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Empowered youth build stronger society

Iraq, April 2, 2012

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Salahadin in one of the hardest hit provinces in Iraq. Just north of Baghdad, services here are hard to come by and the security situation is often critical. But it is also the center of a groundswell of civic activism and organization.

Since 2003, 165 civil society organizations (CSOs) have been registered to reach out to a population of 1.2 million residents. Each month, more and more Iraqis join the ranks to help their fellow citizens. Through our SEAM (Supporting Effective Advocacy for Marginalized Groups) program, we’re providing financial and technical assistance to ensure that their efforts are successful and sustainable.

The groups work to address a wide variety of needs in the post-war environment. The Charitable Society of Iraq-Samarra, for example, was founded in 2004 by six youth who wanted to provide instant relief through food distribution and support for orphans.

More recently, the group identified a new pressing concern, and after six months of intensive training and $15,000 USD grant from Mercy Corps, they began a program that tackles youth unemployment through advocacy and livelihoods training.

Young people made up 38% of the population in Salahadin, and like other youth in Iraq, they face a reality with very little opportunity. Hundreds of youth are graduating from colleges and universities each year only to begin the journey of waiting forever for one of a few government jobs. Used to an unstable life, they say they’re wary to invest their money in a small business or join private enterprises.

We helped the Charitable Society of Iraq address these barriers by bringing in successful businessmen from the community to mentor the group on small business start-ups and proposals. While the security situation continues to be unpredictable, the businessmen encouraged the youth to take back some control by contributing to a strengthened community with their viable business ideas — many taking shape throughout the six month program based on the mentors tips for businesses needed in the area. At the end, participants were connected to banks and private loan sponsors to turn their ideas into reality.

While the larger question remains about how Iraq will continue to develop a strong democratic government in the wake of decades of repression and conflict, this group, like thousands of other CSOs throughout the country, are addressing one challenge at a time in their own community. And with one foot in front of the other, it’s amazing to see them slowly but surely opening doors of hope and opportunity for a better life.