We are excited to feature the African Education Program as our Nonprofit of the Month for July. The African Education Program is making an incredible impact on youth in Zambia. But you don’t need to hear it from us, read more about their work in our interview with their passionate, dedicated staff below.
How did the African Education Program (AEP) get started?
AEP was conceived in 2002, when four Radnor High School sophomores decided they wanted to support students affected by poverty and AIDS ravaging Zambia.
Founders Hillary Bridges, Sarah Hayes, Christian Mark, and Julie-Anne Savarit-Cosenza started their work with school supplies, computers, and clothes they collected, sorted, and shipped. Within two years, AEP was registered as an official 501(c)3 charitable organization in the United States. Through their native-Zambian soccer coach at the time, Dave Chalikulima, the founders connected with his brother Amos who lived in Kafue, Zambia and became the founders’ contact on the ground and their host in 2005.
Inspired by their African peers, and responding to their plea for a space that would provide an educational, creative, and safe environment, AEP worked with local leaders and the youth themselves to open its first community youth resource center in August 2006. Amos Youth Centre (AYC) now provides daily programs to over 400 youth and is a registered non-governmental organization recognized by the Zambian Ministry of Home Affairs.
What is AEP’s mission and how does your team continue to work toward achieving it?
AEP’s mission is to empower the youth of Zambia through education and leadership to break the cycle of poverty in their communities.
Our team continues to work toward achieving this mission by simply seeking to bring hope to each vulnerable and impoverished youth that comes into our program, opening doors for them to become empowered, educated, innovative, critical thinkers, and responsible citizens. Our goal is to create change in Kafue, and Zambia at large, through each individual student, by inspiring them to be change agents themselves.
Our team continues to listen to and work with the youth to adapt our programs and create new programs, so they have access to all the resources and tools they need to succeed.
Can you tell us about the different programs AEP offers?
The youth centre in Kafue provides 400 youth daily access to academic tutoring and lessons, extra-curricular clubs, and counseling so that students can build capacity in academics, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, self-esteem, health, volunteerism, and leadership. By moving beyond the curriculum taught in local schools, the programs at the youth centre empower our students to be educated and critically thinking global citizens and leaders eager to eliminate poverty in their communities and nation.
We provide scholarships to students who cannot afford to continue their education. We started this program in 2007, awarding 25 scholarships. In 2018, we awarded 229 high school (120 girls and 109 boys) and 39 college and university sponsorships (with 10 more students starting later in the year). Over the years, we have awarded over 1,800 individual sponsorships and currently have 50 university and college graduates.
To mitigate hunger, daily meals are provided to our most vulnerable students. Over 160 students are currently provided a meal each day. They enjoy Nshima or rice and sides of chicken, beans, soya pieces or dried fish with vegetables. Attendance at school has increased and performance improved for beneficiaries. Several of the youth are HIV-positive and take ARVs known to be tough on the body without food. Benefits go beyond feeding by promoting nutrition and healthy living.
Who do the AEP programs serve?
AEP’s programs serve vulnerable and impoverished youth in Kafue, Zambia. Many of these youth have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Some are also victims of the virus themselves. Many of them now live with older siblings or grandparents, alone, or are actually themselves are the head of household.
Our staff and volunteers go far beyond just facilitating our programs and youth center in Kafue, Zambia. Everyone is invested in the well-being and growth of each student. How do we make sure the students are as invested as we are? A lot of work goes into selecting our scholarship recipients. In fact, six months of evaluation takes place before scholarships are awarded.
We do not believe in investing in strangers. To be awarded a scholarship, students must be active members of the youth center in Kafue, taking advantage of the resources provided, and taking part in the clubs and activities. They must also be vulnerable and otherwise would not be able to attend school if they did not receive a scholarship. This is to ensure that students at most risk for dropping out are given the opportunity to pursue their education.
Six months before the new school year starts, students have the opportunity to apply for a scholarship and are interviewed by the center’s staff. Home visits are then conducted for each of the student applicants to verify status as an orphan or vulnerable.
How do AEP programs impact communities?
AEP’s programs impact communities by opening doors for the youth to become leaders and change agents themselves.
With limited resources, AEP already has a strong track record of lifting its most promising members out of poverty by supporting them through college. This has changed the trajectory of their individual lives and those of their families.
Through our Alumni Program, we then provide opportunities for graduates to give back to the organization, younger members, and society.
But, we not only seek to create Zambian leaders, but thought leaders in their areas of interest, pushing boundaries and promoting change. And we are already seeing students in action.
For example, University graduate Febby Choombe wants to change the education landscape for students with special needs. Nursing college graduate Mirriam Mambwe wants to change the way women have access to reproductive health.
Are there any current developments that AEP is working on?
First and foremost, AEP is working on building its long-term growth and sustainability. We seek to diversify funding sources and gain more local Zambian funding support for our work. Secondly, we seek to build a state-of-the-art facility in Kafue. We plan to launch a capital campaign in 2019.
Finally, we are always improving our programs or developing new ones. We seek to launch a new reproductive health program for all students to become active agents of change beyond the youth center. The weekly program will focus on deeper awareness building of reproductive health issues affecting their lives, as well as their reproductive health rights, in an effort to continue to combat early pregnancy and HIV/STI infection. The program will focus on empowering each youth to become a peer educator/advocate so that their peers, family members, and the broader community can have access to the same information. In order to parallel the efforts of the youth, the organization seeks to hire a nurse to run the program and so that the youth have a safe and friendly environment in which to access consultation and direct distribution of contraceptives.
How can people get involved?
AEP invites volunteers to help with their efforts in Zambia. If you are interested in helping, please visit the African Education Program‘s site to read about all of their ongoing volunteer projects.