Dear, Mr. Saleh Ahmedin, first of all I would like to thank you for the chance you gave us. Would you tell us about the ongoing major activities of the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students?
Generally, the activities of the Union focus on three goals: enlightening, organizing and mobilizing the youth. We organize the youth in two ways; as the core members and general members. The youth, 14 years old and above, who are in the middle and high schools and in the national colleges are the general members of the Union. The second group, known as the Youth Workers’ Organization, includes youth workers in different institutions. Among these two groups of the Union, students and workers, we have the youth who have attended different clubs which are the building blocks of the union. Their recruitment starts by joining these clubs while they are in grade nine. We give them basic political education and other courses which help them to be the potential cadres . We follow them up till they complete higher education and we make sure that they are connected to the Union even when they are out on their own career.
Basically, the recruiting of these young students start from the middle and high school, and especially in the high schools, we have clubs that work in informing and recruiting the youth, for example Merih club, Art-clubs, Mini-Media club, book club,… are the main clubs that train and enlighten the youth at their early age.
In programs that are introduced to enlighten the youth, we have different awareness creating campaigns. These programs include Students’ Week, where there would be different educational competitions among students and help them share their ideas and knowledge and thereby they would influence each other in a positive way. Simultaneously, knowledge provoking writings are prepared and shared among the students. The programs in the art clubs, discussion forums, youth week and the national youth festival are the major activities of the Union.
In mobilizing the youth, basically what we do is help the youth complete their national service with awareness and dedication, while ensuring their educational and vocational strength. In this way, besides the vocational trainings given by the government at national level, the Union runs small training centers. So, the Union, in collaboration with other education centers, organize different training.
Besides such activities, there are trainings given to those who are disadvantaged and who are responsible to help their needy families financially. In collaborations with our partners – government organizations, PFDJ institutions, and others, we give the youth special trainings. In a nutshell, these are the major activities of the Union.
Do these activities go as far as all the six Zobas of the country? If so, are the opportunities and programs equally implemented?
Yes. When the Union’s activities are drafted by the central office of NUEYS with some measurements set for it, it is sent to all the Zobas and sub-Zobas. Therefore, since all activities of the Union are based on the annual work plan, all activities are the same. Though, there would obviously be a slight difference due to the difference in human resources, facilities and geographical locations of the sub-zobas and zobas.
How do you assess the youth participation in the Union?
The participation is high in general; and although it’s increasing from time to time, the plan is to make it much higher. The collective aim of the three pillars of the Union I mentioned above – enlightening, organizing and mobilizing the youth – is to build a youth who participates in the activities of the nation with consciousness and will. The final goal is to insure practical participation of the youth in every activity of the nation and the Union. So, when we try to see it all together, the Union plays a great role in ensuring youth participation in such activities.
One of the biggest activities of the Union is the National Youth Festival; how was the 7th (2016) Festival? How do you evaluate it?
It has been 12 years since the Eritrean Youth Festival started at national level. The aim is to bring all the activities done by the youth together and create a platform where the youth from all across the country get introduced to each other and share experience. In the festival, we try to bring the activities of the youth starting from the lower level to the national level and help the youth share what they have been doing, know each other and develop competition, in a way it strengthens their unity.
Evaluations are made after every Festival. Hence, every festival would be prepared in a better way than the previous one. Considering the experience gained from the last six festivals, we can say that the 7th Festival was conducted in a more organized way. All the activities that were performed during the Festival – artistic programs, cultural shows, modification and innovation, education related programs… – clearly depicted the development, consciousness, participation and skill of the youth.
Plus every branch office of the Union has an annual Youth Week. And the national festival is a continuation of such festivals. For example, there are regular intra-college and inter-college festivals. And since the national youth festival comes with the results and products of those festivals, plus the activities and products of the Diaspora youth, the participation is high.
One of the Union’s plans is to improve the skill of the youth. What are the trainings given by the Union and how do you rate their outcome?
First, the training that are given to the youth have different aspects. First, there is a training which is given to the youth in order to help them become more productive on their work areas. Here, the training is given in collaboration with different training centers and the trainees are required to pay some amount of money. In the second, the youth would pay certain amount for the type of training they want to attend and the rest is covered by the Union. In the third category, the whole expense is covered by sponsors. The aim of the training in general is to boost up the productivity of the youth and make them self-resilient.
The training that is given in collaboration with our partners started in 2015 and will continue in a more effective way. So far about 2000 youth have taken different kinds of training funded by sponsors. And another 3000 youth have attended the training that was organized by the Union and training centers.
An assessment made on the youth workers who took the training points out that they became more productive. And those who were unemployed and took a certain type of training, claimed that it created job opportunities for them. Therefore, in order to help the youth acquire a skill and be able to make a living, the Union will continue to provide such training. Sometimes the trainees may not find a job instantly; yet, at least they have acquired a skill they could depend on at any time.
What is the role of the Union in creating work opportunities for the trainees?
We have been trying to keep some of the trainees in the training centers after they finish their training. Based on that the training centers hire a certain number of their trainees. But generally, since the Union has close relationship with the government, the Front [PFDJ] and other organizations, we all work together in creating job opportunities for the trainees in general. Moreover, for those trainees who would want to start a small business of their own after the training, there is a program that gives a small loan. So, these trainees are allowed to borrow some amount of money and run their business.
