28 June 2014 by Donna Uning CM –
Defying the sweltering heat that has been hitting the city of Kuching in the last few days, a group of young people make their way to the local delicacies starting off their visit to the country. The youth group from Sweden was treated with local food including the pansuh and umai; and local entertainment by their hosts during their visit here.
Arriving just the night before, the group, comprising of 16 youths and three leaders, are from the Underground Leadership Academy (ULA), Jönköping, Sweden. There are here for a visit with Breakthrough ministries.
“It took a year for the group to save up to go here,” said Underground Leadership Academy director, Peter Magnusson. He also said that the youths worked and raised funds every month for their trip.
The academy, which started seven years ago, is the only youth center in Sweden with mostly girls. “Some of the girls teach and compete in dance competitions,” Peter said, acknowledging four of the girls practicing local dance moves at the dinner. The center has majority girls and most are from the Middle East, some from North Africa and other parts of the world.
“It started as a drop-in center,” he said. When the center started meeting the needs of the youths in the country, it created interest from the regional government. Unemployment and crime rates went down, recognizing the success of the programs. The center also received funds and donations from the royal family, as well as regional groups in Sweden. Sweden’s own furniture giant, Ikea, provided furniture and equipment for the center.
“Because nobody else knew how to do these kinds of things, we get a lot of support from the government and visitors,” he said. “We let the young people speak to the ministers when they visit,” he added.
“The girls tell them what the center meant to them and hearing these touched the visitors, sometimes to the point of tears,” he explained. They had a 14-year old girl talked to officials, telling them about the center when they visit recently. “It helps their self-confidence to talk with people on these levels,” he said telling, “The girls do a much better job at explaining and reporting on their activities and programs.”
The center oversees about 250 youths a month, some come in occasionally, some weekly. Apart from being a dropping center, the academy also serves as a driving school. They also provide counseling over the internet. “We build relationships with the students,” Peter said telling trust is important, with parents as well as the students. “We ask their parents what they worry about and we build trust with them,” he said.
As a place run by a Christian organization and its values, the center attracts people from all races and religions. There are certain behavioral and moral rules that the youths need to live by. “It is an unusual job,” he said telling, “Respect and relationship are important to work out.”
“The young people practice leadership skills here,” he said. They spend three years at the center. Due to their reputation and credibility, former students are highly regarded in the job market.
After dinner, the young people continued their cultural activity at the reception.
In the next few days, the group visited D’wira educational center and Breakthrough’s youth center, The Hub. They stopped by Bethany church on Sunday before leaving Kuching. The group will be spending three weeks in Malaysia, including a week in Kuching and Sematan, Sarawak.
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