Kalamazoo students head to Africa for leadership, service training

Elijah Hasman is among the students from Kalamazoo headed to Sierra Leone, Africa.

Five students from Kalamazoo and four adult leaders left Thursday for a two-week experience in Africa, as part of a program called Urban Youth for Africa. Program leaders said the trip is an opportunity of a lifetime, and all of the participants will come back changed.

“We get to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and see how they live, how they interact,” said Elijah Hasman, who just graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School. “I want to come back here a more caring and loving person.”

All of the students on the trip are juniors, seniors or recent graduates from Kalamazoo Central and Loy Norix. After a full day of traveling to Sierra Leone, on Africa's western coast, the group will experience living and serving others in the country's slums.

Urban Youth for Africa takes inner city students and launches them on a path to leadership. All expenses for the Africa trip are covered by the Kalamazoo Deacons Conference. Over the past year -- to prepare for the main event overseas -- the students have volunteered and completed community service projects.

“It’s an opportunity for us to grow and gain some humanity and humility at the same time,” said Kalamazoo Central graduate Al-Nisa Vaughn.

Jeaninne Sytsema, director of UYFA, said of the students: “They have inside them, right in them, what they need to give. To be change agents in their community.”

Sytsema said the program has truly changed lives. The experience gives students direction, confidence and inspiration. She said they return home more grateful, less wasteful, and they positively impact their communities

Vaughn said she hopes, “To be more appreciative and thankful of all the opportunities that we have.”

The students also raised about $1,500 this past year. That money will pay for the education of at least one student through high school in Sierra Leone.

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