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Stephan Gomis is a 27-year-old pig farmer from Senegal. He was selected to be one of the youth participants to take part in the ‘Getting By’ workshop earlier this month as part of a research partnership on what if means to ‘make a living’ with Restless Development and Murray Edwards College at Cambridge University. Unfortunately, his UK Visa for the event was denied so Stephan was unable to attend.

I am writing this blog on the 4th April 2019 which is Senegalese Independence Day, a day that holds great significance. It is the day our nation realised our strength and that we need to join together to make a change, reclaim our space and to have independence, to govern ourselves, secure a better future and realise one united vision. For me, Senegalese Independence Day represents prosperity, a celebration of who we are and freedom.

In Senegal, 46% of our youth are unemployed. In the last 3 years unemployment has continued to rise and more young people are without a job.

Stephan

When I was accepted from over 1000 applicants to participate in the ‘Making a Living’ conference with Restless Development and the University of Cambridge I was so proud. It gave me validation that influencers were interested in me and what I have to say and I was so excited that I would have a platform to share my learnings and my challenges.

I was an ICS volunteer in 2014, I hosted UK volunteers as we worked together to make a positive contribution to my country. I was so excited to have the opportunity to have a similar exchange and come to the UK.

Finding out my visa had been rejected was a big disappointment, a lot of people were championing me and I felt I had let them down. I felt like a judgement had been made based on assumptions of my status, my character and circumstances out of my control. I was born in a country of poverty meaning the passport I hold carries less value. It determines my fate, my social mobility and denies me the opportunity to change my outcomes for the better or in this case access the opportunities that I am awarded.

I wrote before about Senegal gaining our independence, but I still do not get the same freedoms as others. I won’t let this dampen my spirit or deter my aspirations.

I want to make sure that my voice is heard. Although I was not able to attend the workshop in person; on behalf of my country this is my story and these are the challenges facing young people trying to make a sustainable living:

Back in 2014, I participated in the International Citizen Service programme working on community development projects for three months in Kaolack, Senegal. It was a really impacting experience for me. I was able to learn the details of the problems in my city and really understand the issues.

Working cross-culturally, getting to know new, very different people and learning to work together to be a team and a family was the best part. I learnt that although people may have different values, we all had a common desire to help those who need it.

Stephan’s ICS team

I am currently running a small scale business rearing and breeding pigs and selling pork locally.

I dedicated 3 years teaching myself the skills needed to do this job and I have slowly grown it to be able to support myself and meet my basic needs. The best thing about my job is sewing seeds and then watching the fruits of your labour grow and knowing that is the result of your own determination, nurturing and hard work using your own hands. I started with just 2 female pigs but now I have 8.

When I started I didn’t have any land but now I have land and shelter for the pigs. I started with nothing but with every step I took and obstacle I faced it was exciting. When running a buisness you learn through each hardship and achievement. 

Stephan’s pigs

The biggest challenges I face is having the resources to keep the pigs alive and healthy, in particular, the new babies. Although my livelihood relies on it I am often not equipped with the tools and finance to execute the business fully or grow it fast enough. The progress I make is very slow and I have to remain optimistic and find ways to be resourceful with the limitations I have.  

In the last 10 years a lot of programmes have been created to finance youth to help get work however the realisation of these programmes are problematic.

Young people are financed for their enterprise but often within a year we see their business fails. Entrepreneurs are not given the support they need. There is a lack of guidance or advice on how to succeed, implement the next steps or manage work to achieve objectives.

If a young person is successful in getting funding for their project they are often given unrealistic timelines to make a profit and pay investors back. It can take up to a year before it is possible to show a profit and pay back loans.

I feel positive about the future and about the potential within Senegal. In this peak youth generation, we have the ambition and power of young people to make long term social change. I am very privileged to have been chosen as a youth delegate and representative for the youth of Senegal and I hope that my contributions will support the research being carried out. I look forward to sharing the findings with my peers.

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