Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future.

Nelson Mandela

Usually, when we think of education in Africa, we think of classrooms, teachers, and notebooks. We think of learning equations and vocabulary, preparing for tests and jumping through hoops to get to the next level of schooling.

Not long ago – maybe a hundred years ago – our ancestors would have defined education differently. They may not have known the word ‘education’ in English, but they knew all about learning. They taught children what they needed to know on their journey to adulthood. It may have been what, when, and how to plant crops and cook for the family and collect food. How to make clothes, build homes or deliver a baby. They learnt through life, more than through classes, but they learnt everything they needed to know.

Sometimes the idea of youth work can seem like a Western imposition. African parents and students often prioritise doing well in school, high grades in exams and keeping an eye on the prize: access to a good university that will lead to a good job. 

But youth work has deep roots in Africa.

Learning through doing, learning in community, and learning from stories is something that our grandparents would recognise as their own. Focusing only on learning for tests, without knowing how to apply that knowledge, would not be something they understood.

Youth work allows us to return to this tradition of preparing young people for their futures, ensuring that they have the skills they will need as adults, as well as the knowledge they gain in school.

We are focusing on women and girls

This guide shares the experience of female youth workers from South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. They are working with young women and girls from many different social backgrounds in their country, and want to make their learning available to other African women seeking to start or develop youth clubs.

We want this guide to inspire you to:

  • Get involved with youth work, if you haven’t done so before
  • Encourage young people and their parents that youth work is important, and to get involved
  • Understand why what you are doing is amazing, if you are already involved in youth work

Reflection Questions

  1. What knowledge or skills have you learnt from your elders outside the classroom, for example at home or whilst working?
  2. How do you use this in your daily life, home, and work?

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