The energy, skills and aspirations of the poorest and most vulnerable youths are most commonly ignored. YEJ focuses on providing opportunities for economic engagement among these most disadvantaged young people, including: residents of urban slums, single mothers, victims of domestic violence, victims of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, former offenders and former substance abusers.
‘YEJ provided sewing machines for girls who are living in the urban slums of Nairobi, through the Euphrasia Women’s Centre. The machines allowed the girls to complete a government certificate in sewing. These students, many of whom are former victims of the violence and abuse that is endemic in Kenyan slums, have proceeded to set up businesses and establish links to fair trade handicraft networks.’
When young women and men become economically engaged, they are able to escape cycles of abuse and violence. The alternative income that they are able to earn means that they need not be dependent on their abusers to survive. For people who typically experience social discrimination, finding fairly paid work can raise their standing both in the home and the community. It can also give young men and women a voice in the political system as their contribution to economic growth is recognised. Most importantly, women who earn extra income will typically invest in education and healthcare for their family, which helps prevent intergenerational poverty.
‘In Embu, Kenya, YEJ is working with the Embu Empowerment Programme to develop a range of environmentally-sound cleaning products for local market. The young people working on the detergent project are residents of urban slums. Many are ostracised from the general community because they are single mothers, former victims of commercial sexual exploitation or former offenders. YEJ is working to improve business networking, management skills and business development skills, as well as access to credit and access to market information. The Kenyan Bureau of Standards has recently approved the cleaning products as environmentally sound.’