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Resilient youth seize opportunities, build their future

Liviane Urquiza's picture
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A portrait of Blessing Joe, 10 year old Ebola survivor, Liberia. 2016. © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

She was seven when she survived a night of horror. Her home in Nigeria was marked for an attack that night for belonging to the ‘wrong’ ethnic group. My friend and the rest of her family were destined to be killed.
 
But she survived. Her neighbors who noticed the mark alerted them and helped them escape at a time when their other neighbors were being executed and even burned alive. That night, my friend saw a man die in very violent circumstances. The shock was so intense that she could not speak for two weeks.
 
Over two decades later, she is no longer in danger and has now built a new life. As we sat listening to her mother retell the sequence of events that happened that night, my friend realized she had forgotten most of it. Now as an adult, living in the U.S. with her family, it was safe to recollect and recount the details of what had occurred.
 
Fortunately, memory is selective, and it allowed my friend to forget the painful experience until she was ready to cope with it. I find it fascinating to see how the human mind helps us survive intense trauma or adversity transforming the experiences into assets that aids us thrive in future.  “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and how better can I describe her resilience?
 
Seizing opportunity
 
According to a recently published Yale University study on young victims of the Syrian conflict, the reconstruction path of young people diverges depending on their capacity for resilience. The most resilient, will be able to seize opportunities such as pursuing studies. It also found that higher levels of resilience were associated with less stress and fewer mental health problems.
 
So how do we get these youngsters to be resilient?
 
Countries and communities’ resilience relies on the resilience of their youth. When these young men and women are able to develop their potential, prospects are improving for all, and poverty rates are falling.

According to the UN, there were 1.2 billion youth aged 15-24 years globally in 2015, accounting for one out of every six people worldwide. These numbers are growing, particularly in developing countries, where, in many places, young people represent 30 percent of the population.

The choices young people make determine the size, health and prosperity of the world's future population. Youth have many pressing needs. Nonetheless, we need a stronger and more coherent economic argument to invest in youth.

From natural disasters to economic shocks, overcrowding cities or health crisis, the World Bank Group helps countries anticipate and mitigate risks to which their economic and social development may be exposed. In other words, it helps them become more resilient.

Precariousness of children and adolescents is an important marker of a country's vulnerability. A precarious generation will find it harder to rebound in the event of a shock. Hence the importance of developing solutions so as not to abandon the potential of youth.

Frustrated aspirations in youth can lead to creating problems in societies, and countries won’t be able to compete in the global economy if they don’t invest. Collecting more and better data on adolescents is also critical for making these investments. The lack of reliable information on the effects of many investments in youth is the most important information gap.
 
For youth growing up while dealing with hardship, one might think, it basically comes down to watching all your dreams being wiped out, but that might be a major oversight. Let’s not forget that human beings have an extraordinary power: a unique ability to “get over” things, to be resilient.

 
Liviane Urquiza is the co-editor of worldbank.org/youth.
 

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