One of the best things about living within the very communities I work with is the opportunity to see growth as it happens in real time. This is very true of Chalimbana Youth Network, a group of 20 young men and women, some of whom came to me during the very first month of service at my site and told me that they wanted to establish a space for them to learn and gain skills for their future. They chimed in sync that learning beyond the classroom or even beyond the village was something that couldn’t be grasped. Family obligations, delivering newborn babies, cultivating fields, herding cattle, building huts… the list continues. These inherited (and often times inescapable) responsibilities didn’t allow them to venture far from home to obtain what they truly desired: continued education, training, and advancement. Their passion for learning motivated me to create tailored lesson plans and trainings, and within two weeks, we starting learning together as the Chalimbana Youth Network.
It is now almost March 2016, 6 months since we first met, and I’m happy to share that the Chalimbana Youth Network has grown in more ways than one. Yes, the size of the group grew from 6 to 20 members, but the real magic and growth lies within the confidence and self-efficacy of these young men and women. In just 6 months time, they’ve learned how to organize and mobilize as a community based organization, how to create and write a constitution, and how to apply for and open up a bank account. Most recently, they received an introduction to small business, where income-generating activities were shared and some best practices for small businesses were discussed, including how to create and interpret a budget.
Last Friday, February 19, 2016, I rolled up my lesson plans and flip-chart paper, hopped on my bike, and headed to meet the members of Chalimbana Youth Network, second guessing what I had planned for the day. I thought, “It’s only been a week since you taught them budgeting. How are they going to get into small groups, create a business plan, and propose a budget?” I learned quick never to second guess this group ever again.
Sixteen members were present that day, splitting themselves into groups of four. I gave them the assignment and instructions and when I called them all back after an hour of planning and teamwork, I found myself listening to very organized presentations on four specific small business proposals: 1) Poultry Cooperative, 2) Garden and Produce Business, 3) Charcoal Business, and 4) Baked Goods. And their budgets and balance sheets? Flawless***.
Chalimbana Youth Network will be continuing their learning next month with a series of workshops on grants and scholarships, allowing them to utilize their budgeting skills in a different context. The hope is that by the time I finish my service in Zambia, these young men and women will be equipped with enough knowledge to not only seek funding opportunities, but to be able to apply for (and be awarded) these grants and scholarships that can be life-changing.