Africa’s Youth Rise to the Challenge at the Second Africa Central Conference Young People’s Gathering
“Now you know!” said Eben Kanukayi Nhiwatiwa, the Africa Central Conference bishop, at the opening of the Africa Central Conference Young People’s Gathering, organized by United Methodist Women’s Regional Missionary Initiative and held April 17-22, 2013, in Harare, Zimbabwe.
“Now you know that you are important as the young people in the United Methodist Church, and you are the hope of the continent to break these barriers of strangeness in Africa,” the bishop said over the thundering applause of the young people who had come from five Episcopal areas in the Central Conference.
Young People’s Gathering
The Africa Central Conference Youth Network (ACCYN) helps young people organize themselves to work toward the goals of empowerment and transformation. The United Methodist Women’s Regional Missionary Initiative created ACCYN to give young people, who compose 80 percent of the church population in Africa, the opportunity to come together and talk about the issues affecting them.
The overarching goal of ACCYN and the Young People’s Gathering is to get young people actively involved in church and community issues. At the gathering, youth and young adults shared stories about the different ways they are serving and leading on issues that affect their communities and the world.
This was the second gathering; the first was held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2009.
“This is a time [when] we as young people are glad to be here, coming from different countries of Africa,” said Finda Quiwa, the ACCYN regional missionary.
Isabel Pinto Muhongo, a 26-year-old woman from West Angola Annual Conference , who attended the gathering after encountering visa challenges, said, “I am so excited to finally show up at this event, to participate in this platform granted by the church. In an era where young people are battling for space in the church and the world, it is good that my church is opening space for us.”
For some, the gathering became an eye-opener, while for others, it was a moment of brainstorming for the church in sub-Saharan Africa.
“We will definitely come from this place empowered, and be able to stand on our own as the youth and claim our position, particularly us from Botswana and Zambia, where the church has challenges of being perceived as a foreign church,” said Wilfred Chasi, a 16-year-old. “Our encounter with some young people from [the] East Africa Annual Conference will help us cope with the language issues back home.”
By coming together and sharing experiences, the young people have created a web of connections that will enable them to contribute meaningfully to the affairs of the annual conferences, Episcopal areas, central conferences and entire global church.
“I Have a Dream”
The theme for this year’s gathering was “I Have a Dream,” incorporating Genesis 37:5 and the title of the speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 to some 250,000 civil-rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
The gathering of the young people from the Africa Central Conference in Zimbabwe coincided with the nation’s celebration of independence from British rule attained April 18, 1980. As the Zimbabweans celebrated their independence day, the young African people joined in solidarity, calling out the word “freedom” in their own languages: “uhuru,” “liberdade,” “obwetaze” and “kgololosogo,” the words for “freedom” in Swahili, Portuguese, Luganda and Tswana, respectively.
At the Young People’s Gathering, participants joined in holy conferencing to affirm their dreams to their communities and churches.
Speaker after speaker continued to encourage the young people to remain purposeful in their quest for transformation in the 21st century.
Education was emphasized as a major contributor to the success of young people in Africa. “Education breaks the cycle of poverty,” said David Njike, a lecturer at Midlands State University and a member of the Zimbabwe West Annual Conference.
The participants lamented the quality of education received at secondary and tertiary institutions. Many young people said that, in school, they are taught to be workers rather than employers, and science subjects are not taken seriously.
Gathering Bemoans the Plight of African Girls
Girls in particular are disadvantaged in terms of education.
“I am shocked at the plight of the girl child in Africa; I have seen these things on television and have never thought [them] to be real,” said Courtney Mukombachoto, a sullen 14-year-old who attended the gathering. “Now I know and am disappointed.” She struggled to believe reports of early marriages and school dropouts; she also found it difficult to understand the preference for the schooling of boys, as parents and society found little value in educating girls.
“It is unfair,” fumed Courtney, “because I cannot imagine myself getting married anytime soon before completing my education and even starting my own business.”
Courtney believes that girls have as many talents as boys, and she believes in equality. “We are all made in the same way—the image of God—and we must get equal rights and treatment,” she said. “Girls must be given an opportunity to show their talents even in science subjects.”
The young people showed disappointment at the continued gender segregation in Africa, where their leaders turn a blind eye to this harmful issue.
Progress for Girl Children in Africa, but Much to Be Done
There is, however, significant progress in some countries in Africa: Zimbabwe has balanced out the issues of gender equality in its new constitution, and Mozambique has a free education system in place. But many believe that more must be done at the social or community level in order to resolve this social imbalance of girls and boys in school.
The speakers at the gathering encouraged the young people to take a stand on child marriage by transforming culture from the inside out. “The cycle can only be broken when we help the world see all as equal human beings in God’s image,” said Rev. Alan Masimba Gurupira, the assistant to Eben Kanukayi Nhiwatiwa, the Africa Central Conference bishop.
Malawi is one of the most affected countries, according to the country reports that were presented. The young people in Malawi have been granted resources to start an information technology center through funds from United Methodist Women.
“[In] Malawi, this is going to be one of the positive developments in the lives of young people, as we have heard that they have the problem of early marriages, and this initiative will help [them] connect with other countries and share [their] experiences,” said Ms. Quiwa.
Worship at Africa University
The participants had an opportunity to worship at Africa University, which hosted Joice Mujuru, the vice president of Zimbabwe, at the official launch of the Girl Child Scholarship Fund, held April 19, 2013.
Ms. Mujuru donated $10,000 toward the launch of the Girl Child Scholarship Fund.
“We were discussing the plight of the girl child at our Young People’s Gathering in Harare, and we come here to find the university doing the same,” said Edson Julio, the ACCYN chairperson and an alumnus of Africa University, as he handed over a gift of $220 on behalf of the young people.
The plight of the girl child remains an important issue for future ACCYN gatherings and young women’s meetings.
Pastor Taurai Emmanuel Maforo is the Zimbabwe Episcopal area communicator.
Finda Quiwa, the United Methodist Women’s Africa regional missionary for youth, organized the Second Africa Central Conference Young People’s Gathering.