If I should make a modern version of the Bible, in the language of today, I would quote something like this: “If your blessings are like the numbers of motorbikes in Lome, Togo, you will never run out of blessings!”
The city is absolutely filled with motorbikes, and the sound of them is like a never-ending thunderstorm. The few cars are moving very carefully amongst the motorbikes. If there is an accident between a motorbike and a car, you can be sure that the next second there are at least fifty motor bikers standing around the car to protect their sister or brother, so drive carefully!
Outside of Lome, in the forest, we arrived at Bagbe, the excellent conference centre of Togo YMCA and hopefully the future campus of the YMCA University of Africa Alliance of YMCAs. More on that later. Here in Bagbe a brilliant morning was showering light and sunshine and a very happy mix of hot degrees of Fahrenheit and Celcius in overwhelming quantities. Really an excellent morning for a black suit and tie!
The local governor and the traditional chiefs of the region were present, and the official opening ceremony was going on in French. A moment of inspiration struck me. Ingunn and I had been studying French since we arrived in Geneva, and all of a sudden I understood that I could put together enough French words to make my opening remarks in that beautiful language. I stood up and impressed the little minority of non-French speakers. For the majority, the French speakers, it was just an interesting linguistic experience….
Later on that morning the President of African Alliance of YMCAs, James Ekow Rhule from Ghana, and I, together officially opened a new building of the future University in Bagbe.
I was deeply impressed with the high level of discussions in the African leadership, and I was eager to introduce the NEW WAY strategy to them. The comments were many, and solid, and I was happy to receive unanimous support for the NEW WAY strategy from Africa.
One term was like a red thread through our meeting. It was like it was blowing in the wind through the jungle. S2C, from Subject to Citizen, a fantastic new programme of the African Alliance of YMCAs. It is more than a programme, it is more than a strategy, it is a dream, a vibrant vision of the coming of an African renaissance. Coming through the will and determination of the young generations of Africa, strengthened by the hearts and minds of young African YMCA leaders and supported by the whole family of YMCAs on that continent. Recently an official dinner was held in Nairobi with high level participations from the Diplomatic Corps and leaders of society where a good number of new S2C ambassadors were presented, young YMCA leaders trained to extend the programme to more young people. The S2C vision was received very warmly by the international attendance at the dinner, and it gives promise of future support from around the continent.
The S2C is about young people creating a space for themselves, giving a voice to the young generation, demanding influence over their own lives and in the society where they live. It is a courageous march from being subjects and voiceless servants to become free and independent citizens. It will be a march of many, and the march has already started.
I fell in love with this vision from the first day I heard the S2C message. It is genuinely born in Africa by African youth and has a potential that goes far beyond Africa alone.
I see S2C as a great gift coming out of Africa to the rest of the YMCA world, and please do expect to hear much more about S2C as we continue to travel along the NEW WAY.
What a contrast for us to come from Bagbe and the celebrations to the huge prison of Lome, where the YMCA of Togo is running a fascinating programme for the young inmates. The conditions in the prison were basic and below, and in fact a high number of young prisoners did not even know why they were there. They could spend years and years inside the walls of the prison without any sentence. Not being able to write or read, these young people are very vulnerable and defenceless. The YMCA has made it possible to operate inside the prison to help these young prisoners. Ingunn and I were given permission to enter the prison and to sit together with a group of prisoners. They are organized by the YMCA of Togo and with YMCA secretaries as leaders. With our feeble French and their stumbling English and a lot of good, old body language we were able to lead an exciting conversation, where they told us how they helped young prisoners to write letters to judges and explaining their own cases to the judges. In this way more than hundred young prisoners had been admitted to freedom over the last couple of years. These YMCA agents helping the prisoners were all prisoners themselves, trained by judges and the YMCA. It was like they had to drag me away from this impressive group of prisoners, this was so close to the heart and core of the YMCA vision, closer than I had been for a long, long time. It gave me an intense feeling of pride to belong to a movement so deeply relevant to the local needs of young people. It was youth empowerment par excellence – If you love somebody – set them free!
Another huge contrast when we two hours later were received by the Prime Minister of Togo and could sit down with this very gentle and wise leader of the country to talk about the future of an African YMCA University in his country and ask for the support of his government. I was still full of my prison experience and I sincerely thanked the Prime Minister for allowing the YMCA to do their service to the young people inside the prison. He was glad that we are able to offer those services, and said that his country was faced with so many challenges , that they were not able to solve all the problems at the same time.
When I was appointed Traditional Chief by the Chiefs of the Bagbe region later that night, and dressed in traditional robe, a fantastic gift, it was just another huge contrast framing an unbelievable African day under the sun. Now we were dancing through a deep, black African night with millions of brilliant stars above and the drums beating and the rhythm bringing us back to the first evening of creation.