As the Commonwealth Youth Week is celebrated from Monday 4 to November 10 with the theme “Youth Work in Action”, Kenyan youth have a reason to smile: the World Bank-funded Kenya Youth Empowerment and Opportunities Project (KYEOP), which is implemented by the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender, has been launched.
The mega project comes at a time when sustainable opportunities for youth empowerment have remained a mirage government in, government out.
The Commonwealth looks forward to young people, youth workers and those involved in commissioning, funding or leading youth work in their respective institutions and communities to engage in this theme and show how youth work looks like “when in real action”.
The Commonwealth Secretariat defines youth work as all forms of right-based youth engagement approaches that build personal awareness and support the social, political and economic empowerment of young people delivered through non-formal learning with a matrix of care.
Kenya is among 11 out of 35 Commonwealth countries with national policies that recognise youth work as a distinct profession.
In the Kenya Youth Development Policy (KYDP) 2019, it is defined as all forms of youth engagement that build personal awareness and support the social, political and socio-economic empowerment of youth.
The KYDP holds that youth work involves skills and competencies development among the youth while enhancing their self-esteem, social connectedness, economic productivity, emotional and intellectual maturity and autonomy and supporting their self-empowerment within caring and supportive environment.
Kenya is also among the just over 13 Commonwealth countries with an Association of Youth Workers.
The KYDP defines a youth worker as a suitably trained and knowledgeable individual who undertakes youth work, engages and responds to young people from a place of deep contextual understanding and co-creates with young people spaces and activities that support their agency to organise their lives and engage positively with their communities and the world.
The initiative to professionalise youth work was endorsed by member countries in 2013 and at the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Ministers meeting.
In Kenya, the initiative was born at the 2014 Youth Symposium hosted by the Institute of Youth Studies at Tangaza University College that brought together professionals in youth work.
The profession is meant to support young people in their journey to emotional and intellectual maturity within a caring and supportive environment as they strive to attain autonomy.
The role of youth work is therefore to ensure that the youth receive, as their right, quality youth services from trained youth work professionals.
Adequately funded and with comprehensive training of the practitioners and the affected youth, youth work can benefit not just the young people but their institutions and society. And professional training is available.
Recognition and celebration of youth work as a distinct professional practice is a crucial step in the right direction.
George Kaggwa is the chairman, Youth Workers Association-Kenya. [email protected]