Mustaf Yusuf Ibrahim: Vocational training changed my life
Mustaf Yusuf Ibrahim’s experiences as a migrant seeking a better life abroad differ little from those of so many others – hunger, fear, mistreatment and abuse.
At the age of 17, he and two friends left Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, where they saw no future for themselves.
“I had lost all hope in life and I could not pay for my education. I wanted to be a bread-winner for my family but things were difficult. It is what pushed me to make that risky journey to Saudi Arabia,” says the 23-year-old.
The trio set off from the port city of Bosaso in Puntland. After a 36-hour boat ride, they reached Yemen, from where they hoped to enter Saudi Arabia. But in the end, only Mustaf made it that far, and that was after enduring three months of hardship, including living rough and doing menial jobs for survival.
“One of my friends was arrested as he attempted to enter Saudi Arabia, while the other opted to remain in Yemen – so I was the only one who reached Saudi Arabia,” he explains.
Though Mustaf finally managed to land a low-paying job as a carpenter in Jeddah, his dreams of a better life were cut short in 2015 when he was arrested for entering the country illegally. He was detained by immigration officials and deported back to Somalia.
“I was heartbroken and didn’t know what to do, knowing the hardship that awaited me back home,” he says.
After enduring months of hardship in Mogadishu, Mustaf’s life and future prospects changed. A friend advised him to seek vocational training at SHARDO (Shabelle Relief and Development Organization) to help him take charge of his life as well as improve his chances in the job market.
SHARDO, a non-governmental organization that operates in the regions of Middle Shabelle, Benadir, Galgaduud, Hiraan and Lower Shabelle in south-central Somalia, offers vocational training to poor and vulnerable young men and women that is tailored to the demands of the local job market.
A life-changing training course
Mustaf undertook a nine-month training course in computer and graphic design. The studies also boosted his self-esteem and helped to improve his job prospects.
“When I completed my training, Bilan [a Mogadishu-based printing company] expressed interest in me, and I immediately took the job offer,” Mustaf says.
Starting out as a graphic designer, Mustaf, now a father of three, rose to become the firm’s sales and marketing manager through hard work and effort.
He credits his transformation, from a desperate economic migrant to a young adult full of hope and energy, to the vocational training he received at SHARDO.
“The skills acquired through vocational training are essential for any youth, even to those with university degrees,” he says, adding that in a situation where jobs are scarce, employers are likely to look for a person who has additional training.
With Somalia recovering from decades of civil war, youth unemployment remains high due to a lack of opportunities and skillsets that are appropriate to the job market.
Somalia has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world due to its many years of conflict. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), around 47 per cent of the active population is unemployed, with 75 per cent of young females being illiterate. Vocational training is widely seen as helping to ease unemployment pressures.
Owing to their contribution to the development of skills and competencies, vocational training institutions are a source of comparative advantages to promote growth in productivity, according to the ILO. That factor is normally reflected in more and better jobs.
ILO’s position ties into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), centred on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. The 2030 Agenda comprises 17 goals and 169 targets to wipe out poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years.
Given his own experiences, Mustaf is helping those who find themselves in similar situations. He holds frequent discussions with youths to encourage them to seek vocational training to improve their prospects for getting a job. He has also mobilized Mogadishu-based university students who hail from his home region of Gedo to sponsor 40 pupils enrolled in the Kalafow Primary School in the village of Luq.
“We want them to get an education. And in addition to the funds we raise, we also share with them our experiences so that they do not go through what we went through,” he says. “It is through education that they can succeed in life.”
Mustaf urges other young men and women not to obsess over migrating to Europe and Middle East in search of a better life, warning that life abroad is not always as rosy as many believe.
“Now that I have a job and a family to look after, I need peace more than ever before. Nothing can ever push me into becoming an immigrant again,” Mustaf says.