Lusaka Young People Take the Lead

2 girls with arms around each others necksFinding yourself in charge of your siblings and the household is a lot to handle when you're a teenager. But that's exactly the situation many African teens find themselves in when their parents die from HIV and AIDS related illnesses. When  five young people living in the Matero compound in Lusaka, Zambia faced this challenge, they quickly decided they’d fare better by supporting each other. They started meeting regularly and it wasn’t long before their support group turned into a series of programs for other youth in their community. As their support group continued, the reality of need surprised even them. Instead of support, they began to see the problems as a need for fundamental human rights. They organized themselves and took on the name, Youth for Change or YOCA.

They now build coalitions with families and communities to respond to the needs of orphans and vulnerable children. A lot of their work is bringing the facts about HIV and AIDS to communities, helping children go to school, emotionally supporting children without their parents and adjusting to their new role in the family. They also provide a food-nutrition program to alleviate extensive malnutrition and a micro-finance and business development program to help women establish small businesses.

young girls carrying child siblings

YOCA very quickly came to understand that to improve children’s well-being, their first step was to engage other community members. They saw that it took just one meeting for those in the community to see the extent of the problem and then develop a sense of urgency to find a solution. People were eager to be part of the answer. Community members lamented that efforts to work with police on issues of abuse had been challenging.

The leaders of YOCA explain,“There are no clear child protection mechanisms in the community to report and handle cases of child abuse or child neglect. Knowledge of Child Rights and identifying abuse are very low. There is no follow-up for child abuse perpetrators and so they go without any action taken. NGO’s, Government and other implementing partners do not have much collaboration and coordination that exist to trickle down to the community to handle and follow-up child abuse cases. The situation is further exacerbated by lack of child participation in prevention and mitigation of child abuse programs in communities. Cultural norms still exist that hide child abuse cases and as a result the problem continues.”

Firelight has supported YOCA since 2007 and recently brought this group together with our other Zambia grantee partners who work on issues ofchild protection. This opportunity gave YOCA a chance to learn from established organizations who had well-developed programs. The learning was rich and the dialogue was at times challenging. But the opportunity to understand the various challenges that these organizations faced, and how they overcame them, made this young organization even more determined to address issues of child abuse in Matero.

Their next step was to complete a community planning effort, guided by the knowledge and experience of Firelight Country Program Consultant Louis Mwewa. Louis had worked on issues of community engagement efforts for many years and had recently convened a stakeholder meeting of organizations in Zambia to develop guidelines for protection of children within the legal system. This depth of knowledge and experience was further enhanced by his experience in supporting organizational development of community-based organizations.

YOCA is now forming child protection committees and working with police and legal service providers to address the prevention of abuse. Along the way, Firelight will continue to provide resources. In fact, this is where Firelight makes a difference, working with organizations, such as YOCA, who have identified a community-level issue of child abuse and need support to develop a holistic program that is integrated into their overall efforts to improve child well-being. YOCA’s program of support will continue to expand and develop over time as they strengthen their knowledge and skill set about the particulars of what will be successful in their high-poverty, urban community.