Addressing the Students at Empakasi

“Every child deserves a champion – an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best they can possibly be”. – Rita F. Pierson

I started writing this blog a couple of months ago but decided to take a brief hiatus.  The past few months have been an emotional rollercoaster, leaving me feeling very overwhelmed and a little frustrated at the injustices the most vulnerable of our society have to contend with.  However, as we approach International Day of the African Child, which will be observed on 16th June, it seemed like a good opportunity to highlight challenges children in underserved communities face.

The Amara Charitable Trust team conducted over 40 interviews with secondary school students between March and April, aiming to enroll them in technical colleges. Listening to them narrate their experiences left me feeling despondent, making it difficult to write without sounding overwhelmingly negative.

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Their stories were not just difficult to hear; they were steeped in sadness, painting a stark picture of the immense challenges young people are enduring in our society. During the interviews, I heard heart-wrenching tales of abandonment, of children raising themselves with futures clouded in uncertainty. This year, we met two young men who had to be rescued from difficult family situations and taken into care, orphaned students left in the care of ailing grandmothers, and siblings barely out of childhood trying to hold their fractured lives together.

One student, Cynthia, shared a story that filled me with sadness. At just ten years old, her mother abandoned her shortly after her father’s death. In my “previous life,” I might have harshly judged her mother, but now, I understand the complexity of people’s choices, even when I do not agree with them. With no other family to turn to, Cynthia and her younger brother were taken in by kind strangers. Forced to grow up far too soon, Cynthia shouldered responsibilities no child should bear. Her brother, only three at the time, was taken in by a different family, and she has not seen him in over ten years, nor does she know where he is. It is her dream that, once she graduates and starts earning, she can start looking for him and be reunited.

Another student, Kelvin, was orphaned young and is now being cared for by his older brother, who works as a loader. Secondary school was a constant struggle, with frequent absences due to unpaid fees. Despite these hardships, Kelvin is determined to succeed and relieve his brother’s burdens.

One student spoke of taking care of his unwell mother alongside his older brother, becoming her caregivers in the absence of adult guidance or support.

Others took on menial jobs as house-helps, babysitters, or construction workers just to put food on the table. Their fears about an uncertain future, feeling lost and hopeless, were palpable.

One aspiring engineer worried daily about having enough to eat while at college, knowing his family were not in a position to support him.

Yet, amidst the despair, I also witnessed incredible resilience and an unbreakable sense of community. These students’ courage in the face of adversity is nothing short of remarkable. They leaned on each other for support, creating informal networks of care and assistance. In the absence of traditional family structures, peer support became a lifeline. Friends banded together, sharing resources and providing emotional support. These bonds, forged in the midst of hardship, are a testament to their strength and fortitude.

Friendships and peer groups provided crucial emotional and practical support, often filling the gaps left by absent or overwhelmed parents. The sense of belonging and mutual understanding within these groups is a powerful source of strength.

Many remained steadfast in their academic pursuits, viewing education as their beacon of hope for a brighter future. While the stories of despair are overwhelming, they are equally balanced by tales of hope and resilience. Their unyielding determination is a source of inspiration.

It was also heartening to meet teachers who had become pillars of support, offering not only educational resources but also emotional and financial assistance. We met teachers who pledged to support the students financially, ensuring they could continue their education. Stories like these restore faith in humanity.

My encounters with these students and their communities continue to shape my worldview profoundly. It is my hope that sharing these experiences will highlight not only the challenges but also the incredible potential and resilience of these young individuals.

Our Education Fund Program gives the marginalised youth an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and find a path towards a financially secure future.  Our ability to provide these scholarships to technical training colleges are thanks in large part to our incredible donors.

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This year, we have 23 students completing their respective courses. We must believe that, with the scholarship opportunities we’ve provided, they are ready to take on the world and forge a brighter future for themselves. Their success stories continue to motivate us and lift us from the depths of despondency.

The new cohort of 40 students that we enrolled into technical colleges this year are excited about this new phase of their lives. They are slowly transforming into young individuals that have a future to look forward to and we share that excitement with them.

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So, while I may have started with a bleak picture, believe me when I say there is hope and it abounds in the communities we serve. We see the light and excitement in their eyes in the photos they share with us, and it fills me with gratitude that, despite their numerous challenges they have had to deal with and maybe still face, that light was never really extinguished. The light will burn brightly again, of this there is no doubt.


Article by Theresa Pereira

Theresa started working with Amara Charitable Trust in May 2022 and her experiences with the communities we serve inspires her blogs posts. Everyday day brings new life lessons which are cherished and accepted with gratitude.

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