Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Highest Potential

An article I received

This articles ends like this - “children anxious to learn, anxious to help, itching to be and become, he would see what every traveller with time on his hands sees: the tremendous, untapped genius and energy of youth in Africa. And he might ask, as I ask: where does it go? What happens to them? What is it that keeps killing hope in Africa?”

What I’ve seen in Jasford and Patel

Last July I started working with a young guy named Jasford, he had worked hard at Forest Fruits for 6 months to save about $150.  He managed to save by living at home and commuting from his village to save on rent and food, and he also avoided alcohol and splurging on nice clothes.  When the honey season ended, he worked with his brother, they started one of the millions of informal businesses in Zambia. Jasford wanted to go to college to learn how to be a mechanic, he needed $2000 to pay for tuition.  With his brother they bought and sold gasoline from the nearest fuel pump which is 300km away.  After 6 more months passed, he had almost $500 saved.  Someone suggested he buy a cow and sell it when prices would go up for Christmas.  He spent the $250 on the cow, unfortunately it died and he only got $50 from the carcass. 

There goes some hope.

But he was far from giving up.  We met and went over the numbers, he kept repeating how important profits were, not revenues.  We found that he could make the most money by working at Forest Fruits and going to buy gasoline on weekends, then his brother could sit by the road and sell the fuel while he was at work.  He was on his way, it was going to take two years, but that was alright.

Jasford then asked me to help him with mathematics so he could pass his entrance exam.  I asked him to bring his final high school exam, and we’d start there.  We sat for a good 6 hours trying to get through the first question, and it became obvious that somehow he had passed grade 12 without ever knowing what a variable was – for example, in the equation “x + 5 = 21”, he wasn’t taught how to solve for the variable x, or even the concept.

The government high school had failed him…there goes some more hope.

His friend Patel is another example of a young guy who works so hard I can’t help but dream a better future for him.  This guy is the ultimate handyman and he’s only 20 years old.

But.  Just today his relatives came and asked the boss if he could be excused from work today to attend a funeral.  How does this effect his approach to planning for the future?  His hope?



I work with another amazing guy named Evans, and I would love to have him as a guest on my blog one day as well.  He is in the second highest position in the company, and yet you can find him without a dollar to splurge on a cold drink.  For months his nephews and cousins were staying at his house and eating for free.  They would sit around while he worked over 40 hours a week and studied another 20 hours for business management degree via distance education.  They just sat.

Even though Evans has found a way to make a good life for his wife and kids, he is part of a system that can pull him back.  Why should anyone work as hard as Evans when they see that he doesn’t even get to keep the rewards?


“Where does it all go?“

 In some ways it may not be all that different from Canada, we get older, more cynical and sometimes more humble.  It reminds me of something Ralph Nader said last year at the EWB conference: our 20’s are beautiful because we don’t know what isn’t possible.

Here in Zambia its just more severe and systemic, things we (in Canada) take for granted such as health care, education, law enforcement… just don’t work well in Zambia.  Everyone starts out with a truckload of hope and potential, but as the years go by, as most attempts become failures due to circumstances beyond control, then the natural result is a sincere life of living within your means.  You become modest and VERY risk adverse.

This is why I strongly believe the highest potential and the biggest rewards will come from empowering Zambians who are in their 20's.

(3 weeks ago Jasford started studying to do electrical work at a college in Kitwe, his church has sponsored him for the part of the tuition)


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