Giving Young People An Opportunity For Their Light To Shine Brighter: How I Joined the UWC National Committee of Zambia as a ‘Non-Alum’
An Interview with Gift Choweni from the UWC Zambia National Committee
Where are you from and how did you come across UWC?
I am from Zambia, based in the capital city Lusaka. I came across UWC through a former colleague Kako (actually, my former supervisor) from when I worked for the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). She is a UWC alumna although I did not know this and neither had I ever heard of UWC until after I left ACC. After leaving ACC, a friend of mine and I had been discussing ways in which we could engage in charitable activities in our spare time, especially targeting young people with great potential but in disadvantaged situations. Around the same time, another friend of ours from varsity days shared through social media some pictures of kids at a rural school where lessons were being conducted under a tree. When we saw those pictures we decided that building a classroom for that school was to be our first step towards what we had been discussing, and that we would hopefully spur others to join as our own resources were not going to be adequate. One of the people we reached out to right from the start as we were getting the formalities done was my former boss at ACC - the UWC alumna. Cutting to the chase, we managed to build a classroom and office at the school called Chisamu Primary School. It was during that time of working on the classroom project that Kako mentioned that she was involved in other activities involving young people and so I heard about UWC for the first time.
What attracted you to help out UWC then - and what keeps you attracted to UWC (and giving so much of your time to it!) today?
It was the mission of UWC. It was the possibility of giving young people an opportunity to see the world through diverse lenses. The possibility to foster peace amongst the human race through exposure to diverse cultures. Seeing young people with limited opportunities but with great potential being given an opportunity to be changemakers. Today, the first cohort I was involved in have moved on to university after doing so well in their UWC journey. Seeing those young people grow in all aspects of their lives is quite an experience that drives me to continue to volunteer in whatever little way I can.
How, why and when did you first become a volunteer for your NC?
I first volunteered for the NC through an invitation to help in the selection of the 2019 UWC entrants. All of those from that cohort are now in their first year of university.
Why do you think that NC work is a meaningful way to help UWC and contribute to your local community?
The UWC model of working through the NCs ensures that more trust is built right from the start. The target group is young people and this ensures that parents or local communities have more confidence to allow young people to participate in UWC activities, be it short courses or even the IB diploma. It also brings about involvement and participation of many more people in different countries. The UWC alumni community is more engaged after their graduation as there is an enhanced sense of ownership through participation in NC activities.
What do you enjoy most about your NC work?
Seeing potential materialise. My own life experience is that there are many young minds out there that have potential to change the world but the opportunities are limited by the circumstances they find themselves in. Often times, these young people need just a little push or a small window of opportunity. I have seen young people drop out of school over issues that many from a more privileged background may not fully understand.
What are the main challenges you face in your NC work?
Right at the top is the fact that there are usually so many more applicants that demonstrate great potential but the opportunities for placement are limited. We always hope we can find other opportunities locally to place those young people who don't make it into UWC. Another challenge is that the circumstances that some of the applicants come from are so dire that even meeting basic needs of theirs such as local transport may be a challenge. Fundraising for our students has also become a lot more of a challenge recently. Before COVID-19, we would reach out to corporates to source support for our students who did not have flights as part of their scholarship offers. Then COVID-19 came and some NC members ended up digging into their pockets to ensure that students travelled back home to prepare for their transition to university. Finally, spreading information about UWC application opportunities to young people away from those in the urban areas is also a challenge.
What would you say to young graduates today (or older alumni) who are looking to find ways to give back to or get more involved with UWC?
The human race will be in a better place when more and more people are given an opportunity for their light to shine brighter. UWC is providing that opportunity to spread those opportunities for others who may illuminate their light so bright that the whole world sees it.