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Writing well is something that can enhance or enable professional success, and it begins with reading widely. Unfortunately, many children in Kenya aren’t able to cultivate that practice. There are many reasons for this, but the most basic of them is simply that children’s literacy levels are lagging behind what they ought to be.

In public primary schools, it’s not uncommon to find children who are unable read at grade level — and this limits their potential for academic and professional progress. According to a 2016 Uwezo report, 70 percent of children in standard three cannot do standard two work, while a staggering 8 out of every 100 children in standard eight have the same problem. A poor literacy and numeracy foundation in childhood can only translate to similar problems in adulthood. It’s no wonder, then, that a 2017 World Bank report found that more than 25 percent of tertiary educated adults could not “enter personal information into a document or identify a single piece of information from a simple text, even when it appears identically in the text”.

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While the challenge of unemployment is multi-faceted, this reality is no doubt behind the employers’ struggles to find skilled youth. The problem of both youth unemployment and youth unemployability will no doubt continue to persist if we don’t invest in laying a strong foundation for children.

What can you and I do about that? Glad you asked!

A program called G-United is offering young university graduates an opportunity to contribute towards cultivating child-literacy, while participating in an adventurous experience that challenges them to grow both personally and professionally.

The program is looking for youth aged 21-30 years who are willing to spend seven months away from home helping children learn to read. Youth volunteers are trained to deliver remedial sessions with children, and receive a modest monthly stipend every month to cater to some basic needs. Volunteers are accommodated by host families in communities across Kenya, which provides a cultural immersion opportunity: volunteers learn to live and interact with members of a different community over the course of 7 months.

While serving, volunteers are also expected to undertake community service projects, and past G-United cohorts have taken on the challenge with flair: initiating youth mentorship programs, carrying out tree-planting exercises, initiating health-oriented awareness campaigns, among other initiatives. In the process, volunteers gain transferable skills like communication, collaboration, time-management, project-management, and other skills, which can help them stand out as they transition out into the workforce.

If you are a young person who has had the benefit of a University education, consider paying that forward as you wait to find work, by applying for the program online. It’s certainly not an easy opportunity, and it will probably require you to step out of your comfort zone, but according to some volunteers, it’s a transformative experience. Life-changing, some would say.

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