Samuel Mwanamundu, a tall, slender young man with a confident walk and an intense sense of direction, came by to borrow my camera. "We are having a sports day and I want to get pictures of the kids in action. Then I will put them in an email to send to our supporters." The event was sponsored by the Zambian Institute for Youth Development, an organization Samuel has helped establish. Its purpose is to involve street kids and other vulnerable children in activities that will develop life skills and equip them for independence and self-sufficiency.
Samuel, age 21, knows firsthand what these children need. He lived on the streets for awhile. He knows the risks, the attractions, the desperation, and the exploitation that are part of that life. Kids end up on the streets for several reasons. Some are orphans. Some have fled abuse or neglect. Some are on the streets during the day to earn money for their families and go home at night with food or supplies.
Samuel was born in 1990 in the northwestern part of Zambia. His father died before he was born, and his mother succumbed to TB when he was 6. He and his younger brother were taken in by their grandmother. There was not enough money to pay school fees, so he went out on the streets to sell matches and paraffin. His great-uncle then took him in so he could go to school. Unfortunately, the uncle drank heavily and mistreated him. After 8th grade, when he started to resist the beatings, the uncle threw him out ("chased him away" as they say here). On the street, he slept in the bus depot and tried to find odd jobs so he could feed himself. Some days he was hungry, and many days he was afraid. Someone told him about Victim Support, so he went there. They took him to Salem Children's Village, an orphanage. There he attended grades 9 and 10, but the orphanage ran out of funds and closed. A church offered him a place to sleep for awhile, and he encountered a missionary who helped find a sponsor to pay his school fees so he could finish grade 12. He passed all the national exams.
When I met him last year, he was living in a shed about the size of a typical bedroom. The shed was behind a house and contained a bed, a table, a chair, and all Samuel's belongings, mostly clothes and books and eating utensils. He had a goal, to go to Bible College. He said his faith is what has helped him survive and grow and he believes he can help others through becoming a pastor as well as through work with the Zambian Initiative for Youth Development. He felt the strong call to ministry when he was living in the orphanage.
Samuel's story could be told over and over here in Zambia. He was fortunate in not staying on the streets too long, and on finding sponsors and organizations to help him. There are many young people, equally talented, who are not so lucky. Their potential goes undeveloped. Their leadership capacity may be diverted into criminal activity if no other means of survival seems to exist. Every time I go into Kitwe to shop, I see the street kids begging. Some are high from sniffing petrol. Scuffles often break out as they compete for jobs guarding cars, unloading grocery carts, or washing windshields. Some have adapted so well to life on the streets that they resist efforts to put them into training programs. They like the freedom of the streets. But most never have a chance for any other life, since there are few services and many vulnerable children.
I helped Samuel with his application to Bible College. He was admitted and provided with a scholarship. He has done well in coursework and now is also going out to preach and teach at different churches on the weekends. He continues to work with the Zambian Initiative for Youth Development, as well. Go Samuel!