Erasmus is currently working on finishing his degree in Project Management from the Zambia Institute of Management (ZAMIM) and in his spare time does a lot of volunteer work and participates in various international conferences and forums. Among them was the Rhodes Youth Forum, which is held annually by the Youth Time international movement. During the Rhodes Forum, his project won the first prize – a grant for its implementation. Thus, the young man from Zambia was able to move from words to deeds. In this interview, Erasmus talks about his project, his achievements and his plans for the future.
To begin with, tell us more about yourself.
My name is Erasmus Mweene, and I am the third born in a family of 8. I live in Lusaka, which is the capital city of Zambia. I am currently pursuing a master’s degree. My work revolves around Social Entrepreneurship and Youth Empowerment, HIV/AIDS, Gender-Based Violence, and Sustainable Development. I am the founder of a youth-led and non-profit organization known as Youth Activism for Change (YAfC). I am currently serving as Zambia’s National Focal Point for the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GYCA), and I am also an ambassador for the Global Youth Innovation Network (GYIN). In 2012, I created a project of Sampa Youth Resource Centre (SYRC) which won as the best suggested employment creation project at the Youth Time’s Rhodes Youth Forum.
Let’s talk about “Youth Activism for Change.” What is this organization, what are its goals?
“Youth Activism for Change” (YAfC) was created to empower young people to protect themselves from the risk of HIV infection. The project started in August 2010. I was motivated to start this initiative after I participated as a peer educator in the “Reach4Life Youth Outreach” project on HIV/AIDS. In fact, it motivated me to create a similar platform in Zambia.
What were some of the challenges you faced as a young person starting your own project?
Some of my friends discouraged me, implying that I was too young to start my own initiative. Some people would tell me that a lot of similar organizations already existed, doing what I intended to do. I also faced challenges in sourcing finances to fund the initiative. Some people would tell me that starting a non-profit is a sheer waste of time because I wasn’t going to get paid for the work I was going to be doing. I faced difficulties in finding people who could work with me because I was looking for people who shared my passion to change the world.
Your journey wasn’t an easy one, was it?
The journey has been quite adventurous; I have seen highs and lows along the way. Every challenge I have encountered has given me the courage to keep my head up and remain focused on achieving my goals. I remember last year when I had an opportunity to converse with Monique Coleman (Girl from High School Musical movie and founder of www.GimmeMo.com). Monique changed my perception towards overcoming financial constraints in delivering change to the world. She told me that sometimes great ideas take a greater effort and that I should never let money stand in my way as my voice is my greatest asset. I took her words and now I use my voice to initiate change.
What are the practical benefits of your initiatives?
Our most significant achievement is the establishment of a youth resource centre in one of the densely populated townships in Lusaka, which became possible thanks to the victory at the Rhodes Youth Forum. The centre will go a long way in empowering young people of the community. Sampa Youth Resource Centre (SYRC) aims to address youth unemployment by empowering unemployed youth with entrepreneurial skills. Through a partnership with the International Labor Organization (ILO), we will provide training to the young people using two entrepreneurship training programs namely: “Know about Business” (KAB) and “Start and Improve Your Business” (SIYB). We will then assist the young people to establish small businesses by providing them with small start-up loans.
What do you think are some of the challenges facing African youth today?
There is little or no participation of African youth in the decision-making process due to poor leadership in African governments. The youth keep seeing their roles undermined by politicians. In the end, this has led to the crisis of youth unemployment, lack of access to information and government bodies.
What would you like to change in the way people see Africa abroad?
I would like people to see Africa from a different angle by making them realize that in Africa there are also capable and creative people. Right now, when people think about Africa, they think about a child with a bowl in his hands. This has got to change; the right story needs to be told. As Africa, we have made measurable progress. Our prospects as Africa are brighter than they have been in many years.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Locally, I see myself establishing youth entrepreneurship training centres in all the 10 provinces of Zambia. With these centres, I am going to train young people to become young entrepreneurs. And on the international level, I would like to see myself influencing governments so that they start taking decisions which will strengthen the youth of today.
What advice do you have for young people who want to start their own projects?
My advice is that every journey, no matter how short or long it is, has a first step. There is always a beginning to everything. Think about what you can do in your community. Put something into action on a small and local scale, but think globally. Participate as much as possible, volunteer with any organization whose mission is in line with yours. This will help you gain some experience. Above all, there is no such thing as being too young to initiate change, because facts show that young people are not simply “the future” but they are also the present. Initiating change in the world requires not only a will, but a real passion. Passion means loving what you do and really enjoying it, looking forward to waking up the next morning and getting back down to it. Light up your own small fire; surround yourself with people who share your passion. Finally, you should always think big but start with the small things.
Anyone who is interested in Erasmus‘s activities can contact him:
Photo: Archive of Erasmus Mweene