Our Story

OUR STORY

Beginnings

Urban Youth for Africa is a program of the Kalamazoo Deacons Conference, a non-profit
located in Kalamazoo, Michigan. This program began in January, 2009 as a desire to creatively
and purposefully impact underprivileged youth in Kalamazoo by giving them a chance to step
out of their circumstances and realize the incredible power they possess to change their world for
the better.

Growth and Preparation

In February, 2009, the interview and selection process began. Those chosen set off on an
exciting journey of meeting weekly to study the rich culture and history of Sierra Leone
including the recent civil war, the atrocities suffered by the people and the economic collapse
that ensued. The students read and discussed the book Boy Soldier and watched and discussed
movies such as Bling, Cry Freetown and Blood Diamond. We engaged speakers from Sierra
Leone to come and share their culture and stories. Our teens bonded and learned through
leadership games, field trips, activities in our community and serving together at the local
mission and day shelters. After months of preparing, jumping though the bureaucratic hoops to
get passports, visas and immunizations, Team 1 was ready.

Finally, July 19, 2009, the dream was realized, prayers were answered and 8 urban teens, some
of whom had never even seen Lake Michigan, were on a plane with 5 leaders heading to Africa
to experience a new culture and landscape, make new friends and serve others. These students
would soon discover the current world view of their life, relationships and opportunities would
never be the same!

Service in Africa

In both 2009 and 2010, teams of students spent 19 days working and learning alongside a group
of teens from Sierra Leone. We partnered with the organization Word Made Flesh in the capital
city of Freetown. Together, our teens and theirs built relationships, learned about the foundations
for making good choices in their lives, and helped to re-paint and re-store a rundown church
building in Kroo Bay, the poorest slum in Freetown. Word Made Flesh uses this church for their
weekly children’s programs, benefiting more than 300 kids, many of them orphaned from the
war.

Urban Youth for Africa journeyed to Senegal to partner with Africulturban in 2011. Team
three spent two weeks in Pikane, Senegal working and serving with junior high youth at a local
school. They engaged in learning the local arts, music and dance with teens from Senegal. Prior
to the trip, team three worked hard to purchase two water purification systems; they assisted in
installing those systems in the poverty stricken community of Pikane. For our students to witness
people lining up for hours to get clean water was a life lesson they will not forget.

We acknowledge that the teens from Africa and our own have much to learn from each other,
and likewise we are not out to “save Africa”, but rather to build mutually transformative
relationships while at the same time using what resources we do possess to empower both groups
in the struggle for a brighter future. We pray that each youth walks away knowing that it doesn’t
matter where they come from or what mistakes they’ve made in the past or how much money
they have, their lives make a difference.

One of the most frequently questions “how do you raise the funds?”

Answer: Creatively and by God’s grace and generosity.

The majority of the UYFA student team lives under the poverty level so fundraising created
challenges; approaching family and relatives is not generally an option to raise funds. Generous
local businesses and families sponsor students and Nulty Insurance has hosted beach benefits.
Between those two avenues the majority of the funds for the program have been raised. But the
kids also work to raise funds and awareness. Participating in car washes and radio interviews
as well as speaking at local service organizations and churches are part of their responsibilities.
Countless hours are spent promoting the vision and awareness and raising funds. Beyond
promoting the program, these activities integrate leadership skills and identity development for
the students.

The Power of Youth

Urban Youth for Africa strives for each student to realize that service and leadership
opportunities do not kick in when you hit a certain age or start making a large amount of money.
Everyone, regardless of where they stand economically, has God-given gifts and abilities to
develop which will allow them to lead and serve others.

Sadly, each group of teens has experienced the ravages of violence. The Kalamazoo teens are
aware of the steep price of gang violence in their own neighborhoods; the Sierra Leonean teens
live in a land ravaged by civil war and corruption. The longing for peace is universal. In order
to bring change and peace, today’s youth must recognize the futility of self-destructive behavior
and become servant-hearted leaders. This can only happen when life has meaning and hope.

Our teens have walked away transformed and inspired by the lessons taught by the teens they
developed relationships with during their journey in Africa. They witnessed their peers in
Sierra Leone and Senegal persevering under conditions far more desperate than they had ever
experienced. Despite the obstacles, there was hope and joy in the faces of their new friends. To
recognize that neither wealth nor prestige are necessary to determine their worth and joy is a
priceless lesson.

Tomorrow’s Hope

We are presently starting to interview for our fourth team that, God willing, will spend part of
the summer in Sierra Leone in 2013. Lives will be changed forever, both here and in Africa.
Stay tuned!

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