Welcome to the latest installment of UP Zambia's Volunteer Spotlight Series showcasing the phenomenal volunteers that give of their time and energy to help bring freedom to Zambia's incarcerated youth. You can now hear the many varied stories and experiences of our volunteers in their own words. Thanks so much to Faith Mulenga for the skills you have brought to our organization and your commitment to the UP Zambia mission!
Of all the exciting jobs I have done and all the places I have worked, none has been so full of emotions as my time with UP Zambia. I first heard of UP Zambia from a friend who shared with me the advert for interns. I then looked it up on Facebook and checked out their website. I told myself that this is something I could do. I read of the different works with the kids and I was interested. And, that is how I applied to be a Junior Intern with UP Zambia’s Justice for Juveniles Project. It has been an interesting journey, thus far, filled with all sorts of emotions especially at the beginning considering how unfair our system is towards the kids. When we began, there were juvenile cases that had been pending for months because parents/guardians were not in court. The cases were perpetually adjourned and very little effort if at all was ever made in locating the families, and, for some of my cases, the parents were not even aware that their child was incarcerated. Family tracing (physically tracking down family members based on information from the juvenile) has been the most exhausting part of the job. I found it challenging in the beginning because there are parts of Lusaka I had never been to until my work with UP Zambia.
Then there were the prison visits and seeing the conditions the kids live in. I had never been inside any prison before and what I saw was quite disturbing. The first thing I thought of was getting them brooms to clean with and now, I can actually tell the difference. The cells may not really be tidy, but they are clean. I have been to a couple of prisons since then and I am hoping to visit more. I wasn’t quite prepared though for what I encountered. My first thought was that the system would be as clear and straight forward as we learn it to be in law school. Alas! Nothing so far from the truth has ever been imagined. I have learned humility and realized that not everything that is labeled “bad” is actually bad. Some of these kids just find themselves in very unfortunate circumstances and do not deserve the intensity of punishment they have had to endure as in this one case.
One Juvenile (I will call him Gift) travelled to Lusaka from Kasama last year for holidays. He visited back and forth between two of his Aunts’ houses as he hadn’t been to Lusaka before. On that fateful day, he was out with his newly made friends playing football when a member of the team kicked the ball too hard and it landed in someone’s yard. The then 13-year-old did not think it wrong and decided to go in and pick up the ball. As he did so, someone called him out as a thief. A mob quickly gathered and took him to the police. He spent 5 months, from November to April in jail cells before appearing for the first time in court. With his phone confiscated and no other means of communicating with his family, his case dragged on. When he was finally released in June, he had no idea how to make it home. With a friend, we decided to drop him off at one of his aunt’s houses in Bauleni. We thought it would be easy since we were with him but the poor lad could not remember directions. He had spent only 2 weeks with her and 7 months in jail. By 6pm, we abandoned the search and thought, perhaps, we would drop him off at his other aunt’s in Chawama. By 9:30pm, we still hadn’t located her either. We ended up having to book him at a lodge for the night. The next day, he was calmer and more relaxed and was able to tell me some names of his family members. I took those names and began searching for them one by one on Facebook. Eventually, I was able to find his half-brother and was luckily able to communicate with him. After 7 months, Gift was finally re-united with his family. The look on his face was golden. To date, that look helps me sleep easy looking forward to my next court date.
I feel honored to belong to such an amazing organization dedicated to helping kids who are neglected, forgotten, or betrayed by society. Gift’s story is just one of many. Through my work with UP Zambia, I have witnessed an amazing correctional facility chess tournament, a talent show at the prisons, and many other exciting activities. I appreciate the experience I am getting as an aspiring lawyer and my interaction with the courts is building my confidence. Even my manner of communication with people has changed greatly and influences other outreach activities I do. When I go out to conduct meditation sessions, my preferred audience is juveniles and young adults in schools, and orphanages. Soon, I hope to hold a session at a home for street youth where I can also give a talk on juvenile delinquency and having the proper mindset to be responsible and law-abiding citizens.
Thank you UP Zambia for the amazing opportunity!
- Before her law studies and time with UP Zambia, Faith was a professional tennis player who seeded second (tennis ranking) in the regional Inter-University games which qualified her to attend the World Games in China. She also volunteered as a youth tennis coach and Psycho-Social Counselor for HIV positive youth. She joined the International Youth Action Against Terrorism where she served as Human Rights Coordinator before ascending to Vice President and was later appointed a Youth Ambassador by the Chief of International Human Rights Commission. In addition to her many activities, Faith is, currently, a Peace Architect and a mindfulness and meditation trainer with Peace Revolution.