Stephan Gomis is a 27-year-old pig farmer from Senegal. He was selected to be one of the youth delegates at the ‘Getting By: What it means to make a living’ workshop earlier this month with Restless Development and Murray Edwards College at Cambridge University. Unfortunately, he was not granted the UK Visa he needed to participate in the event.
I am writing this blog on the 4th April 2019 which is Senegalese Independence Day. It is a day that holds great significance. It is the day our nation realised its strength and came together to make a change, reclaim our space, and secure a better future for everyone. It is a celebration of our identity, prosperity and freedom.
When I was accepted from over 1000 applicants to participate in the ‘Getting By’ workshop with Restless Development and the University of Cambridge, I was so proud. It gave me validation that influencers and sector experts were interested in me and what I had to say. I was so excited that I would have a platform to share my learnings and the challenges young people, like me, face.
I had also been an ICS volunteer in 2014, and hosted UK volunteers at my home, 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 had championed me and I felt I had let them down. I felt like the UK government had made a judgement about me based on assumptions about my status, my character and circumstances that were out of my control. I was born in a country of poverty and the world is such that my passport simply carries less value as a result. It determines my fate, my social mobility and denies me the opportunity to change my circumstances for the better or in this case access the opportunities that I was awarded.
Even though Senegal has gained its independence, I still do not get the same freedoms as others. But I won’t let this dampen my spirit or lower my aspirations. I want to make sure that my voice is heard.
Although I was not able to attend the workshop in person. I will share my story with you now and the challenges young people are facing 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 had a massive impact on me – I was able to learn about and really understand the problems and issues in my city.
Working cross-culturally, getting to know very different people and learning to work together as a team was the best part. I learnt that although people may have different values or views, we all had a common desire to help those who need it.
Stephan’s ICS team
In Senegal, 46% of all young people are unemployed and over the last 3 years unemployment has only continued to rise.
As formal employment is scarce, I became a pig breeder and now run a small scale business rearing and breeding pigs.
I dedicated 3 years teaching myself the skills needed to do this job and I have slowly grown the business, bought more pigs and sold more pork. When I started I didn’t have any land or shelter for the pigs. I just had 2 female pigs but now I have 8 and can support myself and meet my basic needs. I really started with nothing but with every obstacle I faced and achievement I made, I learnt so much.
The best thing about being a pig breeder and having my own business is being able to sew seeds and watch the fruits of my labour grow. Knowing all the while, that when my seeds do bare fruit, they are the result of my own two hands, my determination and my hard work.
One of the biggest challenges I face is having the resources to keep the pigs alive and healthy, especially the piglets. Although my livelihood relies on it, I am often not equipped with the tools and finance to execute the business exactly as I would like or grow it fast enough. The progress I make is very slow but I have to remain optimistic and find ways to be resourceful within the limitations I have.
In the last 10 years, I have noticed that a lot of programmes have been created to finance young peoples businesses. However, the realisation of these programmes is often problematic.
Young people are financed for their enterprise but often within a year we see their business fails. There is a lack of guidance on how to succeed and manage their work to achieve their business goals.
If, for example, 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. As it can take up to a year before it is possible to show a profit and pay back loans.
Despite all this, I am positive about the future and about the potential within Senegal. In this ‘peak youth’ generation, there are not only a lot of young people but many young people with the ambition to bring about long term social change.
I am very privileged to have been chosen to represent the youth of Senegal at the ‘GettingBy’ workshop, even if I was unable able to attend. I hope that my contributions will support the research that is being carried out and I look forward to sharing it once published with my peers.