Going Bananas (in a Good Way)

I always get excited when I meet young people who are enthusiastic about the future.This week in Zambia, I’ve encountered so many youth who are gaining new skills through ChildFund programs, but, more important, they are immediately putting those skills to use.

ChildFund Zambia has an active Youth Empowerment Program (YEP), which was launched in 2010 with support from our alliance partner ChildFund Australia. The project seeks to raise income levels for 200 youth in the Luangwa and Chongwe districts.

To date, 150 youth have been trained in banana production, goat rearing and entrepreneurship. The youth are now managing a banana plantation on their own and have started selling the fruit to local supermarkets. Proceeds are being deposited in a local bank account. The youth in the collective share the profits—some are going back to school, while others are starting individual businesses. I met one young man, who after receiving our entrepreneurship training, immediately started his own vegetable garden. He’s growing vegetables to sell and he’s opened a small grocery. Impressive.

As I talked to these young men and women, it’s very clear that this project has changed their lives. They’re all justifiably proud of their accomplishments. Being part of this successful project has given the youth a status boost in their communities. They understand what it means to be empowered, and they are hopeful about the future.

I was pleased to see that group leadership is divided between the boys and girls. They are sharing power. And I was touched by the concern that the youth have for each other. I met 21-year-old Mashila, who became pregnant. Rather than asking her to leave the project, the other youth rallied around her. She now has a 4-month-old baby, but she has the means to feed that child. And she is continuing to gain employment skills that will ensure that she and her baby will have a better future.

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