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Creating opportunities for Kosovo's youth

Kosovo, June 11, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mercy Corps Kosovo  </span>
    Altone Ibrahim, 19, works as a finance assistant for a local Chamber of Commerce through a Mercy Corps-facilitated internship. Photo: Mercy Corps Kosovo

Kosovo is the youngest country in Europe, both in terms of its statehood and its demographics. Half of the country’s population is under the age of 25, and many of these young people depart for work abroad or are supported by relatives. It’s not easy to get a job here: in 2007, the unemployment rate hovered around 43 percent.

Nineteen-year-old Altone Ibrahim is a young woman from the ethnically divided municipality of Mitrovicë/Mitrovica in northern Kosovo. She recently graduated from a high school specializing in finance and accounting, but she has been unable to find opportunities to use her professional skills. There are very few chances for youth like Altone in Kosovo, which continues to emerge from the shambles of a war that happened a decade ago.

In response to this growing youth unemployment crisis, Mercy Corps recently launched a USAID-funded initiative called Supporting Kosovo’s Young Leaders (SKYL). The SKYL program, which began last year, supports young people from diverse communities to gain the job skills, experience and support they need to find future employment. Youth attend a variety of trainings and workshops, and are then placed in internships or apprenticeships with private, public or civic institutions throughout Kosovo.

Altone found out about SKYL in her home village of Kcic, applied and was accepted to be a participant in the program.

Initially, Altone attended SKYL negotiation trainings aimed at developing problem-solving skills among youth, giving them strategies to deal with differences and handle difficult conversations.

“Before the training, every time we had a problem, we reacted with a hot head,” Altone said. “But after the training, we understood that problems cannot be solved like that, and we have to see problems from the other person’s perspective and come to a solution that satisfies all parties.”

After that, Altone attended job skills training, where she said the most important bit of learning was how to write a resume. ”We had only heard that resumes exist, but we had no idea what it looks like and how to make one,” she said.

After the completion of trainings — and writing a resume for the first time — Altone began an internship with the Chamber of Commerce in Mitrovicë/Mitrovica. She was placed as a finance assistant, a role closely connected to her future dream of becoming an accountant.

Each day, her mentor guides her and provides the information and knowledge needed for her chosen line of work. In addition to technical advice, Altone’s mentor also advises her on career development.

The SKYL program has changed Altone’s life — and she’s eager to share that success with others. “I liked the program so much that I also convinced my two sisters to join,” she smiles.