“I feel happy at MYC. So do my friends. You can see it from their faces.” Leul has been coming to Mek’ele Youth Centre, known as ‘MYC’ by everyone here, for a number of years.
There is a buzz around MYC. A warm welcome awaits. It’s a safe and secure environment so the youth can relax, plus it’s packed with facilities to enjoy.
Each and every way you look, there is something going on; English, computer and health awareness classes, children standing and talking, board games being played, a football field where the dust rarely settles, basketball players erupting into action, the noise of a table tennis balls whacked back and forth at high speed, echoing in the main hall. You will also see volleyball, tennis, taekwondo and acrobatics.
This place is full of life.
“Children spend their time here, especially on the weekends”, says table tennis coach Giday Assefa. “There are a lot of bad things in our city. If the children do not come here, they get involved in other bad things, like getting drunk.”
Watching Leul as he interacts with friends and shoots hoops, his words ring true. He and those around him are happy here. They are relaxed. “MYC has helped to shape my life in a positive manner”, Leul continues. “With the HIV and AIDS programme, computer and library classes, I have acquired good knowledge that helps me stay healthy and aware.”
MYC is often the first place young people think of going when they leave their home in the morning. Day after day. It’s like a second home.
Opportunity for all
As the busiest youth centre in the city, MYC offers opportunities for children who simply would not find them elsewhere.
Big and small, girls and boys, able-bodied and physically challenged. All get a chance here. In northern Ethiopia, girls tend not to get the same opportunities as boys. Yet here, the same facilities are available. The girls regularly win medals in regional table tennis tournaments, plus there is a basketball team.
There are also opportunities for those with physical challenges, such as those in wheelchairs and those who are deaf.
Table tennis coach Giday is one of a few staff to have learnt sign language in order to communicate more effectively with the deaf youth. MYC is a wonderful place for those with physical challenges to connect with each other.
Today, youth with disabilities at MYC win most of the regional medals in table tennis. At a national level, children have won silver and bronze medals. There is also a deaf football team and a wheelchair basketball team.
These achievements are not possible without the resources that MYC boasts. Sporting victories are testament to how people have and continue to invest themselves and their resources into this place.
Equipping a generation
Rufael’s journey with MYC goes way back. Fourteen years ago, he left Eritrea just to the north, because of the war, and came to Mek’ele. For a sociable eighteen-year-old, there was not too much to do in the area, but then he found the Mek’ele Youth Centre.
At the time, he had no higher-level education. SIM worker Jon Nykamp - the MYC Centre Director - noticed Rufael’s interest in the books and keeping the Centre tidy.
Rufael was quickly rewarded with some part time work and recalls the day he was handed his first pay, “That was the start of my journey with MYC”.
Rufael now holds two degrees and works part-time at MYC as the Youth Development Coordinator.
“There are plenty of other children that are getting the opportunities I did too. We see people in all areas of community - police, pilots - who had spent a lot of time at MYC”, says Rufael.
Equipping young people so that they can contribute to the greater good of their country - that’s what MYC does.
MYC enables the youth to dream bigger, it’s a home of opportunity.
For staff, the youth centre is a great place to get to know the children and build trusting relationships. From those relationships, there are plenty of natural opportunities to speak into their lives.
MYC Centre Director Jon Nykamp says, “Many of the children simply need a brother, sister, even a mother and father figure to take interest in them. Our goal is to see them growing and developing in every way. To find true life and live it to the fullest. We get to walk with them and give them the tools they need for fruitful lives.”
It’s exciting to see how the lives of the youth here are being impacted.
Vision for future
Just to the north of Mek’ele, is Eritrea. The border was opened in 2018 and with that, Mek’ele’s population is growing rapidly (at least 500,000 in 2018). Approximately 60% are under 18.
There is a tremendous opportunity to reach out to these youth with the gospel but a single youth centre like MYC cannot cater for all of them.
Now, the local government has approached MYC to open more youth centres. The MYC staff see these new youth centres being completely community led. Now MYC has a wonderful opportunity to connect with local communities and encourage them to take ownership of youth centres in the area.