Y Care International CEO, Adam Leach, reports from Togo where he met young people at risk or in conflict with the law, who have started their own businesses with YMCA support.
‘Inspired’ is a word that is often used loosely but that’s exactly what has happened for me at Y Care International since my journey began. This took on special significance when I visited Togo recently to see work of the YMCA with young entrepreneurs, prisoners and adolescents in detention, and vulnerable communities in the slums of Lomé.
As one of my first trips to see one of our projects since I started as CEO in 2012, I wanted to meet young people in a country where 60 per cent of the population are under 25 years old. I wanted to talk with them, hear their stories and get first-hand experience of the great profound and careful work that I had heard about from my Y Care International colleagues.
Because there is so much against them, some people have wondered what the point is of donating money to help a young person living on the edge of society to start a business. Some have even said – it won’t make much difference, the money will be as good as wasted, and one person even said, “There is no point in doing “livelihoods work with weaklings”. . .
Y Care International’s work in Lomé, Togo, shows how such scepticism couldn’t be more wrong. While I was there we visited some of the 300 youth entrepreneurs trained by Y Care International and Togo YMCA. More than 170 of them have set up small businesses.
We’re helping young people living in poverty to establish viable, micro-businesses that not only survive and thrive but which also make a world of difference to the young people themselves, their families and communities. From the YMCA staff, they receive encouragement, advice and support, and equipment to set up ventures. In this way, they avoid becoming destitute or turning to crime to survive.Like 23 year-old tailor Emmanuel. He completed his training in tailoring in 2011 and has been in business for three months. Emmanuel grew up in Ghana, where he went to school, so he speaks English. He returned to Togo to help his mother in law and now lives with an uncle, because there is not enough room for him to live at home.
Emmanuel has a winning smile. “I always wanted to make clothes and I want to set up my own businesses. Maybe I can make enough money in six months to find somewhere to live. I will need about £240 to pay for the lease and the monthly rent will be about £20. I plan to make about three shirts and two trousers, as a rough estimate, and will have to pay for materials but can sell a shirt for about £7 each. I will also have to find outlets through street sellers and perhaps shops as well as from my own place.”
Emmanuel clearly has the courage to achieve his dream. “With help from Y Care International and the YMCA, I can achieve this. I will have to think about all this myself and if I need advice I can get it from YMCA staff and other people who’ve helped me along the way – my friends.”
As we travelled through the Lomé suburbs, stopping to meet young people in their businesses, a deluge of tropical rainfall quickly engulfed roads and vehicles. But nothing can dampen the spirits, even on a wet Saturday morning in Lomé, when there is so much to be excited by and to witness just how much can be achieved with well-targeted, carefully delivered assistance.
Young people with so few opportunities have turned their lives around. Their confidence, determination, creativity and courage are inspiring.
It leaves me with a strong sense of the importance of investing in people and businesses – however vulnerable they might seem at first– and I encourage you to do the same.
The partnership of Y Care International and Togo YMCA is empowering young people like Emmanuel to transform their lives. So can you.