Alice Apiyo and Patrick Omony, both 15, were abducted from their villages by the Lord’s Resistance Army to fight in the 20-year civil war in Uganda. They were supported by a project in Gulu district which attempts to repair the trauma of their lost childhood and offering vocational skills for their future. Alice now wants to teach and offer counselling to young victims of war, while Patrick hopes to become a doctor. A 15-year-old rape victim has set up a support group at the project for young mothers like herself.
There are currently 16 Commonwealth Youth Ambassadors working in Zambia, eight of whom are HIV positive, whilst the remaining half have been affected in another way, such as living with a family member who has the illness. Putting on plays, writing poems, singing songs and making up games are among the methods they use to engage with the classes they take, which often contain upwards of 60 students.
When he was 15, Panko Musialike lost his father to the virus. Three years later his mother suffered the same fate, leaving 18-year-old Panko as head of the family with three younger sisters. Panko, who is now 22 years old, admits that when he found out his parents were suffering aged eight and for some time afterwards, he didn't fully comprehend the pending repercussions HIV and AIDS would have on him and his family. It was only when his father was forced to stop work and Panko began to nurse him that the stark reality and full horror of the situation fully presented itself. "When I teach, I put in what I went through and share my experiences to give students a better understanding on why we are fighting this pandemic. I want to make sure that as they grow my classes don't have to go through what I did."
Paul Lennard – a beneficiary of the Commonwealth Youth Credit Initiative - set up a bakery shop over three-years ago in Alness, a buzzing village in the heart of the County of Berbice on Guyana’s east coast. Before establishing his bakery business, Mr Lennard, now 39, would ride around local villages on his bicycle selling ‘popsicles’ to the local community. During this time he admits that although he knew he was turning over a profit, he never knew how much it cost him to make one of these ice-lollies. Since then his business knowledge has developed, through training he received on how to effectively operate a business, which was facilitated by the Commonwealth initiative after he successfully applied for the loan.
The Chifundo Youth Project, which has trained young people like Vincent in carpentry, tailoring and welding since 2002 has twice received recognition for its work from the Commonwealth Youth Programme. It was awarded Gold in 2005 and Silver in 2006 in the Commonwealth Youth Development Awards, which provided £3,000 and £1,000 in those years to help them continue their work. Among many improvements to their set up, this funding led to the establishment of a showroom for all of the designs made by the students like chairs and sofas. "My life is much better now, because working as a carpenter is the start of something exciting and it gives me financial freedom for where I choose to go in my life," explains Vincent Sakala, who works as a carpenter having been trained by the Project.
Youth and community workers who are attracted to the course, recent school leavers, police officers and government and NGO employees are also among the 50 students in Zambia who have passed the Commonwealth Youth Diploma since it was established in 2000 as well as the 30 students currently enrolled for the course.
These students go on to use the skills they have developed to propel them further in their current jobs or help them kick-start their careers working with young people. “When they have completed this programme it gives them a good grounding and equips them with the knowledge to work effectively with young people,” says Moderate Momba, Co-ordinator for the Commonwealth Diploma which is run out of the Zambia Insurance Business College Trust.