Stephen is Kenyan and is currently working as a Youth Rights Advocacy Adviser with the Somaliland National Youth Organisation (SONYO) – an umbrella organisation - in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

What is your work background?

Before joining Progressio early this year, my work background was mostly focused on the promotion and protection of child and youth rights. I worked with the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) in Lusaka, Zambia, on a project enhancing children’s ability to be advocates of their rights. The project also involved building the capacities of community members and schools for child rights protection. Following this I worked with the ANPPCAN Regional Office on a similar project, but at a larger scale, as the project incorporated ANPPCAN Uganda Chapter and ANPPCAN Tanzania Chapter. I had previously worked with Action Aid International Kenya on a campaign (Yala Swamp Campaign) to safeguard the human rights to a livelihood, environment and land.

How would you describe yourself?

I stoutly believe in human dignity and the inherent and fundamental human liberties, freedoms and rights. This belief is informed by certain basic truths about human beings, the utmost being that human beings are created in the image of God. I endeavour, therefore, to live a life that is useful to humanity, and glorifying to God.

What inspired you to become a Development Worker with Progressio?

The opportunity to share my skills with others who require the skills and knowledge to change their lives. The philosophy of living simply, in solidarity and sustainably, especially towards being useful to humanity, also inspired me to become a development worker with Progressio, especially in Somaliland.

What made the biggest impact on you?

The impact of the sun’s heat on my face just as I stepped out of the plane is still very palpable. I had never before experienced the desert heat! Life in Somaliland is very different because I am now living among people of a different culture and religion, in a post-conflict area where I have to be accompanied by the Special Police Unit anytime I am travelling out of Hargeisa (the capital city of Somaliland). I have to be content with saying my prayers in the confinement of my house, since there are no churches/chapels. I have a VHF radio for daily security checks and ladies eat separately from men. This is really an experience for me, since I am learning so much that I knew so little about before.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The mentoring and coaching support I provide to SONYO staff and SONYO member organisations, especially for personal skills and organisational management development. The gusto to share and the learning among the youth is fascinating and indeed motivational.

And the biggest lesson?

Patience, humility and being open-minded.

What is the biggest development challenge facing Somaliland and/or the area in which you are working?

Somaliland is a (unrecognised) post-conflict country that has very weak governmental structures and frameworks. The role of the government in terms of service provision is largely performed by civil society organisations. What the civil society organisations provide is hardly sufficient, thus enormous reconstruction and development initiatives are in dire need.

Somaliland youth, despite being the majority segment of the population, are marginalised in decision making processes and action. Frameworks for youth participation in decision making processes that affect their lives are weak. In a highly patriarchal society, where the elderly dominate all the structures and constructs of decision making, the youth become very disenchanted and disenfranchised. There are severe unemployment rates, drug abuse is widespread (the chewing of Qat) and illegal immigration to Europe through the Arab peninsula is an ordeal that is really dehumanising, which nonetheless the youth are daring to undertake to escape the rampant poverty in Somaliland.

If you could change one thing, what would that be?

Somaliland people are ‘hostages to peace’. I would change the mindset of the international community to recognise the self-determination rights of the people of Somaliland, who have a home-grown peace model, and have proved their mettle as a living example for the many African autocracies that people’s voices in electing their leaders can be respected. These home-grown democratic rule gains in Somaliland need to be acknowledged by the international community. They are hostages to peace since more focus is placed on the anarchical and violent situation in south-central Somalia, and so many resources and efforts are focused in that direction, neglecting the people of Somaliland.

What strikes you most about Progressio’s Development Worker model?

The placement into a community-based organisation, a development agent, requiring skills and knowledge on how to empower people to gain power over their lives and overcome barriers that keep them poor. It is about providing support to the actual individual, community, organisation, and impact is immediate and measurable. Lives and minds are changed where it matters most, through skill-share, mentoring, coaching and advocacy. The model is also very cost-effective, a value for money approach. The development worker is not a consultant who will train for a few days/weeks then leave. The development worker provides day in day out support to partner organisations, follows up on that support and ensures the change is sustainable and has a ripple effect.

What is your favourite motto or saying?

“Love your neighbour as you love yourself” – Jesus Christ.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a development worker?

The experience is one of a kind – self enriching and empowering, besides also being fulfilling in the aspects of boldly, passionately and in solidarity contributing to human development, promotion of justice, equality, respect for human dignity and the right to a decent life.

Where do you see yourself once your placement has ended? And in what ways is this placement with Progressio assisting you to get there?

Well, by the end of my placement, I will be very much different! More experience! Enhanced knowledge and skills! Greater multicultural understanding! More success stories!

It is my plan to undertake a graduate degree in Political Science by research, and the research theme will be ‘The Dynamics of International Recognition and Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development’. The case study will definitely be Somaliland. My placement is affording me a great opportunity to meet, talk and interview key actors, local and internal, that are central to Somaliland’s reconstruction and development and the even greater political goal of international recognition.

I am recording very keenly my experience working with youth/youth organisations in Somaliland, the experience of living in an Islamic society, the challenges existing in post-conflict areas, and intend to put these into a book sometime in future. The experience is worth noting, every minute lived!

Is there anything else you would like to share?

The development worker is the human face of development practice and the fight against poverty. Financial aid is necessary for development, but placing skilled individuals into communities in situations of powerlessness and poverty, to together work towards improving their situation, gives a human face to the process. It is a human-based approach to empowering people to transform their lives. Progressio also works with people of all faith and none, and this dimension in essence means development work is a vocation – a transcendent dimension to human development. At the heart of Progressio’s development work is integral human development – “to promote the good of every man/woman and of the whole man/woman” – quotation from ‘Caritas in Veritate’ (Charity in Truth).