By BRIAN HATYOKA
IT is undeniable that children and youths represent an important population group of any country’s total population.
In Zambia, this population segment accounts for 68 per cent of the total of Zambia’s total population, hence making the country quite a youthful nation according to the Central Statistical Office findings for 2006.
Sadly, this larger segment of the population is faced with many challenges such as unemployment and lack of capital which in turn make them destitutes and start engaging in activities which are harmful to their lives.
Activities such as early marriages, prostitution, smoking, drug abuse, street vending, clubbing, underage beer drinking and quarrels are usually common among young people, especially those who are not doing any productive venture to earn a living.
However, not all is gloomy as some young people are actively engaged in activities that are meant to keep them busy and ultimately improve their lives. One such activity is the Airtel Rising Stars (ARS) initiative which has helped to change the lives of many young people under the age of 17.
Through the initiative, Airtel has partnered with the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) to identify and groom talented young people from all corners of Zambia in rural and urban areas to participate in grassroots and national football teams.
In Southern Province, a number of young people under the age of 17 have benefited from the ARS.
Margaret Mwaba, a pupil at Christ the King Primary School in Livingstone, says the ARS has changed her life from being a fighter previously to being a disciplined girl currently. Mwaba, who is aged 14 and doing her grade nine, says she used to fight and insult other people but she had currently leant that discipline was more important in her life since joining the ARS team in August last year.
“Playing football under the sponsorship of Airtel has improved my skills in class and it has brought joy in my life. My plans are to go very far in my life and career and I want to play for the Zambia national football team one day so that I can earn money for a living like other plays across the globe do,” she said.
She said she had currently seen that football was her talent and her career with the support from Airtel.
“I want to improve my football skills and become a great star one day. My advice to my young people who like moving in the night to drink beer and dance in night clubs is that they should stop. Clubbing is not the solution. They can join us in sports and improve their lives,” Mwaba said.
According to Mwaba, sporting activities were the best recreation that could uplift someone and not clubbing.
“Young people can get sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS and other diseases if they engage in teenage beer drinking and clubbing. Others may get teenage pregnancies. That is bad for youths because their future can be doomed within a short period as they can drop out of school,” she said.
Mwaba noted that some girls, who were not doing any productive venture, were going to an extent of aborting which was an offence of murder and against Zambia’s declaration of being a Christian nation.
Beauty Siatontola from Monze completed grade last year says her future plan was to take up the football career and earn money for her living. Siatontola, who is aged 17 and completed her grade nine, last year, says her family was not rich and hence her hope was in the ARS to develop her career.
“Before I joined the ARS, I used to move in the night and do things which were bad. I used to beat people but my life changed when I joined the Airtel Rising Stars came. I have leant more things such as being disciplined and focussed through playing football as well as by mixing with other youths in Southern Province,” she said.
Siatontola urged young people who were still fighting or drinking beer to stop and do something productive to earn a living. Another youth, Victor Miyanda from Mazabuka says the ARS was beneficial not only through playing football but also through phones which were being to winners.
Miyanda, who is aged 14 and doing her grade 11, observed that Airtel was helping young people in terms of communication especially those coming from rural areas to communicate with their relatives from far-flung areas.
“Last year, our team we went to the finals of the tournament and we got phones and money for winning. The company also gives us boots, jerseys form Airtel and there are more economic benefits for joining ARS,” he said.
Walton Malambo, who is aged 16 and completed his grade 12 at Lweengu International School in Monze last year, says joining ARS had taught him a lesson to avoid engaging in immoral activities.
“Of course it is my dream and everyone player’s dream to play in the national team one day. My fellow youths should examine their ways because they never know what life holds for them ahead,” Malambo said. Joyce Njavera, who is aged 15 and a grade 10 pupil from Choma Day Secondary School, says her dream is to play for the national team.
“I also want to be helped through my education so that I finish school and continue with my football career,” Njavera said.
According to former Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) Executive Committee Member Keagan Chipango, the ARS was a well intended project that was helping to identify talented youths countrywide to play for the national team.
Chipango urged football administrators in Zambia all to support theefforts of Airtel to improve the lives of young people across the country.
“I appeal to other companies to come on board and emulate what Airtelis doing. In West Africa, there is a concept that they call street football. This initiative keeps the boys out of the streets during weekend. Each Township has weekly competitions and best players are picked from these games to an extent that the younger people are pre-occupied and hence they have no time to engage in immoral behaviour,” Chipango said.
He said the boys and girls were in school from Monday to Friday and they were playing football on Saturday and Sunday which were keeping them busy.
“It is only through such projects that Zambia can find itself at the 2018 World Cup tournament. If you analyse the most football players at the ongoing World Cup in Brazil, we are now seeing new and different football players who coming from projects like the ARS,” Chipando said.
Under 17 national team coach Chris Kaunda praised Kaunda Airtel Zambia for identifying many players who have boosted the performance of national football teams.
Kaunda noted that about 50 per cent of the Under 20 Team who played in Mozambique recently were coming from Airtel rising stars.
“For Under 17 team, we used Airtel Rising Stars last year to make the team and 90 per cent of the team are from the initiative.
“Even those we discovered outside the initiative are also taking part in the Airtel Rising Stars. A number of girls went to Costa Rica from Airtel Rising Stars last year such as Grace Chanda who scored the first goal came from the initiative,” Kaunda said.
FAZ Executive Committee member Lee Kawanu noted that the youths, who came from the ARS, were making a big difference when they joined the national teams.
Kawanu, however, observed that lack of enough coaches at grassroots level was the biggest challenge which affected the process of identifying and grooming new players across the country.
“Our boys have natural talents and Zambia is one of the most talented countries in Africa but the problem we have is that we don’t have enough coaches to train our youths. I wish to appeal to Provincial coordinators in Zambia to work closely with FAZ technical Director Honor Janza.
He is always ready to bring courses to provinces and people in the province should start valuing the importance of doing these coaches,” Kawanu said.
Airtel Zambia corporate communications and public relations manager Lisa Mulozi said her entity had invested K4 million to empower young people through the project since 2011 when the initiative was introduced.
Mulozi said says the ARS was meant to identify talent of young children of all rising stars across the country and help them become football stars in future.
“As Airtel, we have been across all districts and provinces in both urban and rural areas even in areas where we have no network to identify and groom the boys and girls,” Mulozi said.
Away from the ARS project, Mulozi said Airtel was also committed to improving the skills of journalists in the country.
She said her firm would be hosting the Airtel Excellence Media Awards scheduled to take place on October 18, 2014 at Lusaka’s Intercontinental Hotel where some journalists would be honoured.
Mulozi said each journalist was expected to submit three stories from three categories namely electronic, social and print media which indicate how Airtel products were changing the lives of people.
“We are currently taking to Sky News and some media houses in South Africa. Whoever will win the first prize will get K20 000 cash, three months attachment with an international media outlet and an Ipad. Further, Airtel Zambia will meet all expense for the trip, accommodation, visa, transport, flight, food and shopping money every month among others,” Ms Mulozi said.
She said journalists could submit stories which were published between February and August, this year.
Mulozi said the wards were meant to expose Zambian journalists to international standards.
“The stories have to be well-balanced and well researched. In short we want the best stories. She said the three judges were Maureen Nkandu from the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) in South Africa, University of Zambia (UNZA) vice chancellor Stephen Simukanga and a media consultant Edem Djokotoe.
Mulozi also urged journalists to go beyond Press statements or scheduled assignments and start focusing on stories which have an impact on people’s lives to make their news more attractive.
There is need for other organisations in Zambia to emulate Airtel in uplifting the lives of young people in the country.