Researcher wins Fulbright grant to boost community engagement efforts in South Africa


COLUMBIA, Mo. — Growing up in poverty with five siblings in a rural village in Zimbabwe, Wilson Majee was the only member of his family to pursue a college education.

“Growing up in a family of severe deprivation, the early hardships of my life motivated me to seek educational opportunities and work hard to get out of poverty,” Majee said. “My family couldn’t afford college, but my resourceful brother and others helped me get through college. Having experienced poverty and hating it as a teenager, poverty ignited and fueled my desire to work in communities with limited resources, especially with young people. My heart bleeds for the millions of young people who live in conditions even worse than those I experienced in the first 20 years of my life.

Now an associate professor at the University of Missouri’s School of Health Professions, Majee has obtained a federal grant from the US Fulbright Program, which he will use to travel to South Africa for 10 months to conduct research. community engagement research aimed at stimulating community development initiatives. to help disengaged and vulnerable youth in rural areas.

Majee will also teach community development and occupational therapy courses to students at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. Since 1986, the UM system has partnered with the University of the Western Cape, one of the leading intellectual centers of the anti-apartheid movement, to advance mutual understanding between faculty at both institutions and foster cooperative education, research and service projects.

Majee studies the aggravating factors contributing to the growing number of young people around the world who are “not in education, employment or training” – a status known as NEET. According to the International Labor Organization, one-fifth, or 20%, of young people aged 15 to 24 worldwide have NEET status, and this number continues to rise. Between 1999 and 2019, the global youth population grew from 1 billion to 1.3 billion, but the total number of active young people in the labor force fell from 568 million to just 497 million.

“Across Africa, there has been a huge growth in the population of young people coming out of high school, but this has not matched the same generation of employment opportunities for these young people. So many end up on the streets, not doing anything productive without a job,” Majee said. “When you combine that with the high levels of poverty that already exist in rural Africa, these disadvantaged populations continue to fall behind, so there are compounding factors at play.”

Majee said her passion is to empower young people to become more productive and productive members of their communities. In a 2019 study, Majee found that community engagement efforts in rural areas and the establishment of strong mentorship programs can help connect vulnerable youth with opportunities and resources to improve their livelihoods and contribute to society.

“Identifying opportunities for rural youth to have their ideas heard and be included in decision-making processes and community programs helps not only at-risk youth, but the community as a whole,” he said. he declares. “We need to create opportunities for young people to stay positively engaged because everyone has something to contribute to their community.”

Majee also identified compounding challenges that limit advancement opportunities for disengaged youth in rural areas, including lack of higher education and employment opportunities, and poverty in a 2021 study.

“If a nation does not invest in its young people, that nation’s future will be bleak,” Majee said. “We often say that young people are our leaders of tomorrow, but if they lack educational opportunities and are unemployed, we create an environment that encourages criminal activities such as drug use, fraud and corruption. , or other crimes. We must therefore better understand these issues in order to better support these young people in difficulty.

Majee earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics from the University of Zimbabwe before coming to the United States in 2003 to pursue a doctorate at the University of Wisconsin. He worked in rural northwest Missouri for four years with MU Extension before joining the MU School of Health Professions as a faculty member.

“With my rural background, I was not shy when working for MU Extension in communities with very limited resources. Whether it is rural Missouri, rural Zimbabwe or rural South Africa, poverty is poverty, and I have witnessed the hardships that many rural communities face,” he said. declared. “I was the only black person in the northwest Missouri town where I worked, and it was tough, but my upbringing gave me the support I needed to work in those environments.”

Today, Majee teaches a “Health and Community Development” course to MU undergraduate students and an “Interdisciplinary Perspectives in Global Health” course to MU graduate students.

“Through my personal experiences and research background, I try to provide students with not only a theoretical understanding of the concepts, but also real opportunities for them to travel to their local communities and volunteer with organizations that help those in need,” Majee said. . “In any rural setting where young people want a more meaningful and impactful life, I want to provide resources, mentorship and education to help struggling youth contribute to their communities. We also need financial commitments from governments to increase access to higher education, jobs and health care so that young people feel more included in their communities.

In South Africa, Majee plans to collaborate with Lisa Wegner, a professor at the University of the Western Cape, as well as young people from Kouga Municipality in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It will continue its community engagement and development initiatives, including engaging Kouga Wind Farms to develop a five-year plan focused on youth engagement programs.

“Our previous research involved listening to rural youth in South Africa about their desires for various career aspirations, which helped us come up with additional ideas for interventions that could be very beneficial,” Majee said. “Whether it’s developing agricultural training programs, building cyber cafes or promoting masonry skills, we want to create opportunities and do what we can to support young people and help them lift themselves out of poverty. .

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