in July 2019. Abu cites being a part of the Firefly team and supporting the proposal, as a great personal achievement.

 

Abu  with other members of the Firefly team and a colleague from the UNFPA Ghana office (r).

Future plans

According to Abu, UNFPA in Sierra Leone is empowering young people by giving national youth corps volunteers the opportunity to develop their skills and provide valuable experience during their placement with the organisation. “My dream in the future is to be part of a society free from violence, and where every woman gives birth by choice and not by chance. I would like to be a communications specialist and a researcher, drawing on my experience at the radio station and at UNFPA,” said Abu confidently.

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For more information, please contact:

Ms Angelique Reid, Communication Specialist

UNFPA Sierra Leone

M: +232 78 340044

E: areid@unfpa.org