Life-changing. That’s how Anne-Marie Jamin describes her participation in Augustana’s Rural Development Exchange program in 2004-05. Had she not gone to Mexico, she says, she wouldn’t be where she is today: working for the United Nations in Nairobi, Kenya.
Anne-Marie grew up in rural BC and planned to be a high school French teacher. Then she took a class from Dr. Dittmar Mündel at Augustana, and her eyes were opened to issues of global inequality and social justice. Before she knew it, she’d signed up for the exchange program. “It was a challenging year,” she remembers, “but it changed the direction of my life.”
For Anne-Marie—keenly aware of global injustice, and eager to make a difference—working for the UN is a dream come true. In her position with the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO), Anne-Marie is helping to tackle youth unemployment in western Africa, where many young people are eager to work but lack the business skills or the connections they need to succeed.
She has witnessed heart-wrenching scenes, but she is also part of stories with a happy ending. For example, she has seen young Kenyan women, desperate for an income, take on the gruelling work of making gravel. In the blistering sun, often with babies on their backs, they work in rock quarries, using hammers and chisels to chip small pieces of rock from larger stones, working until their hands bleed. Once they’ve filled the back of a pick-up truck, which might take two or three weeks, they receive their payment—about ten dollars.
Through the ILO’s Youth-to-Youth Fund (Y2YF) program, Anne-Marie and her colleagues offered these women the support required for better employment opportunities. They provided the training and connections necessary for them to learn to construct and sell fireless cookers and energy-efficient stoves, which are needed in rural Kenya. As a result, the women earn incomes that help support their families. One of the young women invited Anne-Marie and her team into her home. Over chai tea and roasted groundnuts, she told them, “Now that we make these stoves, I can send my children to school. My husband listens to me now—he respects me now that I have an income. And I have in a voice in the community, too.”
The Y2YF provides funding and technical support to youth-led organizations that come up with innovative solutions to unemployment in their communities. These organizations provide services such as training in entrepreneurship, support in developing business plans, apprenticeships, the establishment of demonstration sites, and connections to financial institutions. The Y2YF gives a voice to unemployed youth themselves, offering them the opportunity to take ownership of and responsibility for their own projects. Anne-Marie emphasizes that the ILO takes an approach that differs from the traditional culture of charity that exists in Africa. While the design of other development projects often takes place in offices far removed from the communities they work in, the Y2YF program asks youth what they want, what they need, and what they can do.
The Y2YF has helped talented young artists from the Korogocho slums to promote and sell their art in Kenya, women in rural Uganda to produce and sell sanitary pads made from banana tree fibres, and vulnerable youth in Tanzania to establish businesses making leather belts and sandals. Most important, the Y2YF strives to create not only jobs, but also community leaders—by giving young people skills that will stay with them for a lifetime, even if a particular business idea doesn’t succeed.
“I love doing work that effects change so broadly,” says Anne-Marie. “I am inspired by the enthusiasm of the people and the organizations we work with, and I admire their talent, innovation, and commitment.” She is often humbled by the generosity of people who have less than she does, who will invite her into their homes for a meal or a cup of tea. “I am lucky to have friends in many corners of the world,” she says. “Wherever I go, I will always take a piece of these experiences and these people with me.”