Bringing Hope for Community, Impacting Oneself
Stanley Lezeni is a Programme Officer of Vision Changers Kenya for Hope Kwa Vijana Mtaani, our Dream Building Fund 2021 project in Nairobi. Lezeni oversees this initiative to transform juvenile offenders’ and reformed youth's behaviour to promote career possibilities, improve social development, and reduce stress through table tennis training.
On World Youth Skills Day with its 2023 theme ‘Skilling teachers, trainers and youth for a transformative future’ we spotlight a story of change in Kenya: Stanley Lezeni did not expect to become a role model for vulnerable and high-risk young people in the most marginalised communities when he was chosen to serve as the Programme Officer for the three-year Hope Kwa Vijana Mtaani project.
Vision Changers Kenya (VCK) initiated Hope Kwa Vijana Mtaani in 2021 to address social justice issues dissected through rights, governance, and livelihood. They aim to change the behaviour of 1,000 reformed youths and Juveniles in Nairobi using the power of table tennis, which contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.
The project “Hope Kwa Vijana Mtaani” initially began with a target population of only 25 participants aged 13-18 and has expanded over the past few months to more than 100 participants. The initial challenge of the project was encouraging the youth to open up on challenges reinforcing their involvement in crimes. Most youths felt talking about their issues was a waste of time as they felt there was no hope for them in the environment, in which they were raised.
They apply several integrated strategies to solve the challenges by conducting supervision, counselling and mentoring, and dialogue forums to prepare for the reintegration of reformed youths and juveniles into society. Through constant follow-ups, mentorship and the use of table tennis for development by VCKs dedicated mentors and volunteers, various changes have come visible: youths begun to talk about various factors leading them to crime and the barriers they faced quitting; group sessions improved their courage to speak up and act as role models to other participants; and the level of table tennis improved as the youth have constantly been engaged with table tennis as an activity for fun, communication and friendship during every mentoring session.
Besides the increased number of participants, the number of volunteers did as well, impacting their lives and gaining knowledge and life skills.
“At the time, I neither felt comfortable speaking up nor advocating, let alone for other young people. However, through this project, things changed after I received training on meaningful youth participation in the juvenile justice system.” – Stanley Lezeni, Programme Officer at Hope Kwa Vijana Mtaani.
After the training, Lezeni feels excited about working on the project together with young people. Not only has it been a joyful experience for him, but the target communities also inspire and teach him lessons in many ways.
“I am now a master trainer, and the mentorship training has shaped how I facilitate and manage the project. The peer-to-peer interaction sessions icebreakers are fun, and during the reflective sessions, we try to understand how the young people are feeling and hear what they have learnt from the training and interactive sessions. The practical exercises make it easier to imagine situations, which is much better for learning and understanding the plights of these young people.” – Stanley Lezeni.
Lezeni quickly became aware, along with the project’s volunteers, of the importance of the training and implementation process through various activities, including table tennis activities.
He aims to empower young people to develop their independence and find their voice, and to adapt to various situations with the life skills they have gained through the game of table tennis. In the end, he is the one who benefits from the training as well.
“Whilst we were sharing information with young people, we realised we had also enhanced our skills on how to network, how to engage other stakeholders and how to make our needs heard and acted upon.” – Stanley Lezeni.
Young people can now confront the neighbourhood's inaction on problems that eventually raise recidivism and crime rates in the slums and work together to seek solutions. They can also engage with community leaders to express their opinions.
“It was powerful that young people and their communities could identify their issues and find solutions. We have witnessed the power of dialogue during awareness sessions hosted by young people. These meetings brought together community members to discuss specific themes; they jointly identified solutions for related challenges.” – Stanley Lezeni.
VCKs project shows how to use table tennis as a tool for dialogue and hope, and how essential hope is in life. Project participants hope for a life outside crime, they hope for better opportunities and ultimately a better life – it is great to see that many have already changed their behaviours and gained skills to transform their future.