Is the training given to all the districts?
Yes, it is given to all the districts. Yet it differs from one district to the other in its type and number according to their priorities and location. For example, for those who want to learn how to fix a boat, the training is given in Assab or Massawa or other areas near the sea; in villages we provide training on bee hiving and poultry farm. Therefore, the training has to be given considering the priority of the district. In Asmara, for example, the training focus on courses related to electronics or carpentry; in rural areas bee hiving is given much more priority. But generally, there are 11 types of training which are given at national level by the Union.
What do you think is the influence of globalization on the youth? What are the main obstacles the Eritrean Youth is facing to keep his own cultural values? And what is the role of the Union in tackling cultural invasion?
It is a huge obstacle and Globalization is creating a big problem for whatever happens at the opposite pole is coming to the eyes and ears of the other pole in no time. And this creates a big cultural and identity problems like falling into blink-blink things without realizing that they are real and even if they are for real, wanting to go there without even contemplating how these countries achieved them. Another big challenge is the culture of individualism that creates individualistic thinking among the youth. Many youths are becoming victims of such behavior. Such behavior is against what we call a value of collective thinking. Here the collective individualism is a threat to the united work of the society and it is not a tiny or simple seducing phenomenon. And whole sum of such kind of thinking results luck of interest in education and creates the culture of wastefulness and migration.
Hence the Union’s activities focus to avoid such instances and we are working to imprint the culture of hard work, creativity, exemplary and unity upon the youth. In general, the plan is to avoid such phenomenon by uplifting the consciousness of the youth. First, the youth must believe on himself or herself and be confident enough and then be proud of their country and believe that they can make everything better if they work hard. Therefore, the aim of the Union is to build a youth who inherits the values of their society, the values of his own and the values of the Front. And that is why the Union puts this theme as the center of its annual program.
How do you rate the participation of the Eritrean youth in the Diaspora in the activities of the Union?
The Union organizes Zura N’Hagerka (a national tour) for the Diaspora youngsters to visit the development projects, historical places and geographic landscapes of Eritrea. In this way the youth are supposed to know their country and get introduced to their society’s culture and lifestyle. By organizing a summer tour to different parts of the country, the youth are exposed to the historical and development sites. But, the Union also encourages the youth from the Diaspora to complete their national service. Similarly, by enhancing volunteer youths who would want to share their skills; especially those who have gained educational and technological knowledge abroad and would want to transfer it to their country. In this way, a number of youths have been serving and the Union is working on developing it.
In general we can say that the Diaspora youngsters are the ambassadors of their country, because they work on introducing and reflecting the real image of Eritrea.
How is the female participation in the Union?
NUEYS is a union of youth as it is a union of both sexes. Therefore, when we say its members are the youth aged from 14 to 40, it has also to make sure the participation of both sexes. And ensuring equal participation is what the Union has been working for. At the starting clubs and at the lower level cadres, female participation is high and they sometimes take 56% of the total participation.
The concern comes when the level gets higher and at the leadership level their participation is limited. A lot of them, after being active cadres of the Union for a long time, they don’t continue to be involved anymore because of marriage, child responsibilities and other reasons.
In order to avoid such disadvantages, is there any special programs set for women?
There are some special training given to the women, like how to become a leader and some training on handcrafts. However, it hasn’t progressed in the way it was intended. It still needs much work.
How do you describe the activities of the Union on media works in general? Nowadays all the fights are done through the social media. How does the Union work in this case? What plans does it have?
We have been working with the ministry of information on disseminating information aiming at the youth. Radio programs of the Union, for example, has programs which are broadcasted in almost all the local languages. These programs are part of the activities we conduct to insure or increase the awareness of the youth. The programs raise youth related issues. And we have also certain TV programs on the Eritrean television. Similarly, we have columns, or youth page, on the local newspapers in Tigre, Tigrigna and Arabic.
Apart from this, the Union has its own Magazine, the Youth Magazine, which is published every two months; and magazines of the different languages are issued twice a year. The Union also publishes monthly pamphlets for its clubs and for the core members.
For a long time, we had a website for the Union. Yet, it has not been active as much as we need it to be. Now, we are working to strengthen it. And so we are also working on opening an internet service centers. So, when one sees it all together, we are working on creating a platform where all the Eritrean youth can have their voices and can discuss their issues among each other. Our aim is to make this social media a center of knowledge, information and a platform for discussion among the Eritrean youth.
Finally, if there is anything you want to say to the youth?
I hope that 2017 will be a year where we continue what we had started in 2016 with more energy and dedication. The responsibility of nation building and defending always falls on the shoulder of the youth. That is why we have to be ready for it and must strengthen our participation in the national programs. Generally, the plan is to organize programs that ensure participation, create awareness and develop organizational productivity. Expanding our training programs, both in quality and quantity, is also one of our priorities. We have to evaluate our last year’s activities and continue to work hard while evaluating the productivity of each other. When the time passes by, it also takes our history with it. Hence, we need to write a great one.