In August, Executive Director, Jennifer Sly, and Board Chair, Deb Simerlink, traveled to Swaziland to meet with the Youth Advisory Board. After months of working with them virtually via their email capable mobile phones, it was gratifying to be able to see them in person again. We met with various youth-focused non-governmental organizations and then held a two day retreat for the youth at Thokhoza Conference Center in the capital city of Mbabane. The youth had time to reconnect with one another, sharing their achievements and concerns. Several NGOs were able to attend portions of the retreat to introduce the youth to resources available to them. One NGO arranged for two law students to speak to the youth about their rights and even met one-on-one with any youth seeking confidential advice. Another organization, Manzini Youth Care, sent a representative who spoke passionately to the youth about starting businesses. He also described vocational training programs that the center offers to help young entrepreneurs get started.
The most exciting outcome resulted from a visit by the Swaziland Peace Corps Country Director, Steve Driehaus, and 5 Peace Corps volunteers. They engaged the youth in a conversation about Peace Corps Swaziland’s current mission: to identify, approach, and support orphans who are heading households. Since we have been working with the youth for several years, they are familiar and comfortable with this type of interaction. Based on this conversation, the Peace Corps asked the youth to serve as advisors to the Peace Corp volunteers. After all, who could better advise them than these amazing youth who are themselves heading households? In return, the Peace Corps will provide the youth with training in goal setting and life skills, and will help them connect with resources to pursue their income generation goals. The structure of this program is still in development, but they have already had their first meeting. It certainly is an exciting opportunity for our youth to grow and help others in similar situations!