Sometimes numbers speak louder than words. They also tell of countless lives destroyed by poverty, war, disease and the sense of hopelessness in the face of the AIDS pandemic now killing millions in Africa.
A United Nations 2005 study reports that every minute a child in Africa dies from an AIDS-related illness. Every minute, four people in the 15-24 age-group become infected with the killer disease.
The numbers tell a story of pending catastrophic consequences in Africa. That was one of the reasons Pat Zabiak, the director of youth action at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) was speaking in Montreal at the second annual conference on African development, hosted by Concordia University last weekend.
Zabiak delivered a quick, concise speech about the impact that youth has in the developing countries.
“Forty per cent of the world’s population is below the age of 20, she said, “And 85 per cent of these young people are in developing countries, where there are 88.2 million young people who are unemployed and have no hope of a livelihood.”
Her speech was in keeping with this year’s conference focus: “Connecting Global Youth, Confronting Global Challenges.”
“The impact that this has on the world is enormous,” she added. “Think about 88.2 million young people susceptible to HIV/AIDS and the numbers reveal a dismal story.”
In 2002, the World Health Organization reported that 34.3 million people in the world have the AIDS virus, nearly 25 million of whom live in Africa, of which 3.8 million of them are children under age 15.
Her second reason for speaking at the conference was to talk about how youth in developed countries can help improve the situation.
“We really believe that it is important that young people work with us,” she said. “Our clients really are you,” she told the audience of 300. “We want you, we want you to come and advise us. Your advice on programs that confront youth in developing countries is important to us.”
CIDA is Canada’s leading agency for development assistance. It has a mandate to support sustainable development in developing countries in order to reduce poverty and to contribute to a more secure, equitable, and prosperous world.
Every year CIDA sends 400 Canadian students to work with NGOs in developing countries. Students work on grassroots projects like teaching math and English at local schools, and also providing health assistance and repairing roads and houses.
“One of the focuses of our programs is to work with NGOs in developing countries,” Zabiak said. “Young people work with people desperately seeking a way to survive. It isn’t always easy.”
CIDA is expected to double the number of Canadian students it sends to developing countries by 2008. Over the next four years, CIDA will increasingly focus on the situation in Africa by sending more than 1,000 Canadian students to work there.
40% of the world’s population is below the age of 20
85 % of these young people are in developing countries
88.2 million young people are unemployed and have no hope of a livelihood