By Lindelwe Mgodla
Harare April 1, 2014- Three Zimbabwean teenage students – Brian Sibanda (Bulawayo, 17), Joseph Lansburg (Mbare, Harare, 15) and Rufaro Kabasa (Mbare, 15) – left Zimbabwe last Saturday and will participate in a leadership exchange program in the United States. The program is designed to foster understanding between African and American youth. The students will spend three weeks in the Washington DC, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois with 24 other African students.
“Each of these students has been part of a two-year long English Access Microscholarship Program we support,” said Jillian Bonnardeaux, Assistant Public Officer of the U.S. Embassy. “We are excited that they have proven themselves as leaders in their communities and that they will now engage with other young African student leaders to discuss issues affecting their communities and determine innovative solutions together about how they would like to shape their futures.”
The Pan Africa Youth Leadership Program (PAYLP) is an initiative by the U.S. Department of State designed to foster understanding between African and American youth leaders. It seeks to develop a network of young adults with strong leadership skills, an understanding of participatory democracy, and a commitment to fostering mutual understanding between different ethnic, religious, and national groups.
The teenage students will be escorted by Sibongile Mbanje, a chaperone at the Hope for a Child in Christ Foundation (HOCIC), a Christian organization based in Bulawayo. Since 2012, HOCIC has implemented the English Access Microscholarship Program (Access), designed to assist disadvantaged 14–18 year old students improve their English language skills and confidence.
Landsburg and Kabasa have participated in the Access Program through the Chiedza Child Care Centre based in Waterfalls outside Harare since 2012. The Access Program initiative began in 2004 by the U.S. State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Since its inception in 2004, over 70,000 students in more than 85 countries have participated in the Access Program.
Upon their return from the U.S., the young leaders will identify problems in their respective communities and use the knowledge gained from the program to develop and implement community based solutions. During their pre-departure orientation, the teenagers shared many of the same concerns for youth, including early and unwanted pregnancies, widespread unemployment, and HIV/AIDS.
Brian, a Lower Six student from Maranatha High School in Bulawayo, says he wants to initiate community-based projects in his Nkulumane community. “As a leader in my community, the whole community is looking up to me… I will use this opportunity awarded me to spearhead community changing projects. You talk of unemployment in Zimbabwe which is prevalent in Bulawayo where I come from,” he said. “You talk of ignorance of HIV and early teenage pregnancy, those are all issues we will try and articulate and address.”
Rufaro said she wants her projects to focus on young women in her community and helping them acquire more education. “I want to help youths in my community, especially girls, to focus on one thing – education – and be confident in everything they are doing.”
Joseph, who says he wants to be a pilot, said “as a leader in my community, I would like to encourage young girls and women to let go of teenage pregnancies.ZIMPAS