Fifteen Years Old at Age, but Young and Impassioned at Heart
The first blog post ever published on africaneducationprogram.org, titled “Welcome Friends of AEP,” was published on August 3, 2012. On this day, a large group of AEP volunteers departed for Kafue. Volunteer Ira Josephs wrote, “Expectations are high, both for the intrepid travelers and for the children waiting in anticipation at the youth center.” When the group arrived at the youth center, “hugs, smiles, and names were exchanged. Every second was exhilarating as we tried to soak in and remember every moment.” While a lot may have changed during these past seven years, this feeling rings true today.
Marie-Odile Savarit, longtime AEP Board Member and Volunteer, more commonly known as Momma Mario, said, “If you ask me the difference between AEP 10 years ago and now, I would say we went from a small mom and pop store to a big supermarket, but in the same time, AEP in its spirit remained the same.” The program has developed and evolved significantly over the years, and it shows in the numbers. Fred Kamanya, Manager of Academic Activities for AEP, reviewed the growth that the Scholarship Program, Nutrition Program, activities, and clubs have experienced.
Students having access to formal schooling is as important as the after-school activities provided at AEP’s youth center. The Scholarship Program, therefore, remains is a key component of the work done by AEP. Fred explained, “In 2010, the organization had granted about 100 scholarships to vulnerable youths. The following year it increased to 184; again the figures increased to 205 in 2012, representing over 70% increase within a space of three years.” Not only are more students being supported in their education, but more students are being provided with meals on a daily basis. In 2010, the Nutrition Program served less than 40 students. Today, the program provides lunch to more than 200 students daily. According to Fred, “this growth has deeply impacted student performance socially and academically as evidenced by the more than 80% pass rate in exams compared to the less than 50% national pass rate.” As the program evolves, student performance steadily increases. Not only are we able to provide opportunities for more students, but we now are able to be more effective in our work.
Despite the positive change that AEP has experienced, there is still much work to be done. Momma Mario spoke of the problems faced by AEP both 10 years ago and today. When the program was new, “we were identifying problems that our first members were facing: no money for scholarships, no food at home, health issues, teenage pregnancies, and so on. We often felt like firemen trying to put down a fire, trying to mitigate the most obvious problems.” Today, she said, “I cannot say that the fires are all extinguished. It would be unrealistic and so pretentious to believe something like that. But things have improved.”
Not only has the program seen improvements in its ability to offer scholarships and meals to students in need, but today AEP offers opportunities that extend far beyond the home and classroom. In 2010, AEP was proud to offer debate, drama, and poetry clubs. Today, the program is even prouder to offer more than five new clubs, including One Up for Girl Power, Spelling Bee, Story-Telling, Music, Art, and Creative Club. Fred cited student testimonials that indicate an improvement in “self esteem, social behavior, decision making, sense of judgement, and many more.”
With a new sense of organization, incredible staff dedication, and growing statistics, AEP has become more like the “Supermarket” in many ways. However, it has become so much more than that. Fred added, “Over 10 years of existence, the organization has evolved from what was seen and known as a very small organization into a very big symbol of hope for the communities of Kafue.” Part of the reason for this are the values and beliefs at the core of the program. These have, throughout the years, remained very much the same, as indicated by Momma Mario, “We are still the same because we never lost track of who we are and how we started. We still do know all of the students personally. We believe in empowering the youth through education and we now have results and success stories to prove it. We were small and clueless, we wanted to help, and we were not sure how to. We did learn, we did make a few mistakes on the way, but now when I see the success of the center, the students pouring in to participate, the alumni with jobs who are starting to sponsor some younger students, I am so proud of what we accomplished, all of us together: the students, the AEP donors, the volunteers and the great staff in Kafue: Joy, Fred, LuLu, and Febby, and of course Julie-Anne, without whom AEP would not exist.” And with that, a better conclusion than I could ever write, I would like to join Momma Mario in saying, “What a ride it has been, and the ride is far from being over!”