Prisonpreneurs transforming the stigmatization of former inmates in Cameroon: Meet Bensong Bawack Mallet.

1.    Could you describe the first moment when you realized you wanted to do this work?

Growing up as a young person, I have always had the desire to make a difference in what I do or create an impact no matter how small. Being a young person from a poor background I have wished to grow up and be an opportunity provider (especially life-changing opportunities) and a solution to the ills surrounding young people in my community. Experiencing rascality on my tender age and seeing how my peers were engaged in violent activities which even saw some of them ending up dead while others imprisoned, It strengthened my resilience and believe of becoming better and impacting others with passion.  With the dawn of the current “Anglophone” crisis in my country coupled with high social injustice and bad governance that exist and the adverse effect on young people, I started seeing where I can start realizing my dreams.     Seeing how frustration and lack of voice and opportunities have made young people vulnerable to radicalization, instrumentalization and violent extremism, I took a conviction to direct all my energy towards building a new generation of changemakers and peacebuilders through transformative and empowering activities which could be seen in all my projects since 2015.

2.       Could take us through a day of your work? Where do you put most of your time and energy?

As a human resource and administrative officer, as well as project assistant of a youth-led and youth-centered peacebuilding civil society organization (Local Youth Corner Cameroon), all my activities at work, I support the design of peacebuilding projects and provide guidance to my team of young people on the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of our projects. Like now, when I get to the office in the morning, I visit all four departments (Programs, Communications, Finance, and Logistics) to get updates on the current project (s) and provide necessary recommendations where necessary. I mostly spend time with the programs and communications departments to either design new projects or evaluation current ones   

3.       What are your key achievements in your work?

My major achievements are being able to make a publication on the topic “Transforming Violent Offenders and Champions of Peace in Cameroon” which has been used in many platforms as a best practice and policy document.

Since 2017, I have also been implementing a project called ‘Creative Skills for Peace’ as a follow-up to the project on the promotion rehabilitation and reintegration (r-r) in Cameroon and through this project (20 months on), 300 prisoners have been transformed into entrepreneurs who are now called ‘Prisonpreneurs’ and making impact both in and out of prison. Through this project and major advocacies launched in favor of effective R-R in Cameroon, the Cameroon Minister of Youth Affairs and Civic Education launched for the first time the 2019 National Youth Day (11th February) activities in Prison.

Another major achievement is the recent ‘Salaam School’ that we launched in a locality I the Far North Region of Cameroon, where the extremist group Boko Haram have since 2014 caused numerous havoc and exposed young people to the dangers of war. Lack of education is a major factor that promotes the recruitment of young people into the group as fighters or suicide bombers, starting a school is a major milestone towards saving a generation from violence and street burgling.

4.     How does your organization promote inclusive participation of youth from diverse backgrounds?

From the Board of the organization to the top management and the entire staff, at least 15 different cultures are represented in the team. Even our sub-contractors and project beneficiaries come from diverse backgrounds including people with disabilities.  

5.       What has been your hardest struggle so far, and how did you get over it?

My hardest struggle so far was getting state recognition and approval of my prison project. This process of getting a ministerial order to word in prison given the complexity around prisons in Cameroon delayed the start of the project for over two months. Nonetheless, being a young person who is passionate about peace and youth empowerment and working with a powerful team of other young people, I decided with my team to engage local authorities in the struggles and started the project from region to region. Once I started creating remarkable impact with positive feedback from local authorities and prison administrators, I then compiled reports which convinced the ministry to consider given a national order for the implementation of the project.

6.       What is the biggest challenge you currently face?

My biggest challenge is both human and financial resources to undertake the kind of work I am doing. Another major challenge is insecurity in some of the areas i am working in (Southwest, Northwest and Far North regions) which is either slowing down or even making it impossible to initiate other steps due to dangers involved. Finally, Lack of adequate capacity in government and facilities I work with is also a major hindrance.

7.       What has been your biggest surprise on this journey so far?

None, I have always believed that change is possible. Just circumstances make people get in the wrong places some times and all they need is another chance with the right opportunity.

8.       What keeps you going and give you inspiration in your work? What gives you hope?

Seeing a hardened criminal becoming a peer educator for peace and being embraced by the same community he/she terrorized before, tells me that peace is possible and that I need to do more and keep changing people for the better. In my work so far, I have transformed people from criminals to fashion designers, agricultural experts, and consultants, environmental protectors, shoemakers, etc.  

