Interview with Mark Okello from Youth Initiatives Tanzania

Written by Saara Kanula (Finland) (Originally published on May 6, 2014)

Youth initiatives Tanzania (YITA) is one of the most vibrant and committed youth organizations addressing the challenges facing young people in slums around Dar es Salaam. YITA’s mission is to facilitate socio-economic empowerment of young people in informal urban settlements through supporting up and coming entrepreneurs and youth who are getting involved in politics and decision-making.

YITA is funding itself by producing handmade sandals. They have collaborated with Art in Tanzania’s Fair Trade project which have their sandals on sale at the Fair Trade shop in Dar es Salaam. YITA was founded in 2009 and Mark Okello is one of the founding members. I had a chance to speak with him and was very impressed with his work.

Fair Trade Tanzania

Mark Okello is one of the founding members of YITA.

How did the idea of YITA originate?

I developed a passion for working with young people in 2007 when Idecided to join Tanzania Youth Coalition (TYC), there I worked as a volunteer up to 2009 beforeI teamed up with some of my friends to form Youth Initiatives Tanzania. My main idea was that, while TYC and other organizations are doing so much in policy analysis and advocacy, there is still a group of young people left out who do not necessarily need the policy analysis for them to see a change. They are more in need of practical training that has a direct impact on their daily income. This is what prompted me to start working withYITA to see this become a reality.

What kind of challenges do you face in your work in YITA?

One of the biggest challenges I face working with YITA is that I am a typical volunteer, meaning I don’t have any financial benefit from this. Another challenge is the fact that I feel that there is a very big need for more organizations like YITA in Tanzania – unfortunately we cannot solve all the problems by ourselves. The mentality of young people is also challenge, when they see me as a solution to their problems and not a facilitator to the solution of their problems.

Sandals are made from old car tires.

What has been the most impressive moment in your work in YITA?     

I am happy to see young people develop and make positive steps after my engagement with them. I have received calls from various young people thanking me for touching their lives in a special way through YITA.

YITA is funding itself by producing handmade sandals. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of making them?

We make our sandals from old car tires, leather, Kitenge (a locally produced clothing material) and Masai cloth. We have trained 11 young people from a slum we have been focussing on called Manzese to make the sandals. The main aim is to create employment for young people who are living in the slums around Dar es Salaam and it also acts as a fundraising activity for YITA.

How do you see the future of youth living in slums?

There is much to be done by our government to uplift the youth living in slums – the future does not look very bright. Unless like-minded organizations join hands and minds to figure out how to help with the challenges that are faced, there is not much to be expected from young people living in slums.

How do you see YITA’s future?

Youth Initiatives Tanzania has a good future ahead. We are working towards establishing sound financial stability and the capacity to undertake the activities that we have planned.

More information about YITA:

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