How a young leader is made: Luyando Katenda’s story

IMG_3946Luyando is first child in a family of five,  in Chawama,  a slum in Lusaka, Zambia. Being the eldest sibling and growing up in a slum have been cardinal experiences in shaping the person he has become.

Amidst familial expectations in  the quest to lead by example, he has grown into a determined person, with inclination to “question the status quo and  address pressing societal challenges.” That is the marking of a transformative leader and he owes it all to his parents, community mentors that crossed his path.

From a tender age of four, he wrote and  recited poems about children’s rights and HIV/AIDs  eventually contributing to his school’s victory in the poetry category of  a regional school competition. At school, he was known as ‘the guy who always asked questions’ even when it seemed there were no more questions to be asked.  This was reflected in his poetry.

In grade seven, he was selected to represent his school at a children’s parliament organized in Lusaka by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Foundation. Despite being the youngest at the event, he stood out and was chosen as the speaker of the parliament.  The children’s parliament served as a platform through which he had the rare opportunity  to ask tough but challenging questions  concerning the wellbeing of children in his community. For example, he asked why there weren’t enough schools and why his community had more bars than recreational facilities and libraries for children. His outstanding performance  got him nominated as one of the 10 Zambian delegates to attend the regional parliament in South Africa, organized in commemoration Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday.

While at the regional children’s parliament he read out the declaration of what children in the southern region of Africa need from their leaders before thousands of participants and guests.  “If I was requested to ask something from my grandfather (in reference to  Mandela) over there, I would ask for his legacy of love, his legacy of forgiveness and peace…” he read. After, as he walked back to take his  seat amid the conversations, he was asked to shake hands with Mandela.  He reflects… “The ‘tiny me’ was carried by the MC to meet him, and in his deep South African lovely voice he said to me, ‘You know what man, you will be it man, you are great man, you will be it man’. That memorable encounter was one of his most defining moments, for Luyando; it marked his transition to puberty and certainly to his leadership journey. He is reminded of his capability as a changemaker and encouraged him to continue being of service to humanity.

Back home, as was his usual routine to read the newspapers after his father was done  with  them, he stumbled upon an advertisement that literally changed his life. UNICEF Zambia was looking for Zambian children in Lusaka to apply to be among the first ever child ambassadors to the organization.  After a rigorous application process he was chosen as one of  four UNICEF child Ambassadors. This gave him a  larger platform to air his views about children’s issues as well as contribute to addressing challenges such as donating books at a children’s hospital or planting trees and talking to fellow students at schools in his community. In 2009, he was among the Zambian delegates that took part in the Children’s Climate Forum in Copenhagen, Denmark.  This was prior to the Conference of Parties (COP) 15 which is an annual United Nations conference. There, he and other delegates at the children’s climate conference were inaugurated as climate ambassadors.  Seeing that not so many Zambians knew about climate change they decided to play a role in raising awareness about this scourge and its blunt consequences. They contributed to the establishment of the Unite for Climate Zambia which became a UNICEF signature program that would train children across Zambia as climate ambassadors. The first climate change conference under this program was held in 2010 and has been occurring annually since then. The program has trained over 1000 Zambian children across Zambian provinces and planted thousands of trees. In 2012, he was trained as a youth facilitator who had the responsibility of training other children to be climate ambassadors.  This strengthened his passion for sustainable development and HIV prevention. He helped establish environmental clubs in his community, conducted waste management campaigns and spoke to local leaders about plans to address poor waste management and other environmentally related challenges that plagued his community.

Luyando has since been invited to different forums to share his experiences as a climate ambassador.  He spoke at the a TEDxjovem@ibera in Sao Paulo and at the Stockholm +40 partnership forum for sustainable development in  Brazil. In  2012, he was  selected to represent the Southern region at the 3rd pan African forum for children, where he and other delegates voiced their concerns about the plight of children across Africa. In 2014, he and some friends he met as climate ambassadors co founded an organization called Agents of Change Foundation Zambia which aims at molding ethical young leaders  using radio as a platform, to discuss social challenges like climate change and HIV/AIDs.  With the support of the Children’s Radio foundation they have trained 100 young people as youth reporters who run radio programs at five radio programs in three of Zambia’s provinces.  

His acceptance to the African leadership Academy (ALA)  was crucial  to his development as a young leader and strengthened his determination to be an agent of positive change. ALA exposed him to diverse cultures and also allowed him to delve into a path of self discovery. At the academy, he was actively involved in the international relations council and was part of the African Leadership Academy Model African Union (ALAMAU) research team as committee chair and also CEO of a student enterprise called GreenLink, whose vision is to create sustainable African economies through the creation of innovation clubs in South African public schools.

Conclusively, while at Michigan State university and as a proud MasterCard Foundation Scholar, Luyando remains resolute in his quest to play a role in making our world a better place. He is currently an executive committee member of Future Africa, an organization  which was founded to redesign the political, economic and social discourse in Africa by bridging the gap between decision makers and proven approaches to address current and future development needs on the continent. He hopes his story inspires others to be at the center of their own world by seeking to be better than who they were with every passing minute and having the understanding that their situation or status should not derail them from achieving that which they desire.

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