Monday, 15 September 2008

NYS -Hope for Thousands of Kenyan Youth

In the wake of Kenya’s independence there was a vast amount of nation building that needed to be done. There was also unfortunately, a large number of young Kenyans who were actively involved in the struggle for independence and so when peace reigned many had no where to go, no formal education or skills and no work prospects.

The president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta saw the need to establish a state sponsored youth programme aimed at training and developing skills while in turn have the youth volunteer their time and energy towards nation building activities. Thus, the National Youth Service was born. It was enacted through Act of Parliament in 1964. The brainchild was conceptualized by Geoffrey Griffin who also served as the debut Director of the NYS programme, Waruhiu Itote better known as General China as his Deputy and J.M. Kariuki all now deceased.

Since then, NYS has grown from strength to strength providing tertiary opportunities to thousands of Kenyan youth across a national demographic mainly those knocked off the mainstream public universities and colleges.

The NYS Programme is now under the relatively new Ministry of Youth and Sports. The programme recruits eligible youth aged between 18-22 years from each district around the country twice a year. The recruits must have a National ID, be medically and mentally fit with no criminal records and have attained D+ mean grade in KCSE with at least a D+ in English.

Once enrolled, they undergo paramilitary training for 6 months at the Gilgil College after which they volunteer a year’s worth in nation building. The activities they are involved in while nation building varies from road construction to large scale farming to manning the security gates. Once completed, they are then enrolled in one of the 16 institutes around the country for diploma courses all paid for by the state. The institutes offer a wide variety of courses including engineering, business studies, catering, agricultural studies among others.

One such training unit is The NYS Engineering Institute. It lies right at the edge of Mathare slums. Against the sprawl, the institute is spotless, grounds and gardens are well manicured. At the gate the security detail are thorough, smart and polite and as one drives in activities are muted as classes are on going. One would be hard pressed to see anyone of them slack always saluting smartly at any officers who come by their way.

“In the NYS programme we encourage our students to obtain a broader educational experience so as shape them into skilled, disciplined individuals when they leave here.” said Nicholas Ahere, Commanding Officer NYS Engineering Institute.

“At NYS we have uniformed and non-uniformed staff who deal with the daily routines of the school. The uniformed staff generally take up the role of ensuring that all the students are well-groomed, disciplined and that the general environment is spotless. Cleanliness is a sign of a less cluttered mind paving the way for the students to study in fitting surroundings. The non-uniformed staff are mostly civilian lecturers who take up the classes for the various courses we have.”

In more recent years, NYS programme has reached out to those who are from difficult backgrounds perhaps that of extreme poverty or orphans just as long as they can produce some documentary evidence at the recruitment drives.

Speaking to the Assistant Staff Officer in Public Relations, Inspector Enock O. Nyandege based at NYS headquarters he illustrates their pride they have of their students.

“Our students leave our programme and carry with them the sense of purpose in addition to their newly acquired skills and credentials. Some of them have moved to pursue military careers and we are proud to say that they have not misrepresented us. They have an edge from the training they receive from our Gilgil College and the further tertiary training means that they have meaningful skills and service to offer.”

A growing concern for Kenyan employers currently is the lack of discipline amongst most of Kenya’s Tertiary institutions which then transcends to the working environment. Nowadays, potential employers are increasingly seeking to find personnel who have a sense of self-discipline in addition to the basic qualifications of any job.

"We require that all our technical staff to attain formal tertiary training. We would be very keen as an organization to recruit from institutions like NYS as they have gone through rigorous rounded training and are far more likely to make hard working and balanced employees." said Anthony Wangondu, General Manager, Supply, Davis & Shirtliff.
The student’s most recent achievements are testimony of their potential. In the recently concluded Public Service week the students and lecturers from the NYS Engineering Institute Telecommunications class presented a “GSM Switch” an innovation that uses telephony technology to turn on and off switches by simply making a call.

“We encourage extra-curricular activities in a big way here. The students are very active with sports and drama inter-college competitions. We recently had the honor of receiving 45 certificates from the President at State House Nairobi for the Presidential Awards Scheme. I am very proud of my students they are truly high achievers.” said Vincent Otieno a lecturer in automotive courses, vehicle & engine technology also serving as the institute’s Drama Club patron.

The NYS programme also takes up the role of surrogate parents or guardians for many of the youth who have little or no chance in life to get good college training. From enrolment they are provided with the basic necessities like uniform, boots, bed linen, toiletries and all the girls are supplied with sanitary provisions regularly. In addition to this each of them receive Kshs. 500 stipend every month for personal use.

“Some of those we enroll come from extremely difficult backgrounds and have had a really hard time. We have full time counselors in the institutes both uniformed and non-uniformed who they can go to for advice or counsel. We also have VCT centres with peer educators who raise awareness on the HIV & AIDS testing, treatment and any other of their concerns.”

Institutions like NYS are therefore playing a major role in bringing up young Kenyans in a cohesive and nationalistic way. More support from the government should be directed to such ventures now more to enhance our efforts of bringing lasting peace and unity in Kenya.

NYS has received a lot of assistance from various foreign governments notably from Japan, Netherlands, Denmark and Germany who have been involved in construction or development of the various institutions countrywide. Last year, the Chinese government pledged Kshs. 4 billion worth of support to the NYS programme. Once this grant is available, it will go a long way in updating some of the obsolete books and equipment bringing up to date their coursework.

With more support, a large number of young Kenyans can have hope for training opportunities after completion of high school.

In our reflection of Kenyan heroes hidden quietly amongst us we commend the NYS programme and those individuals behind it. We appreciate and acknowledge their positive investment in the future generation of this great country.

Long live the NYS Programme; long live Kenya.