Action Aid Zambia acting country director Kajila Shako says young people’s needs cannot be addressed if national budgets lack critical components that address unemployment and HIV infection among other issues.

And Minister of Sport Moses Mawere says young people must get engaged in the political process and in issues affecting them for the country to move forward.

Shako was speaking at the Queen’s Young Leaders Firestarter Initiative Awards Ceremony at Action Aid offices in Lusaka yesterday, where 15 organisation received grants.

“As of 2014, 74% of the 15 million of Zambians are people under the age of 35, so the story of Zambia is the story of young people and that is why as Action Aid, we have deliberately chosen to work with young people as a target population, for our grant-making, for our outreach, for our programming, for our capacity building, for our mobilisation, for our engagement, we work with young people deliberately, because the story of Zambia is the story of young people,” said Shako.

“If we don’t ensure that the national budgets have critical components that address the challenges that face young people, unemployment, HIV infection, early marriages, teenage pregnancies, not just unemployment but unemployability, which means you require training programmes, we will not be addressing anything because the story of Zambia is a story of young people.”

And in a speech read on his behalf by Director of Youth Collins Mulonda, Mawere urged young people to take active roles in society.

“We’re cognizant of the fact that although young people make up a significant proportion of the population, most youths are disengaged from the political process and feel excluded and marginalised and as a result, they fail to play leading roles in issues affecting them and the nation as a whole. It is in this context that the Ministry is pleased to partner with Action Aid in the Queen’s Young Leaders Award which aims at recognising young people aged 18 to 29 who are taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform the lives of others,” said Mawere.

“I have been reliably informed that the theme for this year’s Firestarter Initiative is, ‘This is Our Moment, Youth Changing Zambia’. The theme is in line with the understanding that youth must now be willing to take leadership roles and must be willing to participate in the development process of the nation. There is therefore need for the youth to respond to this call, and on issues that affect their basic human rights.”

Meanwhile, acting British High Commissioner to Zambia Andrew Hamilton reiterated his country’s commitment to helping grow Zambian youth empowerment projects.

“I hope that the support from Action Aid Zambia can help you grow your projects further. The UK and its citizens recognize that potential in Zambia and we have a responsibility to try and forge those partnerships,” said Hamilton.

The Queen’s Young Leaders Programme was established by Action Aid in partnership with the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, the Comic Relief and Royal Commonwealth Society in honour of Her Majesty the Queen’s sixty years of service to the Commonwealth.

The K1,308,015 went to 15 organisations from eight provinces, 11 of which are from the first round (2015) and four are new entrants.