When Elijah was 12 years old, he became an orphan.
“I remember that day when my mother died. My father died earlier the same year. My world had crumbled. I looked at my siblings, who kept clinging to me as if fearing that I too would leave them.”
As the oldest in a family of four children, it suddenly became Elijah’s responsibility to take care of the family. But even with his new responsibilities, he refused to stop going to school because he understood how important education was to the future of his family.
“I did all sorts of small jobs and businesses, including selling chickens and vegetables for other people after class almost every day,” Elijah recalled.
But this did not continue for long because when it came time to start secondary school, tuition fees became too expensive. He could no longer manage to go to school and still feed his siblings. Elijah had no choice but to drop out of school. He was overwhelmed by his situation and became convinced that his last grain of hope had been lost too.
“After dropping out of school, life became meaningless and there was no help coming forth wherever I looked for it. Even relatives of my parents could not come forward. I could not blame them because they could not even send their own children to school,” Elijah said.
Elijah did not have any stable income and depended on doing work for neighbours for survival. However, one day Elijah was introduced to a youth group called Shiyala Youth Group.
“This day was different from any other day. In fact on this day I had a strange feeling, not of pessimism but of hope, like an imminent breakthrough of some sort,” Elijah said.
Shiyala Youth Group was given a loan by ChildFund New Zealand and a generous Kiwi donor as part of a youth empowerment scheme. The group members were trained on how to rear chickens for sale.
In Zambia, one-fifth of the population is aged between 15 and 24 years. This large group of youth is an important part of the country’s future, yet many are unemployed and at risk of becoming disengaged from their communities. ChildFund’s partner in the area, the Chongwe Child Development Agency, is passionate about ensuring that vulnerable youth improve their lives and prepare for a bright future. They ensured that Elijah learnt how to determine profit and loss and understood the importance of record keeping.
Elijah’s group has profited by almost NZ$1,900 after selling 1,200 chickens. This has allowed Elijah to achieve his dream of finishing his education. He started by attending classes during the evening and in January 2013, Elijah was selected to go to high school after sitting his junior secondary school exams. Currently, Elijah is studying hard in grade ten at Chongwe High School.
“At first I thought what the group was doing was useless, especially because my interest was just to go back to school. I did not connect poultry to school. Little did I know that livelihood skills are a key to raising money and coming up with viable business ideas. But what moved me was that I noticed a lot of changes in most of the things that I started doing. For example, my perception of life and the world changed. With that support my life changed a lot because I realised that I had the capacity to earn income in a respectable manner. Besides, I also learnt that it pays to work hard and that when you sweat for something it turns into sweet!’’
Elijah is able to pay school fees for himself and also for his three siblings. Elijah’s most remarkable achievement was the decision to join Shiyala youth group, which has helped him to achieve his dream of going back to school. He is able to guide his siblings through difficult times in life and his contribution to society makes him feel responsible both to his family and the community. Elijah hopes that his story will inspire other youth never to give up on their dreams.