9.       If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Let where you are coming from not demoralize of defeat you but rather your background should be your one and only source of inspiration to become better and greater.

10.   What words of encouragement would you give to women, children, minorities, and other disempowered groups when they are facing rejection because of the prevailing cultural norm?

Society may reject you simply because of who you are or where you are from, never be discouraged or feel any less human but rather find courage and challenge your mockers with positivity and success stories. When you become something out of nothing, you will be referenced by even those who prosecuted you because of your look or background. Build your inner peace and stay positive.

11.   How can people contact you and learn more about your work?  (eg: email, blog, webpage)

Email: malletbesong@gmail.com or malletbesong@loyocameroon.org

Website: www.loyocameroon.org

Phone (WhatsApp):   +237671467217

Harmony with the environment is the path to inner and community peace: Meet Natalia Oliviera, Brazil.

  1. Could you describe the first moment when you realized you wanted to do this job?

I am from Diamantina, a city in the East of Brazil.  For me, this moment was a process of expansion and return. 10 years ago, I was a young introvert eager to know the world. I received a full scholarship and moved to Belo Horizon (South of Diamantina) where I stayed for 6 years studying International Relations and working with large companies like Caterpillar, Localiza Rent a Car and WebAula (current Uoltech).  When I turned 23, I was offered the position of project manager with great salary benefits, but something bothered me about working for big companies. I realized that my mission was not to work for millionaires that were contributing to the pollution of my city. I sought spiritual development and through the queen of the forest—Ayahuasca, a medicine of the Amazonian people—I reached the key that I was looking for: clarity. I then decided to Diamantina and work in natural medicine. I became a community therapist and a social educator supporting various social justice initiatives in Diamantina.

2. Could you take us through a day of your work? Where do you put most of your time and energy?

Currently, my days are quite busy. 4 months ago, I stopped being a fixed social educator of the Project Walking Together, the largest NGO of the region, to work independently. So right now, I provide services for the Project Walking Together and other NGOs in the city, I make independent campaigns to raise awareness on housing, food, and health challenges of my community; I produce and sell natural cosmetics and medicinal teas; and teach women in marginalized areas of my area to the same. I also organize community therapy circles with several partners such as the town hall and university, I support artistic and cultural actions of friends and partners, I write and seek for funding for collective projects of our group Motirõ, and so much more.

Some of the natural healing products that Natalia make.

3. What are your key achievements in your work?

My key achievement was to learn to communicate in a way that all people can understand. It seems like a simple process, but the theoretical and academic jargons about communication can be traps to transferring our ideas to a non-sophisticated public. Having understood this process helped become a better communicator and surely many doors for me. Some of my other achievements include: – Being the first youth to be President of the Council of the Child and the Teenager of the Municipality of Diamantina(2018);  – Supporting the writing of projects to increase the visibility of my municipality;   – Facilitating the strategic articulation between the Federal University (information systems course) and the woman’s police station in the creation of an app that enables women’s protection against abusers. More recently an important realization was my participation in the Youngs Peacebuilders Fórum. It certainly was the apex of my career so far and opened my ways for several opportunities.

4. What has been your hardest struggle so far, and how did you get over it?

My biggest struggle so far is the social work culture established in one of the oldest cities of Brazil. In Diamantina many people who occupy important positions still see social work as charity, as a tool of social domination and establishment of power and at best as the way to achieve a good public salary or have an occupation. This negative culture acts as a heavy current against those who are trying to make some social impact. In my work experience challenges to propose innovations and speak the truth about an issue I care about because most people to want to act on it.

5. What is the biggest challenge you currently face?

Being able to sustain myself without distancing me from my goal of social work in my community. This is a challenge not only mine but at least 6 friends who are also social workers and are also with little or no payment for their work. After Bolsonaro’s arrival to power, the situation of social workers has significantly deteriorated and we face real threats, but we are determined to continue our work. This is the biggest battle that I and my companions face today.

6. What has been your biggest surprise on this journey so far?

My biggest surprise for sure was to discover my ability to work with children. For 2 years I was responsible for various actions with the child audience in PROCAJ and certainly was the biggest surprise of my adult life. I had never considered doing this work, I had to study from scratch, and I was able to find out that I love this audience. I learned a lot interacting with them and surely it was the lightest and fun part of my work so far. Speaking of politics, rights and citizenship for children and with children is possible, amazing and magical. To accomplish this work I applied social technologies like AFLATOOUN, Claves and Little House of Culture.

