The Japanese volunteer brokering a balance for youth
Freetown, Sierra Leone: In a country like Sierra Leone, helping the group most vulnerable to conflict – youth – is a huge responsibility. And overseeing key programmes for their sustainable integration into society is a UNV volunteer.
Natsuko Kaneyama from Osaka, Japan, is a UNV volunteer Programme Manager for Youth and Peacebuilding at UNDP. Formerly deployed as a UNV volunteer to Sierra Leone by the Hiroshima Peacebuilding Center, she now runs two main portfolios; youth employment and peace reconciliation.
She works in particular with the UNDP-funded Youth Employment Scheme Secretariat at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, aiming to help Sierra Leone's young people get out of poverty and into the economy. (Click here to meet the beneficiaries.)
The huge potential of youth in the rebuilding of Sierra Leone certainly strikes a chord with Natsuko. She recalls a visit to Kono district during which she met two young businesspeople who had been assisted by the UN-supported projects. "One owned an electronic workshop, and he invited his friends, and then friends of friends to join him," she says.
"His initiative was identified by our local partner as something that could be extended support... I was really impressed by his behaviour, giving opportunities to other youth who were not employed."
Her work means coordinating with 17 international and national NGO partners and nine technical and vocational training centres – which takes a lot of careful management. These NGOs and national institutions work on various employability projects which Natsuko monitors and advises to help them keep running without further UN support.
"My daily challenge is to put myself in a position of balance, between the timely implementation of programmes and accountability," says Natsuko. "My work means ensuring swift service delivery and transparency, so balance between actions and processes is very important."
The 26 partners implement various skills training, agriculture and enterprise development projects. Natsuko says that in practice this means giving youth better numeracy, literacy, vocational and business development skills. "It's so they can sustain and expand their own businesses even after the project completes," she remarks.
Natsuko has also been involved in a United Nations Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) project which implements the provisions of a Joint Communiqué resolving a dispute between the governing party and the opposition.
The programme includes support to ‘political party youth leaders’ to improve what Natsuko calls their "softer skills". In Sierra Leone's highly-charged post-conflict political environment, youth leaders tend to be used by political parties to incite conflict. So the UN's relationship with these actors concentrates on activities that bring people together, from organizing football matches for amputees' sports clubs to producing peace songs with ‘Artists United for Peacebuilding’.
"The impact of these artists and their songs was quite big in the rural areas," she comments. "The President loved the songs, and he organized a national concert in June 2009. Now the artists have completed rural concerts in six districts to disseminate messages of non-violence."
Natsuko hopes the programme she is implementing with the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Mission in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) can foster political reconciliation between political parties and prevent further violence.
As a UNV volunteer, Natsuko is awed by the responsibility given to her. "I am treated as a professional, and required to work as a professional. My opportunities are not limited, and I really appreciate that."
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