In Gok-Machar, unemployment is a huge problem that can force some young people into illegal means to earn money, impacting people’s security and safety. To address this issue, we worked together with the Community Initiative for Partnership and Development (CIPAD) and the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) to increase work opportunities for young people.
The town of Gok-Machar is located in Aweil North County, South Sudan. Although many of its residents engage in farming, fishing and livestock rearing, unemployment remains rampant, especially amongst the younger generation. While some Gok-Machar residents believe that a large portion of criminal activities are committed by unemployed youth, many young people are actually frustrated at the limited job opportunities available and the lack of support from the government – especially with some of the government structures are not even yet formed in accordance to the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS).
The scarce job market can leave little option for them but turning to illegal means to earn a living. “The high cost of living, coupled with limited job opportunities, forces young people into crime, like theft, in order to make ends meet” said one young person in Gok-Machar during a community meeting in 2020.
“The high cost of living, coupled with limited job opportunities, forces young people into crime, like theft, in order to make ends meet”
Along with the limited work opportunities, there was also no space for young people to talk to community leaders and local authorities about the situation. Young people were unable to communicate their struggles, and community leaders and authorities weren’t aware of what the problems were and how they could provide adequate support.
Action through dialogue
Since March 2019, Saferworld and CIPAD are working with community action groups to improve safety and security concerns, and build relationships between communities and authorities in Gok-Machar. Together we held a community dialogue in June 2019 between young people, community members and county authorities, to discuss community concerns.
The community dialogue found that youth unemployment was high on the agenda as a pressing issue for all participants. Achol Bol, a community member, told us that he feels “bad, because I was unable to provide for my family and myself, but finding work in Gok-Machar is difficult because there are no job opportunities for the people”.
While the issue of youth unemployment was raised in previous community action group meetings without much response from authorities, the dialogue hosted by Saferworld and CIPAD had more success because it was attended by the County Commissioner of Malual North County (now Aweil North County, where Gok-Machar is located), James Anei Madhan. It led to the County Commissioner reaching out to the UNISFA – which already employs a large number of manual workers from the area – for help with providing young people with employment.
Creating jobs for young people
During the dialogue, the County Commissioner and UNISFA discussed the possibility of providing short-term employment for young people in the area – specifically for manual work such as cleaning and security. UNISFA agreed to award 80% of their manual work opportunities to young people aged between 18-35 years old, who live in and around the Gok-Machar area. In line with South Sudan’s employment law and UN employment regulations, a rotating maximum contract employment duration of six months was established.
Following the UNISFA agreement, during the first half of 2020, 45 young people received their first-ever employment opportunity. Maria Juong, a mother of three, explained how she appreciated the opportunity to work with UNISFA as a cleaner: “My children’s living condition has completely changed. I bought them good clothes, can afford good medication and above all providing them and my entire family with enough food. My children would have starved if I had not got this opportunity to work for six months with UNISFA.”
"My children’s living condition has completely changed. I bought them good clothes, can afford good medication and above all providing them and my entire family with enough food. My children would have starved if I had not got this opportunity to work...”
Dut Anei, a young person currently working for UNISFA as a security guard, described how this job “has improved my living standards, independence and raised my self-esteem because I am able to meet my own needs and help others.”
Community member Achol – who had previously told us how he was unable to provide for his family – is now working as a security guard for UNISFA. He said that this opportunity “has helped me because I am independent now and can meet my own needs and that of my family. It has changed me psychologically and I am now able to do things independently.”
Even though the six-month rotation system has meant that not all members of the community have been employed, both UNISFA and county government officials maintain that rotational employment is the best way a greater number of young people can benefit from the initiative. Once the six-month contract is finished, employees cannot be re-hired – but are instead encouraged to use the experience and money they have gained to find a longer-term means to earn a living.
Aturjong Kuot, a 30-year-old volunteer in one of the community action groups, recently finished his six-month contract as a security guard. He says: “With the opportunity to work for six months at the UNISFA base and the money I saved from my employment, I now own a farm measuring 70 by 60 metres. I will use my produce for feeding my family and sell the surplus because I have produced enough groundnuts.”
This project has successfully employed and equipped young people with means to be productive, paving ways for more similar projects from South Sudanese government or international organisations to create a wider job market for young people to indirectly affect people’s sense of security positively.
The work referred to in this piece is funded by UKAid.
Photo: Community dialogue participants in Gok-Machar, Aweil North, South Sudan.