Problems on hold
Even though the Problems on Hold column is usually dedicated to thorny issues or concerns, the issue I tackle today is neither one nor the other; it goes under this title because it has been placed on hold for the past three years. I today report on a three-year-old endeavour that aims at youth empowerment and the enhancement of young people’s skills to introduce them as competent individuals on the job market. The issue carries social, developmental and patriotic weight. I do not claim that this is a first in the field; there have been successful State and civil society organisation efforts in this context. But the foundation I wish to introduce today has for three years elected to operate quietly without any propaganda until it could present itself to the community with a fair, tangible volume of achievements.
The Social Coptic Foundation for Development (EGYCOPT) was founded in July 2012, but only publicised itself last week when it celebrated the graduation of its first classes of young men and women who had completed training programmes and acquired skills that enabled them to seize jobs they could never have qualified for with their academic achievement alone. Since EGYCOPT adopts the same motto that Watani had for years strived to achieve, “Advancing the young to advance the community”, I decided to join EGYCOPT, especially since it fills a gap that Watani could not fill.
All through its years in the press Watani was keen to include young people on its editorial team and in all its departments. In 2000, Watani initiated its Youth Parliament (YP) to serve as a political platform where young persons—men and women, Christian and Muslim—simulated the parliamentary experience in full freedom and respect for the ‘other’. The YP attracted growing numbers of young people and triggered boundless enthusiasm and interaction. It had outstanding consequences in terms of accepting the other—whether in gender or religion—and coexistence. Inclusion effectively worked to contain their discontent and anxiety, and to counter their apathy and turn it into determination, maturity and responsibility. Yet the remarkable realisation remained that giving young people a chance was not necessarily a factor of their maturity.
The YP experience lasted throughout the 2000s and provided the young with a window of political opportunity during a crisis time. That was a time when young people were not taken seriously; they were seen as frivolous persons who could not handle responsibility. The YP enabled them to self-search and discuss, and gave them a voice on their nation’s issues. Add to this the magical advantage that Watani used to print on its pages the YP discussions. This gave the young the special advantage of exporting their thought to the wider readership of the paper. But as much as they were happy and eager with the YP and its activities, a lump remained in their throat, a cry that I heard ever so often: how could this help put bread on their tables? I used to conceal my malaise at Watani’s incapacity to achieve what these young people aspired for: tangible job opportunities. Even though I was able, through advice or personal contacts, to offer jobs to some of them whether with Watani or in other fields, the fact on the ground remained that many of them were for extended periods of time without jobs.
EGYCOPT came to fill the gap that Watani fell short of filling. It offered the opportunity for young people to complement their academic qualifications with real capacities in demand on the job market. In addition, it offered them real job opportunities, thus turning their despair into bright hope.
I cannot describe the incredible sense of gratification the young people felt when they sensed the determination of the community to empower them and give them opportunities they had long aspired for. As I see it, Egypt’s hopes for a bright future hinge on attaining a healthy relation between the different generations. Before it fulfils its role, the older generation should empower a younger generation to take its place.
17 May 2015