Friday, May 23, 2008

Turning street children into entrepreneurs

Turning street children into entrepreneurs
By Editor
Friday May 23, 2008 [04:00]

Over 600 children have so far been recruited from the streets to be trained under the Zambia National Service rehabilitation programme for street children. Over 200 have so far graduated, others ran away before completing the programme. And those who were trained in skills such as carpentry and gardening were given some starter kits to help them start earning a living but a good number of them have already sold them because they can’t effectively use them to earn a living.

We don’t need an expensive study or consultancy to tell us that this rehabilitation programme will not produce the expected results. It is clear that no matter how many young people we round up from the streets and take to Zambia National Service camps for skills training programmes, we will not be solving anything because these young people – like their brothers and sisters in our universities and colleges – after finishing their training will not find jobs.

And we shouldn’t cheat ourselves that everyone can be an entrepreneur or can be self-employed as long as some starter kit of one sort or another is given to them. We need to find a way of creating jobs. Without tackling the problem of unemployment, of lack of jobs in a serious way, we will not be able to address the issue and other related problems like that of street children.

And moreover, training 600 children in over three years is nothing; it is too little. It is unfortunate that although the problem of street children is acknowledged as one of the key challenges that we face today as a nation, very little is being done to address it. Of course, we have to be mindful of the fact that complex problems of this nature cannot be solved overnight and require a lot of patience.

But this should not stop us from having an honest evaluation of what we are doing in this regard. The Zambia National Service rehabilitation programme for street children is certainly well-intended but it has no capacity to seriously address the problem of street children. It is well-meaning but empty. It will not offer some kind of permanent solution to this problem. We need to find long-term solutions to this problem.

The truth is that this problem is with us; it stares us in the face every day. However, we don’t think we are really hitting at the core of this problem.

The training of 600 youths in all sorts of skills by the Zambia National Service is a good thing but it’s too little – the problem needs far bigger and complete solutions.

We believe that the solution to most of the serious problems related to unemployment is to be found in the promotion of a true civilisation of work. The problem of unemployment should feature in all our political, economic and social debates.

This is because the relationship between the human person and work is radical and vital, the forms and models according to which this relationship is regulated will exercise a positive influence for the solution of a whole series of economic, social and political problems facing our people. Just work relationships will be a necessary precondition for a system of political community capable of favouring the integral development of our country and of every one of our people.

Every individual has a right to work, and this right must be recognised in a practical way by an effective commitment to solving the tragic problem of unemployment. The fact that unemployment keeps large sectors of our population, and notably the young, in a situation of marginalisation is intolerable. For this reason, the creation of jobs is a primary social task facing individuals and private enterprise, all our leaders – political or otherwise – as well as the state itself.

But we are not seeing much political leadership on this score. Yes, some of our politicians are talking about the issue of unemployment in their political campaigns but in a manner that does not inspire confidence. They are not offering solutions or even a realisable vision that is anchored on practical solutions. And those in government seem to be much more dependent on the coming of foreign investors. They don’t seem to think much about what they themselves and their people can do and must do to create jobs and reduce unemployment and poverty in our country.

Since the early 1990s, we have focused much more on creating the so-called favourable investment environment; we have done everything possible from giving long tax holidays, parceling out huge tracts of land and all sorts of things. But there is still a serious shortage of jobs in the country. Isn’t it time we started to refocus our energies where they may produce better results?

And when we talk about employment, we should not forget the plight of those already in employment – the quality of jobs. Wages, which cannot be considered a mere commodity, must enable workers and their families to have access to a truly human standard of living in the material, social, cultural and spiritual orders. If this is absent, the possibility of children leaving homes for the streets increases. It is the dignity of the individual which constitutes the criteria for judging work, not the other way round. Access for everyone to the goods needed for a human, personal and family life worthy of the name is a primary demand of social justice.

There is need for us to realise that if we don’t seriously tackle the problem of unemployment in the country, there will be more and more children pouring onto our streets. And no Zambia National Service programme for the rehabilitation of street children will be able to absorb even the smallest of the percentage of these children.

Training street children in all sorts of skills is a good thing but it shouldn’t be done in isolation from the other problems facing the nation because it is not an isolated problem. It is a problem that arises from the problem of unemployment and other social ills. We shouldn’t focus so much on treating the symptom and ignoring the disease.

Yes, the symptom needs to be treated but not in total isolation from the disease that gave rise to it. The two need to be tackled simultaneously. The symptoms will not totally go away if the underlying disease is not treated. Children will not disappear from our streets if the problem of unemployment and the poverty that accompanies it are not seriously addressed. Any other effort to deal with the problem of street children will be too little and, in some cases, will be an exercise in futility.

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