“We want to pass a positive message of hope to other youth-at-risk to change for their benefit and the good of our beloved country,” said one of the band members, Mr. Junisa Johnny. “We also encourage community stakeholders to value young voices in their communities.”
Five youth-at-risk from Kenema and Tonkolili districts have composed and recorded a song to encourage their colleagues to change their behaviour, transform and participate in decision-making processes and in community development. With the rising unemployment and under-employment, lack of skills and livelihoods, many young people in Sierra Leone have turned in gangs and cliques that engage in violence, substance abuse, crime, and other vices. Junisa Johnny and Isha Songo from Nongowa Chiefdom in Kenema District together with Santigie B. Koroma from Yoni Chiefdom, and Mohamed B.S Koroma and Abdul L. Bangura from Tonkolili District teamed up and put together lyrics for their Krio tune entitled ‘youth-at-risk.’
Since October 2020, a joint UN project has been working to empower over 418 youth-at-risk in Kenema and Tonkolili districts, including 194 females, to become ambassadors for sustained peace, community resilience and social cohesion. The initiative is implemented by UNDP along with two other UN agencies, government partners and civil society to promote the reintegration of youth-at-risk into their communities and inclusion in decision-making. It provides increased possibilities for their voices to be heard and increases their civic engagement by treating them as social partners; secure sustainable livelihoods, and access prevention and protection services, including counselling on gender-based violence and harmful practices (such as early marriages, drug, alcohol, and substance abuse). One important result of these interventions is the formation of the youth-at-risk Music Band.
Working together, the team that has one female member in the Musical Band composed and recorded the song lyrics to encourage other young people to change their behaviour and transform.
This first composition has been unanimously adopted by young people themselves as the project anthem. The song was also performed at the first ever National Youth Summit in Sierra Leone held early November 2021 in Magburaka Town, Tonkolili District, and received a standing ovation from delegates and guests in the audience.
Through themselves and other project beneficiaries, the band wants to spread a message of hope to youth-at-risk and show that it is possible to transform and meaningfully participate in community and national activities.
“Our song aims to educate other youth-at-risk on what we are learning from the UN project about civic rights and responsibilities. We also want to let stakeholders understand our problems and how we can solve them together,” said Isha Songo, the only female member of the band.
Prior to the launch of the youth-at-risk Project, the band members spent time engaging in activities that created disharmony, leaving them opposed to each other and not able to identify their musical talent. Today, the band members have found a useful way of improving their communities through music. They work on developing and practicing songs. As one of the 194 female beneficiaries of the project and only lady in the band, Ms. Songo wants to be a role model and encourage other girls to make the best of their lives.
“I urge my sisters to change their attitudes and stop using drugs and engaging in prostitution,” Ms. Songo added.
The Band has become a positive influence on project beneficiaries and other youth in the two districts. At the National Youth Summit, the band’s message was able to reach over 1000 youth who attended the two-day conference from all over the country. This initial success is the result of ongoing awareness training in civic education, gender-based violence and harmful practices, capacity building of local youth structures, and skills training in agriculture and livelihoods.
A key focus of UNDP’s work is support for the empowerment of youth and conflict prevention. Working with FAO, UNFPA and national institutions led by the Ministry of Youth Affairs, UNDP contributes to inclusive decision-making and institutional capacity building at the national and local levels. Through our project entitled “Empowering youth-at-risk as resources for sustaining peace and community resilience in Tonkolili and Kenema districts”, UNDP is working with communities to prevent conflict and promote social cohesion. This is realized through collaboration with four national partners: Ministry of Youth Affairs; Ministry of Health and Sanitation; National Council for Civic Education (NaCCED); and National Youth Commission (NAYCOM). The project is funded by the UN Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) for two years and works to help improve the lives of vulnerable youth in four chiefdoms in Kenema and Tonkolili districts.
With youth gaining consciousness from these project activities, one can only say that there is light at the end of the tunnel for deprived, marginalised and socially excluded young people in Sierra Leone - the shared objective of the PBF, UN Agencies, the Government and people of Sierra Leone.