Pennipher Vida Sikainda knows what it is like to cherish dreams that seem impossible to attain. Becoming a journalist was like a fairy tale, a fairy tale that came true for her. Now, she wants to help Zambian girls achieve their dreams with a new empowerment, skills-based program.
Only 6 years ago, Sikainda longed for the skills to become a journalist. Journalism was a lofty goal for a teenage girl in the male-driven society of Zambia. The country, according to SIGI, ranked 131 out of 146 nations on the Gender Inequality Index in 2011. In addition to the gender hurdle, Sikainda’s parents could ill afford to send her to college.
Her family had younger children to put through high school. So, when Sikainda graduated high school at age 16, she found a job at the post office and helped with family expenses despite being below the legal age for employment. It was a matter of doing what she had to do, until her career took a surprising turn.
A colleague suggested she audition for a job at a local radio station. Radio Phoenix, the most popular station in the nation, was looking for a new DJ, but spinning records had nothing to do with her dreams or interests. Her colleague had to cajole her into attending the audition.
“At the last minute, I decided to go,” recalls Sikainda, “because, maybe, it really was the chance that I needed.”
Sikainda still had a hard time seeing herself as a DJ, and a harder time believing she could compete with the hundreds of professionals waiting to audition. The situation seemed impossible. Her friend, again, had to bolster her confidence, until she learned the station placed greater emphasis on how the candidates spoke, than on technical skills and experience with equipment, which were part of the station’s job training.
Talking freely about sports, soccer in particular, was the passion that got Sikainda through several rounds of interviews and into the company of 13 finalists. The station, she learned, planned to hire 8 people. By the end of a week-long job review, Sikainda was 1 out of 3 ladies and 5 gentlemen employed.
On the 1st day of job orientation, the new employees had the option to train briefly with various departments. Sikainda was the only novice to select the news room. It was right where she wanted to be and, as it happened, right where she stayed for 2 ½ years.
A brief certificate program at journalism school enhanced her on-the-job training. She not only became a reporter, she started a gospel show that still airs.
When the opportunity to join MUVI TV, the largest television company in the nation, came her way, she took it. There, she catapulted to award winning status, reporting on water and sanitation. She stands now as a trained business reporter and anchor, who hosts a sunrise breakfast show in additional to other on-air news reports.
Sikainda wants to empower other young women, ages 13 – 25, to seek out opportunities and make the most of them. To accomplish that, Uplift the Girls is being created.
“Basically the project is targeted at skills development and,” explains Sikainda, “helping young women have the attitude of self-belief and motivation, so they can nation-start a motivated generation.
"The main reason why I put this particular initiative together is to help more people benefit from projects that are meant, as the name says, to uplift young people." She adds, "We have an area back home [in Lusaka, the capital city] where not so many people, particularly young girls, have been able to see the benefit of some of the projects founded by other people." Her program will begin reducing that gap.
"Eventually in the long term,” says Sikainda, “we would like to spread out to rural communities, which are usually left out.”
Sikainda is working to get the initiative up and running. “I am still collecting contacts to see who I can partner with locally in Zambia,” she explains. Then from the broader region, I have identified some police who are part of a similar program in South Africa. We are fortunate to have partnered with them.
“We have also connected with the Business and Professional Women chapter in Zambia to have their stories about starting businesses and gaining executive positions motivate the girls and develop leadership skills. And, I, of course, can work with the girls on public speaking.” Sikainda says, “So, before the end of the year, everything should be in place to have the first center established in the city initiative.”
Most of the people she is contacting are those who can provide direct material support. “For example,” she says, “we are trying to help people learn to knit.” They are reaching organizations that can provide cotton and all the basic materials needed for the girls to develop hands-on experience in knitting and in more chosen areas of interest.
“The other reason I am emphasizing skills development,” explains Sikainda, “is because we have a challenge of unemployment, which is very high [and given to volatility, for example, estimated 50% in 2000 and 14% in 2006 ]. It is not that easy to find a proper job unless they start something on their own. If we can have a culture of people becoming self-starters, that will help them.”
Sikainda also expects community ownership in this nonprofit organization. “Once some of the girls graduate or they’re able to show they’ve gained experience from the program, we want them to remain part of it as mentors.” She believes, “They can continue with outreach, targeted to spreading the word to more people so that we have continuity.”
Last year the United Nations concluded, “Zambia, like many other developing countries, is in need of harnessing all its human resources to accelerate the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) so the benefits reach all women and men, girls and boys. However the full access to, and utilization of all national assets continues to be inhibited by gender inequalities and uneven power relationships between men and women.”
Sikainda is harnessing greater opportunities for girls and young women, while working full time and attending college for that journalism diploma she has always wanted. Her two siblings completed high school and she saved enough money to enter the University of Zambia last year. One lesson learned was never to give up on one’s dreams. Living her dream, Sikainda has been described as changing the face of the young women leaders of Africa.