The village of Mochudi, Botswana is almost 7,700 miles from my home town in the United States, and about a million miles away in terms of opportunities for young people intent on earning a living. Last week, along with the rest of my SAP Social Sabbatical team, I was privileged to meet with some of these passionate young adults during a Community Service event. My assignment with two teammates, Michelle Dauer and Ezequiel Massa, was to share our financial management and marketing experience with the Yun Drimaz (or, Young Dreamers). This incredibly talented group of 18 – 24 year old performers sing and dance, and do “edutainment” to prevent and stop gender violence. Most have graduated from a leadership program called “Finding the Leader Within,” at Stepping Stones International (SSI), a unique organization dedicated to helping orphaned and vulnerable youths ages 12 to 25 be self-sufficient.
|Stepping Stones programs have a tremendous ripple effect across families, the community and at-large, according to the organization’s founder and Executive Director Lisa Jamu (pictured at right with the author).|
This innovative after-school and community outreach program collaborates with school counselors and the community to help youth who under-perform academically, live in abusive environments or have basic unmet needs. Here are just a few examples of how SSI has helped:
- A nine-year old boy whose mother had died arrived at SSI drawing eerie, death-related pictures. The team immediately saw his talent as an artist, and provided training. He’s now a junior graphic designer with an award-winning career.
- A 13-year old boy was receiving no guidance at home after moving in with his grandmother when his mother passed away and his father kicked him out. With SSI’s support including tutoring, life skills and counseling, he eventually returned to school and graduated, and now has a well-paying job at a local energy organization.
- A 15-year old girl, whose mother was an alcoholic, was taking care of her younger siblings while trying to finish school. With SSI’s counseling, tutoring and life skills help she passed her exams, and is doing well now, even with a baby of her own.
According to Stepping Stones founder and Executive Director Lisa Jamu, the organization’s programs have a tremendous ripple effect across families and the community at-large. “Everyone has baggage, yet these kids have resilience. We focus on channeling those traits positively. Once they see what they can do for themselves, their self-esteem and confidence grows,” she said. “Our family-centered model trickles up to parents and down to siblings, often changing entire families.”
Facing double digit unemployment rates on top of challenging early childhoods, the youth that SSI serves are amazingly optimistic. For example, every member of the Yun Drimaz performance group was clearly upbeat and driven, dedicated to upholding and showcasing the culture of Botswana through traditional dance, music and attire. They’ve remained close to SSI following their graduation, giving paid performances at events and participating in community service activities such as the one I participated in. The obstacles may be high but the rewards are incalculable. Or as one of the members of Yun Drimaz so eloquently expressed it in her thank-you to the Social Sabbatical team: “We are the youth of our nation, and by educating us you are educating our nation.”
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