The “Amplifying the Arts” project empowered vulnerable young people from Zambia to tell their stories through creative expression and to celebrate the diversity and unity of the human experience, through cultural exchange.

The project was launched in November 2019 with a talent identification event held by Bosco Youth Reach Out as an invitation to participate to youth in the surrounding areas. Funding came from the U.S.A. arm of Salesian missions and was based around the U.S.A embassy in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia.

The event attracted more than 1,000 spectators, and 150 children and youth performed. Of the 150 performers, 120 youth, aged 15-25, were selected to attend the training. The training workshops began in December and introduced young people to song-writing, dance, traditional instruments, poetry, painting and guitar lessons.

A talent show celebration, which brought together more than 600 people, was held in February to showcase what the youth had learned. Following the talent show, upwards of 160 children and youth began showing up to the workshops.

Budding artists were given the chance to learn and explore their new craft!

The program ran through March until the country went into lockdown because of the pandemic. During the lockdown, mentors used social media and other platforms to connect with the participants, sustaining engagement and attracting the youth to return upon re-opening.

In-person workshops resumed in July with 70 to 80 attendees. Following safety precautions, participants began to work on their final art presentations. The project ended with an exhibition talent show for the community in September that brought together 336 spectators.

Participating youth, who came from challenging backgrounds and were vulnerable to at-risk behaviours, were encouraged to express their stories through music, spoken word and creative writing. Youth transcribed their stories into songs, artwork and poems to promote their voices through visual expression to a wider audience.

They were also introduced to the basic principles and techniques of mindfulness and physical expression through yoga and other forms of mindful movement techniques that teach relaxation, discipline, and encourage a deeper sense of self-awareness as a means of encouraging self-expression and stress management.

The stage is set for some of the performances!

The mentorship during the project was guided by Nhkani Znaga. The guidance encouraged youth to be more optimistic about their lives and talents. The mentors and facilitators reported changing mindsets throughout the program. The fights and bullying among children drastically reduced as the project progressed and children self-regulated during sessions.

Participants were also exposed to new platforms such as the Zambian National Broadcasting Channel. The network provided mentorship and guidance to participants. Natasha Tembo, a talented young singer and poet; Friday Siame an upcoming guitarist and musician; and David, a young upcoming producer and singer are now featured on the TV show “Folk Music Talk Show” on Fridays.

In addition, two other young artists were offered the opportunity from the Salesians of Don Bosco to design a mural in the conference hall. Exposure opportunities will help these young girls and boys find a livelihood in the work that they do.

“We are grateful to the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka for the opportunity to provide vulnerable youth this chance for a cultural exchange through arts programming,” said Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “The youth who took part in the project were afforded new opportunities that broadened their perspective through learning new cultural practices. They also had the chance to improve their skills in creative and expressive art and mindfulness.”

Poverty is widespread in Zambia with 64 percent of the total population living below the poverty line. For those living in rural areas, the poverty rate rises to 80 percent, according to UNICEF. Over the past three decades, incomes in Zambia have fallen steadily and people do not have enough money to meet basic needs such as shelter, nutritious food and medical care.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has also taken a devastating toll on Zambia’s children. There are 1.2 million children classified as orphaned and vulnerable by UNICEF, and these children struggle to find education, basic services and hope for their future.

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This story originally appeared in Missionwire