Lydia, Get Into
Lydia (24) can transform plastic bottles into safety nets. As a project co-ordinator for a recycling firm, Lydia oversees initiatives to clear litter and boost recycling, while also creating jobs and security for people on low incomes.
‘We came up with a project that kills two birds with one stone,’ Lydia explains, ‘I’m proud that I’m putting smiles on people’s faces, creating jobs for others.’
Ghana’s capital Accra is a bustling and fast-growing metropolis. But waste management infrastructure has not kept pace with the city’s rapid growth. Across the capital, mounds of plastic packaging clog up waterways, pollute neighbourhoods and provide a breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Step-by-step, day-by-day, Lydia and her team are working to change this.
An ethical career
Lydia studied economics and philosophy at university, then did her one-year compulsory national service. After another two years supporting her mother through an illness, Lydia was able to start thinking about launching her own career.
With a keen interest in development issues, Lydia wanted to pursue an ethical career. So she signed up to our Get Into programme in Ghana, which focuses on helping young people enter green trades.
Designed by Prince’s Trust International, and delivered in Ghana by Youth Opportunity and Transformation in Africa (YOTA), Get Into is an employer-led training programme. The content varies depending on the sector – a mixture of general employability skills and technical, sector-specific knowhow, followed by a work experience placement. Each step of the programme paves the way for the next.
Lydia explains that although she is a natural extrovert, before she joined the Get Into programme, she had become withdrawn and detached. After two years as a carer, away from a workplace, Lydia found the training sessions extremely useful, both in sharpening her skills and rebuilding her confidence. ‘When you’ve not done things for a while you realise that ‘I’m rusty here, I’m rusty there, let’s polish this up,’ she explains. ‘YOTA did the polishing for me.’
Lydia recalls how hands-on activities – such as building a castle out of newspaper – gave participants the chance to practise the teamwork and communication skills they had learned in theory. She describes how the skills sessions prepared her for the work experience placement, which provided her first real-life experience of community engagement work.
From plastic bottles to safety nets
Lydia explains that many people in Ghana survive on low incomes, so if a parent or breadwinner falls ill or dies, vulnerable families are immediately plunged into extreme poverty. But most low-income families can’t afford the insurance cover which would provide a safety net in times of crisis.
During her placement, Lydia worked on a project to roll out insurance protections to low-income quarry workers, giving them the opportunity to ‘buy’ life, health and accident insurance products by collecting plastic bottles for recycling, instead of paying cash. ‘The lowest levels of cover start at 55 bottles a month,’ she explains.
A pathway to leadership
Lydia’s communication and networking skills, ‘polished’ by her pre-placement training and honed through weeks of on-the-job practice, clearly impressed her bosses. When she finished her placement, they immediately offered her a permanent job leading a team.
Lydia now oversees a range of green projects which involve different corporate, community and government partners. Examples include installing recycling bins at train stations and employing vulnerable women as waste collectors. She also coordinates her firm’s corporate social responsibility initiatives, such as providing free period products for adolescent girls, so they don’t miss school during their monthly period.
‘The training covered everything we needed to know and it was tailor-made for the internship and the job. Each step was a perfectly smooth transition,’ Lydia explains. ‘This programme gives you an excellent toolbox which you can carry around with you wherever you go.’
And Lydia hopes to go far. Her ambitions are wide-ranging, from creating green jobs in her own community, to supporting teenage mothers to thrive, from pursuing her Masters’ degree in development studies, to speaking at the United Nations.
‘I’m very, very passionate about people because I believe that change lies with people,’ she explains. ‘I believe that when people change, nations change. When people change, the environment changes. Each person is just one of many, but you have to start with little steps.’