7. What keeps you going and give you inspiration in your work? What gives you hope?

This is a very difficult question to respond without entering the personal field. I have a very deep spiritual connection and certainly, my work and daily occupation are strongly inspired by this relationship. I can say that I am inspired by the immensity of possibilities of the Father Heaven, by the resilience and incredible potential creator of Mother Earth, by the beauty of the shining stars, by the force of life of the Grandfather sun, by the emotions and mysteries of the Moon Grandma, by the incredible and diverse behavior of our animal brothers and by the enchanted beings of the forest and of the astral. My hope comes from a certainty that a new world is possible, it is real, is profoundly known by our inner self and is already available, what is missing is only to see the difference between truth and illusion and then to be able to feel and really see the possibilities finally going forward in a collective and enlightening way. Each day that passes the universe gives me unique clues that we are going in this direction faster and faster and this is always keeping my hopes high.

Tea products made by Nataila.

8. If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Keep your head up and stand with patience for everything that will happen. Everything that sounds bad will be essential for you to learn to be resilient and strong. Continue making uncomfortable questions to yourself and others, you have always been protected!

9. How can people contact you and learn more about your work? (eg: email, blog, webpage)

They can contact me through Facebook @Nosouza, email oliveiranatis@gmail.com, and Facebook pages @Motirobr and @Gaiaservas!

Inspiring young women for peace leadership in Afghanistan: Meet Farida Amiri

  1. Could you describe the first moment when you realize you wanted to do this work?

I believe that in some stage of our life, there are specific events and people that lead us to a revolution in our mind. The revolution started when I was closely and fully involved and responsible in “Afghan Women National Consensus for Peace”, an event held by Office of H.E. the First Lady of IRoA and some other organizations. Since the program was held in every province for women, I knew what every single woman from every part of Afghanistan knows and wants from peace. Therefore, my mind recording women and peace resulted in my trip to “First International Symposium on Youth Participation in Peace Process” held in March 2019 in Helsinki, Finland. The symposium provoked my passion to go for more and better follow-ups of the trip and be involved in further youth-led organizations and initiatives, particularly peace-related initiatives. And the result is becoming a passionate and volunteer peace-builder. 


2. Could you take us through a day of your work? Where do you put most of your time and energy?

When it comes to being part of organizing an event, workshop, and program, I dedicate all my energy and motivation to do so. At the end of the day, it makes me feel so good because I believe that the experiences and knowledge should not be within a person, but it should go beyond. I think such formal and informal gatherings are one way to exchange ideas and experiences. 


3. What are your key achievements in your work?

There can be a list of achievements, but the most heart-touching achievements for me is grabbing the opportunity to be part of a change in the society, being inspired and being the reason to inspire others are the significant achievements for my volunteer peace-building activities. 


4. How does your organization promote inclusive participation of youth from a diverse background? 

There are different approaches that the organizations which I have worked whether as volunteer or non-volunteer that some of them give space to young people when it comes to decision-making level, program management, leadership and participation of young people. Media also plays an important role; we use our network to reflect our voice and initiative to media, so that other young people and other related organizations get inspired.  


5. What has been your hardest struggle so far, and how did you get over it?

In the society where I live, it is challenging for youth especially for women to prove they are capable of doing something good and innovative because they are judged for being a woman who is believed as a weak and dependent gender. At the beginning of every new environment and context, it has been so difficult for me to engage as a young lady in a male-dominated environment. It was not only to appear but also to do what people thought I cannot do, that’s why I was focusing a lot not to let my self-confidence comes down so that I have the chance to bring this issue as a topic to be discussed and even debated on the table. The discussion and hard-works always helped me deal with it. 

6. What is the biggest challenge you currently face?

As an Afghan young lady, my biggest challenge that I face is putting all my energy for a specific period of time just to prove I am able to do what I am supposed to do. 

7. What has been your biggest surprise on this journey so far?

There are many, but the most significant one which is highlighted on my mind is to see how school students link their paintings with peace messages. They put their thoughts and imagination on the pieces of papers to convey the messages of peace.   

8. What keeps you going and give you inspiration in your work? What gives you hope?

Although there a lot of negative things going on around, as a peace-builder I keep being positive because it helps me not to be discouraged and unmotivated. Also, it gives me hope that I see young people from different parts of Afghanistan come together for a friendly and harmonic gathering despite the political mood of the country.  

9. If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Since I started working as a volunteer in youth-led organizations when I was university student, I would advise people who are younger than me to start working and being involved with social activities at their earliest stage of life. 

