Youth and Student Co-operative Forum 2010, Lesotho
The Co-operative College recently organised a trip to Lesotho to help facilitate the annual Youth and Student Co-operative Forum which is held at the Co-operative College in Maseru.
Teachers from the network of co-operative schools the Co-operative College works with in the UK had the chance to work alongside members of the interim board of the Lesotho Youth Co-operative Alliance, which is being established with the support of the Commissioner for Co-operatives and her colleagues.
The Forum, which was held from October 5-8, hosted 200 participants from 37 youth and student co-operatives in Lesotho, as well as representatives from co-operatives in South Africa and Botswana, who are contributing new energy, ideas and commitment towards the renewal of the co-operative movement in Africa. The conference discussed the globally shared co-operative values and how they should be applied both in youth co-operatives in Africa and throughout the co-operative movement.
Sarah Palmer, Community Cohesion/Policy Manager and Young Co-operatives co-ordinator at Fulston Manor School in Sittingbourne, Kent, said: “My experience helping facilitate the African Youth and Student Forum in Lesotho will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was the most fantastic week and I found each delegate extremely friendly and seriously wanting to learn from co-operative values and principles. I ran a fabulous group and we learnt so much from each other.
“The problems they have to contend with as a nation puts our local concerns into perspective and I felt very humble at their resilience and positivity. I managed to link up with a teacher from Lesotho and am in the process of getting our students here to write letters to their new friends.”
Joan Deakin, a teacher from Sir Thomas Boughey High School in Staffordshire, added: “It was a very humbling experience. Never before have I met so many genuinely happy people, who gave us such a warm welcome.
“The conference was a challenge and at times I certainly felt out of my comfort zone. However, it was clear that the co-operative values and principles could help the young people we were working with to work more co-operatively together and to empower them. The young people were not asking for donor aid but clearly wanted help to try and solve some of the issues in their lives, for example hunger and lack of resources.”
She continued: “The conference was built around the values and principles and they all embraced this. At the end of the conference, the atmosphere was one of empowerment and not being powerless. The experience has had a deep and lasting effect on my professional and personal life. I have shared my experiences with colleagues, pupils and friends raising awareness of the relevance of the co-operative values and principles within all our lives today. I certainly learnt a lot.”
On a continent where youth forms the majority of the population, youth and student co-operatives follow the co-operative tradition of self-help, providing means to job creation, income generation and poverty reduction.
Mervyn Wilson, Principal and Chief Executive of the Co-operative College, commented: “It was great to see such a strong demonstration of the co-operative values and principles in action in the youth and student co-operatives we saw in Lesotho. We hope the colleagues we brought with us from the network of co-operative schools in the UK will return to their own schools inspired by seeing first-hand the real difference co-operatives can make to the lives of young people, and lasting links will be formed with co-operators in other parts of the world.”
Among the co-operatives at the Forum was the Mapoteng Youth Co-operative from Lesotho, an entertainment co-operative which treated delegates to a performance. Mapoteng Youth Co-operative has forty members, most of whom are still in high school. They recognise the difficulty of finding jobs and see the co-operative as a means of creating their own jobs. The co-operative has performed at weddings, high schools and other functions, and invests its earnings in PA equipment, which it uses and hires out. The co-operative hopes to expand into savings and credit, as well as poultry rearing.
The Forum also heard from the Subeng Dinasure Co-operative, which used its profits to send four members to the conference, who will translate the materials and ideas they gathered from the forum to their local language when they return to the community, and use this to train their other members.
The Subeng Dinasure Co-operative, which was formed in 2006 in Hasimone village in Leribe District, about an hour’s drive from Maseru, uses the dinosaur footprints which are found in the local area as a tourist attraction. Seven of the twelve members are female and some are unemployed, whilst others do jobs such as cooking and domestic work. By charging visitors to view the footprints and providing guided tours, they create much needed jobs and income for youth in the area. The Chair of the co-operative is an artist, and the co-operative is also making handicraft goods like jewellery, as well as clay and paper-mâché models to sell to tourists.
Tsebanang Petros Makibi, the Chairman of the Co-operative, sees the co-operative as a vehicle to improve access to the area and they have worked with the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture to get road signs directing people to the village. The group has also identified other important cultural assets, including ancient bushmen’s cave paintings that need safeguarding and adding to the attractions for visitors and, in the future, hopes to expand by building bed and breakfast facilities for tourists to stay overnight.
LEDCON (Lesotho Entrepreneurship Development Conglomerate) Youth Co-operative started in 2007 and has its office at the Co-operative College in Maseru. The Chair recently completed her post-graduate qualification in Co-operative Studies at Moshi Co-operative University in Tanzania and the co-operative currently has 12 members aged between 25 and 28 who are university graduates in IT, Marketing, Accounting and Economics. The co-operative provides consultancy services related to members’ degrees and each member is committed to generating business for the co-operative and finding clients. The member then keeps 40% of the fees and 60% goes to the co-operative. This profit is reinvested in the co-operative rather than being redistributed to members.
The co-operative has recently launched an online information centre offering tips and guidelines on business development, travel and lifestyle. The website is being updated to cover online shopping, particularly for locally produced crafts and handicrafts, and will become a local search engine. The co-operative is hoping to increase the number of members, as membership of co-operatives is often low in urban areas because co-operatives are seen as linked to agriculture and not other business sectors.
These co-operatives, as well as others present at the Forum, show the importance of applying the co-operative values. Co-operatives need to display self-help to achieve together what they cannot achieve alone. Self-responsibility means not waiting for government or donor grants. Democracy involves playing a full part in the life of the co-operative. Equality includes overcoming barriers such as gender inequality and inequality for people with disabilities. Equity is being shown through distributing the benefits fairly and receiving equality from the wider co-operative movement. Finally, the Youth and Student Co-operative Forum, and international links with the UK Co-operative College, are both examples of youth co-operatives demonstrating solidarity.