Emma Thokwana, 20, from South Africa, is a member of the Youth Advisory Board of YouthCan!: SOS Children’s Villages’ youth employability initiative.
SOUTH AFRICA – July 15 2021

"I want to be part of the solution"

Interview by Florian Staudt; Translation by Elisabeth Schmidt-Hieber

Youth unemployment has increased worldwide due to COVID-19. Emma, 20, from South Africa, describes her experience as a member of YouthCan!

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, youth unemployment has increased worldwide. Emma Thokwana, 20, from South Africa, is a member of the Youth Advisory Board of YouthCan!: SOS Children’s Villages’ youth employability initiative. Emma explains the difficulties young people face seeking decent work and why she advocates to support youth.

What is your motivation to engage through the youth advisory board of YouthCan!?

I am convinced that the participation of youth can lead to a significant change in the world. I want to be part of the solution. I represent youth in my region on issues they face on a daily basis. Being a member of the Youth Advisory Board has made me realize that my voice matters.

What are your professional goals?

I am studying psychology and criminology and want to be a psychologist. What I want to do professionally is offer people my support so they can change their lives for the positive. I want to be an agent of change and inspire people to stand up for what they believe in.

What are the challenges you face?

My bursary helps finance my degree but nothing beyond that. However, in South Africa, I have hardly a chance to find work as a psychologist without a professional degree. I might need to get a job unrelated to my profession to save money and get my degree before I can start as a practicing psychologist. But it will take some time to get to what I actually want to do because there is an employment crisis in South Africa.

Youth employment is particularly high in South Africa, increasing to 74% during the COVID-19 pandemic…

The labor market requires that people have professional experience—but where should we get that from when we are leaving school, college or some sort of other educational journey? Because of this, young people are forced to do any job that is available to them with low wages, abusive working conditions and little job security. I see the challenges that young people are struggling with in my immediate environment all the time.

Can you say more about that?

One of my sisters with whom I grew up in the same SOS Children’s Village house (not my  biological sister) had to take two jobs to provide for her own family. She worked hard with little money for 18 hours a day. She had one hour to rest between the two jobs and would come back late from the second job. She had to eventually quit one job because it was starting to take a toll on her.

What does it do to a young person if the pressure is so high?

One of my closest friends battled anxiety and depression, and she tried to commit suicide. She didn't talk about it and we didn't pick up anything in her behavior until she took pills and tried to commit suicide. But what was more alarming was that she suffered the whole time in silence. Mental health has been and still is a sensitive issue to talk about, but I think that the more we talk about it the better we'll all be.

What does it mean for us as a society if young people have limited prospects for the future?

Youth unemployment does not just affect young people but society at large. The longer the crisis goes on, the more likely it is that young people will fail in their attempt to enter the labor market. If we don´t tackle this issue, our society will face various social and economic issues. If young people have no opportunities, it can lead to substance abuse, crime and mental health issues.

What support can YouthCan! offer young people as they enter the labor market?

YouthCan! supports young people who have lost or are at risk of losing parental care to move towards decent work and eventually self-reliance. YouthCan! includes different sub-programs. In South Africa, there are programs that offer young people job shadowing opportunities and career guidance, which includes mentoring and direct support from employees of a company. All this helps support young people on their path to employability.

YouthCan! also offers a digital platform through YouthLinks that allows participants and mentors to connect. How important is a program like this during times of lockdown and social distancing?

During the COVID-19 crisis, YouthCan! has made sure that young people can still meet virtually to receive support. I think this is necessary for emotional support to young people who might be feeling alone during this time. Personally, I am grateful for these experiences—both globally and locally—because it is encouraging to know that we are all in this together. I believe that we are stronger together.

Learn more:

  • Click here to find out more about the Youth Advisory Board.
  • Click here to find out more about YouthCan!

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