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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

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