Five hours and a hundred kilometers – the journey in Congo from Goma to the eastern corner of Masisi is a bumpy one.
The miserable road cuts through a spectacular scenery: rugged mountains and lush valleys. At the bottom of one such valley is Masisi, a town of approximately 25 000 households. The number of residents is unknown; there has never been an official population register in the massive country of Democratic Republic of Congo.
The conditions at Masisi are modest, but you can get a tasty meal, custom-made dress done, fix your moped, order a table carved from a eucalyptus tree, or hire a mason – and at the same time support the entrepreneurship of youth from difficult backgrounds.
These entrepreneurs are joined with strong will to work – and a hard past. They all found a new direction for their lives in the vocational training programme funded by Finn Church Aid.
The youth selected for the training are those who are most vulnerable: former child soldiers, orphans, street kids, those who have been raped, or those who became mothers too early in life. The students are between 16 and 22. A quarter of them are illiterate when entering the training. But the will to learn is enormous: the graduating percent is 95.
The partner of FCA giving vocational training is a local ETN Training Center that is specialised in teaching traumatised youth. In the beginning, the center was working only in Goma, but Masisi received its own center in 2012. At Masisi, the training is for masonry, carpentry and cooking. At Goma, there are also training for welding, mechanics, cooking, plumbing and IT. Finn Church Aid supports these schools this year with 115 000 euros.
The first class of Masisi had 30 graduates, and they all found work. Now there are 79 youth enrolled in the classes.
Training brings an occupation and occupation brings earnings. To these youth, money is the only key to happiness, to the boys its literal: now they can afford to get married. In order to get a wife, Hutu and Tutsi youngsters will have to get two cows. The traditional dowry for Hunde tribe is 14 goats. A cow will cost between 400-500 dollars (310-390 euros), a goat 80 dollars (62 euros).
Even though the young entrepreneurs are looking forward to the future, the past is still present. The recent history of Masisi is filled with tense guerilla warfare. Even now, there are anti-government rebel forces hiding in the nearby forests, and joining them is tempting for many boys and girls due to the prolonged conflict in Congo.
“Along with studying, youth can reflect on what they’ve been through and recover. The biggest aim however is that a youth will leave our school with good professional skills”, David Ngabo, the director at ETN Training Center, says.
Text: Katja Hedberg
Photos: Jukka Gröndahl