One of the many impressive things I learned about while in Zambia was what a dedicated group of youth accomplished at the national level.
Young people in Zambia suffer from some of the same problems as our youth do here at home, including alcohol abuse. But Zambian youth had an extra temptation to fight against – alcohol that was sold in very small quantities at a very small price – the equivalent of 10 cents a packet! This product was specifically produced and marketed with young people in mind, including being fruit flavored. But this was not a child’s drink – some of the alcohol content was as high as 42 percent!
Unfortunately, the marketing was effective and young people were buying these small packets and getting drunk, sometimes before school. As one teenager said to me, “The packet was so small you could slip it in your pocket and no one would know you were drinking.”
When young people in ChildFund’s programs analyzed the bad choices they saw teens making and examined the factors that were contributing to these decisions—alcohol packets rose to the top. With the help of ChildFund staff, over the course of a few years they learned about advocacy and worked to educate their local elected officials and members of Parliament about the problems of teenage drinking and what should be done. Things came to a head last year when, unfortunately, a teenager died from alcohol poisoning. But the youth had done their homework and were successful in getting their government to ban the production and sale of these alcohol packets.
I met many, many impressive young men and women in Zambia. Although they were born into families living in poverty and have encountered many huge life challenges including HIV/AIDS, they are determined not to allow poverty to define them or their futures. I really got the sense that they are going places and, in the end, will lead very different, more productive and fulfilling lives than their parents.
Whenever I visit a ChildFund office overseas, staff and communities members always thank me, sometimes profusely, saying that a visit from the ChildFund CEO is motivating and inspiring to them. What they don’t realize is that I always feel I’m the winner when it comes to being inspired. They truly make my heart sing!
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