Here’s an article I wrote that was published on the Southern Times website during my summer in Namibia.

Africa isn’t used to being seen in a positive light.

The regular misconception is that people are dying by the millions every minute, that the continent is unsafe, and filled with war, drought and disease.

While the continent has many challenges, it is not all doom and gloom.

According to The Economist magazine, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies of the past decade are in Africa south of the Sahara.

Furthermore, Africa is the second most populous continent in the world with about 1.1 billion people and it is growing at a rate faster than Asia. Of those 1.1 billion people around half of the population is under 25. A full third of the world’s workforce currently resides in Africa.

This means the workforce to take Africa forward is there. The question though is: can we confidently say that the continent is fully equipped to grow exponentially?

The key lies in Africa harnessing the energy and potential of millions of disadvantaged youth who can spur growth and development in their communities and hence in their nations and for the entire continent.

Physically Active Youth Namibia (PAY) is one such organisation that is trying to harness this huge potential of young Africans.

PAY is an after school community-based programme that focuses on equipping children from disadvantaged backgrounds to be well-rounded and strong individuals.

Co-founder of Pay Namibia, Marie Jeanne Ndimbira, believes that the information and training that these young people get will directly affect who they become and how they impact on their communities.

PAY believes that children need to be efficiently endowed with more than just education. As such, PAY consists of three pillars and these are academics, sports and life skills.

Life skills enable children from a very young age to start thinking and questioning their circumstances.

Whether it be due to colonialism, apartheid, or it is the nature of the capitalist societies we live in, this critical thinking is not regularly exercised enough among young people and PAY provides an environment where they can start to consider their environment and what they can do about it.

Academic officer Nenad Tomić has taken a strong stand against all forms of laziness at PAY. For instance, one of the rules is that students are not allowed to use a calculator but instead he challenges the kids to think through mathematics problems.

“Life skills training is given with the aim to foster critical thinking on the role of youth in society. That’s when you really get to see just how bright and inventive those kids really can be when given the opportunity. The moment you give them a break from all the formalities of classical schoolwork, their brains open up and flourish,” he says.

PAY caters for around 100 children for the duration of the normal academic year on a five-day basis, as well as for three hours on weekend afternoons.

It is one of very few NGOs in Namibia that survived the withdrawal of Western donor funding. This is not because PAY has a truckload of money. Rather, it is because of the determination of the various volunteers at the NGO to ensure that they do not close shop and deprive children of a valuable resource centre.

And despite the financial constraints, PAY has introduced an e-learning model well-ahead of many government and private schools not just in Namibia, but across Southern Africa.

Starting and sustaining an organisation such as PAY wasn’t a breeze for Ndimbira. “Working at PAY definitely requires going out of your comfort zone,” she says.

PAY strives to meet all the mandates to develop versatile individuals and through that the community.

Ndimbira simply does not see individuals but visualises the power of communities working together towards a common goal.

A passion of hers is to bridge the inferiority complex between the “town kids” and the kids from low-income communities.

Many of the children she works with come from areas where teen pregnancy is the norm and crime rates and alcohol abuse are high.

And the success stories that continue to come out of her vision are truly inspiring.

PAY currently has a 91 percent pass rate for high school pupils, whereas the general percentage pass for children in the area is 36 percent. Jan Jonker Afrikaner High School has a 26 percent pass for grade 12.

The NGO has also assisted budding athletes and two participants of the PAY programme are currently in the Under-20 national soccer team. In addition, they have produced a lead cyclist team that has competed in Tanzania and South Africa.

PAY hopes that these young Namibians will one day be seen at the Olympic Games or other international tournaments of renown.

All these children either dropped out of school or had problems with the law.

But going forward, PAY will need a lot of assistance if it is to continue providing a hand-up to children who can make a difference to Africa’s fortunes.

PAY seems to have ticked all the boxes regarding child improvement and development, and yet it seems that the necessary heads aren’t looking their way.

“A child needs to be well-rounded to develop fully. A young person is a whole person. Academics, sports and life skills are all vital components in bringing out a holistic development.”

·       PAY encourages all interested people to volunteer as it strives to make a difference in children’s lives. You can contact , Marie Jeanne Ndimbira on +264818681586 or email her at marie.jeanne@paynamibia.org You can visit their website at http://www.paynamibia.org or like their Facebook page at facebook.com/NamibiaPhysicalActiveYouth.com

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