Zambia (MNN) — Zambia's Youth Day is all about opportunity.
Although the nation marked it on March 12th, it was a reminder that the nation's young people are important. The theme of the day was "accelerating youth empowerment for sustainable development."
As government officials and youth come together to talk about opportunities, they figure out how to work together and listen to each other. The conversations create a level of accountability for the adults for their decisions and actions that will impact the future for youth.
Parades, sporting events, and other celebrations mark the day. Christian World Outreach found itself with its own celebrations. President Greg Yoder says it was important since "it's typical of some of the African countries, looking at the youth and what opportunities are there for them for the future and just celebrating them, encouraging them."
However, the street youth are often overlooked or derided. On days like this, the contrast between the young men who have a future and the ones that don't is highlighted even more.
CWO staff in Zambia has a ministry to these "call boys"–individuals who assist in loading the public transportation at the bus stops. Each week these young men are invited to meet with CWO staff to share a meal, have a Bible study, and discuss hardships or concerns in their lives.
There has been a marked improvement in the lives of the young men who have participated in this program. The young men now believe they have something to contribute to society instead of destroy it, and their self-esteem and self-respect has increased. Some have expressed a desire to finish their education. Yoder says they're taking it seriously, too. "The young men, the nephews, voted to still have English lessons that day. After doing some English lessons, they did some fun activities and actually had some water Olympics."
The sports aspect of Youth Day celebrations turned out to be another teaching moment for the ministry team. Yoder explains, "One of the things with them being raised on the streets or having a really hard life: the competitive edge can be a little too intense sometimes." It's intense because it can mean the difference between life or death in some cases. "It's looking for a way to make a living and beat out anybody, so they've been able to teach them through some of their game times how to be gracious winners and losers."
It's teaching that incorporates the Gospel. Bible study is part of the lessons they teach, and over time, the love of Jesus Christ transforms these young men. That much was obvious on March 12, notes Yoder. "It was great to hear there were no fights during this competitive time of just playing with some water balloons. They actually encouraged each other in some of the events."
Part of the change can be attributed to the hope of the Gospel. Part of it is hope for a future, says Yoder. "One of the things that we do with the funds that are given is offer them the opportunity to continue in their education." The CWO program assists the boys financially through the education process. It's a "hand up" rather than a "hand out" because it's an important part of the road to true independence. Most of the boys come up with some form of their own tuition. However, Yoder shares, "One of the young men was just at that point where he passed some of the school exams but his family didn't have the money for him to continue on to school, so he was going to have to return to his village, which pretty much meant he would never go back to school."
Not finishing his education likely meant being stuck in poverty. Still, CWO figured out how to keep on encouraging him, says Yoder. "Because we could raise the funds, we were able to assist him to continue on with his education."
It's part of the holistic approach CWO has in Zambia. All of the young men receive medical care, food, encouragement, and support from the work of CWO in Zambia. Some of the young men are HIV positive and CWO comes along side these young men to be their advocate. CWO staff attend medical reviews, remind them of appointments, and provide them with protein rich foods to enable the medications to work properly. This encouragement is helping to reduce the stigma of HIV in a society that rarely speaks the words "AIDS" and is demonstrating Christ's love in a powerful way.
To sum it up, CWO has been acting on this year's Youth Day theme since it started working with these young men a decade ago. Within the scope of the Gospel, everything they do is about "accelerating youth empowerment for sustainable development."