"A proud citizen, I love my country and I respect its laws. I am an example for the generations. With courage, I'm working hard to train and serve the nation. My work will be rewarded with success," chanted in unison the first trainees to graduate from the CCAD in Bimbresso, 20 kilometres west of Abidjan. The theme tune of a new life.
Jean Donald Diarra, former drug addict, petty thief and persistent brawler, was reluctant at the beginning, but he nevertheless saw it through to the end. Today, he is completely transformed: "Since he came to the centre, there has been a huge change. In his behaviour, the way he talks, even the way he looks has changed. Before, you couldn't look him in the eye," says his sister Fatou.
An exploit that was never doubted by Lieutenant Paratian Yeo, deputy head of the civil centre funded with AFD via a Debt Reduction-Development Contract (C2D): "The aim was to give these youngsters a structure to show them they are respected and how to be respectful themselves. Mission accomplished!"
From March to December 2018, these 250 young men (men only), aged 15 to 26, were trained in citizenship and civic responsibility, but also to practise a trade. The CCAD's first volunteer trainees also acquired their driving licences and the national first aid certificate. They spent the nine months boarding at the centre, with as their sole contact with the outside world the head supervisor, who would occasionally let them make a phone call from his office.
Here they talk, live and breathe discipline. These are volunteer gendarmes who have been trained in a social approach by the NGOs that oversee the project. In spite of this strict setting, which some will prefer to leave, a feeling of belonging is created and a complicity develops between the youngsters and the staff (male and female). Little by little, the communal life in the centre becomes a springboard for these young men.
This centre has enabled us to walk straight, to set ourselves goals, to turn our shortcomings into opportunities, to have dreams and, above all, to like work and its many virtues, by doing something with our hands. It's a legacy that will stay with us, as we occupy an honest job, enabling us to gain our social and professional autonomy.
For Jean Donald, the former juvenile delinquent, the future is looking promising: "Before I was doing too many bad things, weird stuff, but now that's all behind me. We came here to change, to get a better life. I can't wait to start my building electrician's placement and to show my family, who I've often disappointed, the person I've become," admits the young man.
A trade and a new life
Kévin Gnahoulé (photo opposite), aged 25, is training in metal construction. Before, he was a security guard in Marcory, a suburb of Abidjan. Recruited to learn on the job with no real qualifications, he heard about the civil centre from a neighbour. Married with a child, Kévin was not interested. How could he give up his salary, which might have been lower than the minimum wage, but nevertheless allowed him to support his family, for a training course? Never! And yet he signed up in the end on the advice of his neighbour and at his wife's insistence. He was picked.
Kévin therefore gave up his job and "embarked on the unknown". So as not to leave his wife and daughter with nothing, he sent them virtually all his quarterly grant. "It's for them that I'm here," he admits, a tear in his eye. "Before coming on the course at the CCAD, we were unruly, aggressive, reckless and undisciplined. The centre has got us back on the right tracks. This project has changed our lives. And I want to continue with what we've been able to accomplish here," he says, proudly pointing to the grilles, gates, stoves and other things he has made with his own hands.
The 218 former CCAD trainees will be starting their placements at the beginning of 2019, thanks in particular to partnerships with the National Chamber of Trades. Like them, hundreds of other young Ivorians will benefit from the same scheme. CCADs have been or are being built in Sassandra, M’bahiakro and Bouaké. At the latter, girls will also have the opportunity to give their lives new meaning.