10. What words of encouragement would you give to women, children, minorities, and other disempowered groups when they are facing rejection because of the prevailing cultural norm?

I believe that people are defined based on what they believe in not what particular group they belong to. When we believe ourselves for what we are, others will eventually do the same. 

11. How can people contact you and learn more about your work? (eg: email, blog, webpage)

People can approach me through my email and my Facebook account, and I would be so glad to share with them I have been doing. 

Email: faridaamiri7@gmail.comFacebook: https://www.facebook.com/Faridaamiri2013memories

Standing for the rights of migrants from the Americas: Meet Gema Vizueth, Mexico.

1.    Could you describe the first moment when you realized you wanted to do this work?

When I was a kid, me and my family emigrated to the USA and experienced multiple scenarios where we were discriminated for having an illegal condition, for being from a different country or having different color skin.I’m am a Geologist, but for some reason I was invited to work for government on migration matter, I immediately said yes and now I work for those who seek for a better future (Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela, etc.) and walk for days or risk their lives on a dangerous routes just to get to the Northern country of America. We provide food, water, shelter, medical and physiological care, and legal advice so their human rights are not violated.


2.       Could take us through a day of your work? Where do you put most of your time and energy?

I’m in the area of International Connection/Link, so what I do is that I try to attend every foreign community that lives, transits or visits the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. If there’s someone with a vulnerability status, we try our best to assist and provide what the person needs.  I also attend meetings where I try to be inclusive with these communities and we arrange activities where they can participate with their country’s customs.


3.       What are your key achievements in your work?

The assistance of many migrants that come from the southern border and the right use of governments resources to attend this issue.


4.     How does your organization promote inclusive participation of youth from diverse backgrounds?

My boss tries hard to involve young communities and a big example is me and other coworkers that are really young. He also expects us to collaborate with many other youth participants so that our Secretary has that empathy for other congregations.


5.       What has been your hardest struggle so far, and how did you get over it? 

The apathy of society, the misconception of the word MIGRATION  and the misleading media that promotes hate and intolerance. I haven’t gotten over it, but I will keep working.


6.       What is the biggest challenge you currently face?

I think that the lack of participation.


7.       What has been your biggest surprise on this journey so far?

That I myself had to get rid of mentalities and prejudices. That sometimes people use this topic (or some others) to promote their persona and obtain personal benefits, without really being interested at first. 


8.       What keeps you going and give you inspiration in your work? What gives you hope?

My sister who passed away 7 years ago from leukemia and was a migrant who received from her teacher a racist attitude. My mother who travel at the age of 28 with two little girls to another country without knowing the language, but manage to handle it and my father who was a construction worker and was waiting for us on the other side of the border.I know what is like to be away from your family, your roots, your country… to not know the language, the customs, the ways… I want to help those who run away from violence, hunger, oppression… we are all brothers.


9.       If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Fear is just an engine that will make you go further… press that pedal.


10.   What words of encouragement would you give to women, children, minorities, and other disempowered groups when they are facing rejection because of the prevailing cultural norm?

The value of your soul is more powerful than soldiers, bombs, racism, judgment… death. 

Gema with the consul of Guatemala and El Salvador.

Activist of the day: Meet Dumi So, Botswana.

