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A youth skills revolution in Tanzania

Young woman learns tailoring skills in Tanzania VSO/Daphne De Souza

Youth unemployment in Tanzania is extremely high, with only 4% of school and university graduates securing work in the formal sector. A project supported by VSO is helping over 9,000 young people to access skills and training which has the power to transform their futures. 

When asked what advice she would give to other women in her community, Mwajuma, a young mother from rural Tanzania doesn’t hesitate: 

"Focus on what you want to be, don't worry about what other people think about or say to you."   

Mwajuma has benefited from training provided by the Youth Economic Empowerment programme © VSO / Daphne De Souza

Mwajuma trained in electrical installation.

Divorced, and with a five year old daughter to support, last year Mwajuma decided to take control of her own destiny. She applied to receive training as part of Youth Economic Empowerment (YEE), a VSO-supported project designed to improve economic opportunities for the country's youth.

Mwajuma chose to study electrical installation, completing a six month course from which she graduated last August.

Entering a traditionally male sector, she faced criticism and at times ridicule from others. Indeed, of the 16 students on the course, Mwajuma was one of only five women.

However, Mwajuma is now having the last laugh - having been immediately snapped up by TANESCO, the largest Tanzanian Government Electricity Supplier, to work on an electrical project in her village.

“Those friends [who doubted me] are now regretting that they did not also sign up to the YEE training,” she admits.

Her motivation and focus has always remained close to home though, explaining that she hopes for her own daughter to be able to grow strong and beat down gender expectations in the future.

Selma started a milk round to save money for a sewing machine. © VSO / Daphne De Souza

Selma started a milk round to save money for a sewing machine.


This powerful drive and determination to succeed despite the odds is mirrored by Selma Lluyava, another trainee. Selma had always dreamed of being a clothes designer, and graduated from a course in tailoring ready to build her own business.

As with many new business owners however, she initially found it difficult to grow her customer base. But with the support of the youth economic empowerment programme, Selma has not given up. She is part of a savings group set up through the project, and has begun selling milk in her community, aiming to save the profits and purchase a new sewing machine.

"Everyone needs milk in the mornings,” she notes, “and my milk round gives me the opportunity to promote my tailoring business at the same time."    

It’s clear that the project instils not just technical skills, but the vital softer skills of confidence and commitment.

Faki y Rashidi agrees, explaining that the leadership skills he gained on the course have been just as helpful as the vocational training in carpentry he received. He benefited from mentoring by professional established carpenters, and now his own business is going from strength-to-strength.

Faki is now well-known as an excellent carpenter © VSO / Daphne De Souza

Faki is now well-known as an excellent carpenter.

Faki comments, "Having an understanding of how other people live is the best attribute to good leadership". He is now well-known in the community for his carpentry business.

With young leaders like Faki, determined strivers such as Selma and boundary-breaking women like Mwajuma, it’s impossible not to feel excitement about the future of Tanzania’s young people.

By investing in the country’s youth, VSO is helping to pave the way for a country in which Mwajuma’s daughter can stand on her own two feet – and thrive.

About the project

As part of VSO Tanzania's Resilient Livelihoods programme, Youth Economic Empowerment (YEE) project aims to improve and increase access to employment opportunities and promote economic empowerment for youth. From 2015-2018 the scheme is contributing to reduction of poverty and exclusion among vulnerable groups dependent on the informal sector in Tanzania. 

The project is funded by the European Union (EU). It is being delivered by VSO in partnership with Plan International, Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation (CCBRT), Uhamasishaji Hifadhi Kisarawe (UHIKI), Community Development & Relief Trust (CODERT) and Vocational Education and Training Authority (VETA), targetting youth of five regions in Tanzania.

Project achievemnets to date include:

  • Over 8,000 young men and women have graduated from vocational courses, acquiring vital skills
  • 281 adolescent and young mothers were supported with childcare to empower them to take part in training courses
  • 267 youth savings groups formed, with a combined savings value of over 51 million Tanzanian shillings £17,000 (£16,849)

Find out more about VSO's work in Tanzania

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