While Alice came to Africa Directions later in life than most, its impact on her life was not less for it. Alice Lungu grew up on the Copperbelt province of Zambia, in a family of eight. After completing her grade 12, she moved to Lusaka to stay with her sister. While she had received great marks in her exams and was accepted into several colleges, her family was not in a position to send her for further studies. This was a depressing time for Alice; after working so hard at school, it felt as though she had hit a roadblock.
“I think this is a challenge many youth face growing up in Zambia, but particularly girls. Many of them give up on their education because they feel pressure to get married and start families. They follow in the only footsteps they know – the same path as their sisters, aunties, and mothers.”
One of her first days in Lusaka, Alice saw an ad in the paper for a peer educators association asking organizations to send representatives. Having been involved with peer education in Kitwe, Alice called the number in the paper and asked if she could come. It was here she met a young guy who recommended Alice check out Africa Directions… and the rest, as they say, is history.
Alice says she felt an affinity to AD from the first time she entered its premises. Everyone was so welcoming and positive.
“It was like coming home,” she says.
Here she met other young people in similar situations who were doing just fine – in fact, they were helping each other build skills and learn while having fun! Alice became a regular at the weekly peer education meetings and, when AD was hiring part-time peer educators, they insisted Alice apply and gave her a position.
“I learned nearly everything I know from AD, ” Alice says earnestly.
Through interacting and working with her peers and colleagues, Alice developed a solid foundation for future employment. She developed job skills such as public speaking, how to write reports and proposals and how to represent an organization and present herself professionally. She was trained in psychosocial counselling and as a radio presenter. They also provided her with “networking” opportunities; she was often given the chance to represent AD and meet “big people.”
“The belief that AD had in my abilities, such that they would give me such opportunities, really boosted my confidence . . . even now, I can go anywhere and feel comfortable regardless of the qualifications of others – because I am comfortable with myself.”
This is the power of AD: they see the potential in youth, and challenge them to develop their talents. Many of the children and youth accessing the centre don’t have very supportive families at home. AD gives them the support, guidance, and direction they so desperately need.
“AD was my beginning. It was the spark that got me moving in the right direction and led me to discovering myself and my passions,” states Alice.
Throughout her time at AD, Alice got to meet many successful people who came to give motivational talks. They made youth really think about their lives and what it was they wanted to achieve. Alice says she was able to plan her life thanks to the positive role models she met. The information and advice she got from people at AD gave her the power to make right decisions. As cliché as it might sound, Alice truly believes knowledge is power. Once given information, young people can make appropriate decisions. As a peer educator, she was seen as a role model herself and knew she had to act on the same principles she was teaching. Alice says working in the community, both as a counsellor and doing outreaches, was an eye-opening and life-altering experience. She developed a real sense of the hardships people, especially women, faced and how she could help them overcome these with advice and sharing of information. As she saw people’s lives changing for the better, she knew this was a path she wanted to continue.
While working at AD, she heard of a government scholarship for Youth Work Development and was encouraged to apply since she had valuable experience working with youth in the community. She was accepted and has since been pursuing her diploma with the University of South Africa.
Around this time, Alice met her husband, “a wonderful man” who also works in the HIV/AIDS field so that they “make a great team.” Alice decided to take some time off when they started their family; she now has a beautiful two-year old girl.
Back on her career path, Alice now works for the Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia (PPAZ). She had applied as a counsellor, but because of her extensive experience with youth, she is now working as the program coordinator, in addition to offering counselling services.
Her days of working in the community really made her see the detrimental effects of gender inequality and made her want to focus on incorporating gender development in all areas of her work. She feels there is a major gap in Zambia.
“Women don’t have a force, they don’t have something pushing them to go out and make something of themselves. The first thing they think of is marriage because it’s the only thing that is an option or happening to them… not only do they feel limited, but also it leads to all sorts of problems like teenage pregnancy,” Alice notes.
Alice hopes to change that by becoming a woman of positive influence – she would love to run for president one day! Whatever lies ahead, Alice prays that her daughter, and future generations of girls, will be empowered and have equal opportunities.