  1. Could you describe the first moment when you realized you wanted to do this work? I don’t think I ever wanted to because I grew up wanting to be a Chartered Accountant and wanting to make money for various reasons; supporting my family, living comfortably and moving away from home. When I completed my undergraduate in South Africa and returned home (Botswana), I realized that a degree was not enough. In fact, even now with two Masters degrees – it is only a part of it. It is in realizing the unfortunate circumstances I was in that led me to human rights work. Young people, regardless of how hard they work and how skilled; privilege will continue to be victorious. As a millennial, I am often told about how tacit knowledge is lacking, or how I must fit within a box of eligibility or even worse, be someone that left the role I was aiming for. Also in experiencing things I never should have as a teenager; I was not aware that those things were not right. It is through having a voice to prevent others from what I went through that I realized I am a survivor. Thus, it is a cumulation of an un-enabling environment and being uncomfortable with the gate keepers’ of young people’s well-being.
  2. Could take us through a day of your work? Where do you put most of your time and energy? Operating at a grassroots level there are two main priorities, a) seeking out funding opportunities and b) managing expectations of volunteers and other stakeholders you’re accountable to. It requires some structure in ensuring Success Capital can deliver her mandate without compromise of those who need our interventions the most. There is a mapping and grant writing component every single day; seeking out avenues for connecting with enablers to help scale our impact and planning/implementing the next activities. There is a lot of follow up, deliberating on collaborating with others and trying to document as much as possible to show that our work has value. Since this does not pay my bills; I also seek out and bid on calls for consulting work. Unfortunately in human rights work, self-care is largely neglected because it comes at a cost and the causes we work on don’t really allow for someone knocking off.
  3. What are your key achievements in your work? It’s in reframing how young people, gender and LGBTIQ+ individuals are often thought of or presented as in advocacy narratives. A lot of focus was on tokenism, binary constructs of parities and public health/law respectively. Our philosophy integrates all these in acknowledging that individuals in their indivisible and universal rights, have so much more to them impacting and influencing the linear and thematic issues we work on (Unemployment, SRHR, Participation, etc.). We have documented these and prepared submissions for the African Commission on Human & People’s Rights, World Forum for Democracy and other rights based initiatives aimed at policy making. We have created some synergies by being secretariat to other international youth civic action mechanisms such as International Youth Alliance for Family Planning and the African Network of Youth Policy Experts. All largely without funding (our annual budget averages USD 5000 in project/activity funding since inception). At a personal level, working on a shadow report, statement and fielding questions before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women was a highlight. More especially with seeing how some of the concluding observations reflected some narratives presented. Also having been selected as one of the CIVICUS Goalkeeper Accelerators gave a new lifeline for us to strengthen ourselves. Were it not for that, we would have most likely shut down and focused on securing our livelihoods.
  4. How does your organization promote inclusive participation of youth from diverse backgrounds? We are inherently diverse and have emerged to understand the importance of decolonization in our practices, narratives and knowledge production. We work on young people’s human rights issues in recognition of our collective diversity as queer individuals, Africans, unemployed’s, differently abled and climate conscious. We are intersecting in our composition, advocacy and participatory forms of engagement.
  5. What has been your hardest struggle so far, and how did you get over it? Resourcing; in core (non-project related) support, retaining skills and garnering institutional power. It’s a day by day process and never-ending. If you know someone who can help solve this challenge with us, let me know 😊
  6. What is the biggest challenge you currently face? Resourcing and not being at the table within and outside civil society. Many other youth-led, managed and serving organizations have the same problem. As LGBTIQ+ it just seems worse.
  7. What has been your biggest surprise on this journey so far? That we have managed to be resilient thus far despite many faces coming and going, despite at least three years where there was no funding at all, despite gatekeepers blocking us from engaging with enablers, despite some enabler practices. We are dynamic, innovative and game-changing in what we do as a virtue of being young, Pan African oriented and proudly queer.
  8. What keeps you going and give you inspiration in your work? What gives you hope? The many brave young queer and non-conforming people I live, work and meet with daily. They keep me going. They are my self-care because I have been where they are despite not knowing or having seen myself in that position. They survive bad parenting, abuse, hate and exclusion that can never be adequately framed in M&E indicators. They inspire me because despite knowing and being aware of what they’re going through (unlike myself), they survive and make it another day. This gives me hope that young people’s participation, civic action and talent will be respected, upheld and amplified in the future.
  9. If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self? Stick to the money. Ignorance really is bliss. The ideologies and systems you will try challenge will not guarantee you the stability and do justice to the sacrifices your family has made to get you to being an adult. There will always be injustices as privilege, patriarchy and power manifest themselves in variant ways and through generations; you can do something about it once you can afford to.
  10. What words of encouragement would you give to women, children, minorities, and other disempowered groups when they are facing rejection because of the prevailing cultural norm? It is okay to cry and to be angry. Just do not let it burn bridges, more especially in the spaces that are to enable you. Yes, there is a lot of harm and pain within our spaces of intellectual discourse, spirituality, residence, friendships, learning, relationships, volunteerism and work; they will never understand how you are a survivor. What is key is centering yourself and being conscious that you have made it this far. That you are valuable and that you have voice. Something will have to give and because it has not been you yet; then you still have a fighting chance. Never loose hope, never disservice yourself and its okay to say no and leave the table when its not mentally, economically and physically safe! The world is big enough and there is place for you; especially at Success Capital.
  11. How can people contact you and learn more about your work? (eg: email, blog, webpage) On any platform; whatsapp +26771562628, IG: dumi.activist, email: coordinator@successcapitalngo.com / gatshadumiso@yahoo.com, web: www.successcapitalngo.com and www.dumisogatsha.com Thank you!