By Alex Mwakilau (YES 2015-2016, Kenya, placed by AFS-USA in Portland, ME)
I have always been fascinated about different cultures, religions, heritages, and histories, which motivated me to apply for the YES program. My experience in Maine was full of lessons, skills, and adventures. I volunteered as an assistant coach to a middle school soccer team, I saw a significant advancement and development in my leadership, creativity, team building, and critical thinking skills. I wanted to bring back to my country the strong sense of community service that I picked up in my American community. Giving back to one’s community is a joy and an art.
In November 2021, I got the opportunity to return to the U.S. for a YES Alumni Changemakers Workshop. Through this workshop, I gained the skills and inspiration needed to apply for a YES Alumni Grant to address the alarming rate of youth unemployment in Kenya. Also, I am currently the Chairman of a local youth group, the Pamoja Tuimarike Youth Empowerment group (PATYE), in Mombasa. We founded the group with the intention of supporting youth businesses through pooled funds. Using the skills and experience gained from the workshop and PATYE, our project Business Life Skills Training was born.
My team and I held two Business Life Skills Training Workshops in Kisauni and Mvita sub-counties in collaboration with Lonamac, a community-based organization that provides business mentorship and funding for youth startups.
Through the workshops, a total of 40 youths, ages 18 to 30, engaged in an intensive interactive training on how to develop a business idea, plan, and budget; how to get funding for their idea; and how to market themselves. As practice, participants worked in groups of four to develop a business idea, plan, and budget, then each group pitched their idea to a panel of facilitators and project leaders for feedback.
We intentionally recruited youth participants that already had business ideas before the training but lacked the confidence, skills, knowledge, or resources to take their idea further. A survey conducted at the end of the workshops revealed that 90% of the participants felt confident that they can now launch, manage, and grow their own businesses. One participant has since opened an online bakery. Another participant and a team of her colleagues have opened a small hotel in Kisauni after receiving a loan from Lonamac.
My hope is to see more of the project’s participants opening businesses, starting youth groups, or receiving mentorship from Lonamac. Addressing Kenya’s high rate of youth unemployment is key to getting the economy moving forward and bringing about higher standards of living.
My utmost gratitude goes to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the YES Program, AFS Kenya, and Lonamac for sponsoring and supporting the success of this project.