How Impoverished Youth Learn to Give Back

Humanitarian organization Children International reports that fifteen-year-old Chengo from Lusaka, Zambia, has turned his life around through the Children International Youth Program.

Raised in an extremely volatile community, he lost his father at a young age; few expected him to escape this terrible cycle of poverty and violence. Yet, in 2009, 12-year-old Chengo participated in the United Nations International Youth Day in New York City.

Today, Chengo is in high school and plans to study political science in college. His biggest dream? Returning to the United Nations as a diplomat.

Chengo credits Children International for the positive track his life has taken. “I would like to say thank you to Children International for the opportunities they have given me, the opportunities that have opened in my life.”

Showing his knack for leadership, Chengo was part of the Youth Council and helped bring new latrines to his community. “As a Council, we decided to use the Youth Fund to construct a public toilet facility at the Kanyama Government Clinic to help improve on sanitation. Many sick people go to that clinic and we thought that the latrine would help contribute to the promotion of health.”

The Lusaka youth funded the Kanyama latrine project with the Youth Empowerment Fund – annual funds which Children International Youth Councils use to alleviate problems in their communities.

Under the guidance of agency staff, youth identify community needs, create project proposals, then plan and implement the projects. These projects teach children project management, leadership, creative design and budgeting.

Chengo’s success is not isolated, says Children International. Last year, Children International Youth Councils planned and implemented 94 project proposals worldwide.  And their experiences led teens participating in Youth Program to report – 87 percent – that they have greater ability than their non-participating peers when it comes to leadership, reaching their goals, solving problems, staying positive and healthy, and supporting themselves economically. This confidence empowers youth to not only escape their own poverty, but to improve their communities.

Jim Cook, Children International president and CEO, says, “We are proud of all our youth. Stories like Chengo’s remind us how important our Youth Program is to helping youth overcome the hurdles that keep many of their peers trapped in poverty. These programs certainly support the United Nations Millennium Goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.”

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Rakesh Raman